DC Attempts to Pluck Manga Audiences With “Compact Comics”
Return of the Digest Comic
DC comics recently announced a new trade-paper back format with their Compact Comics Line and with that it brings about a real sore point among comic readers—Trim Size.
Trim Size is the term used to describe the size of printed media. In the world of comics, it can range from Standard Trade-paper back (6.625 inches x 10.25 inches) to Over-sized Hardcovers (7.75 inches x 11.25 inches). Throw in the random magazine format like DC’s Black Label comics (Hardcovers hover around the 8.78 inches x 11.2 inches range). You can see there is a love of large print trims in American comics. Especially when you compare American comic collections to the more popular Manga volume (5 inches x 7.5 inches).
Why Does Size matter?
Price, mostly. Comics are a print product and print costs are a major factor in the price of comics and collections. Larger trim size (along with color printing and typically glossy paper stock) contributes to the price difference between American Comics and Manga volumes.
Don’t believe me? You can look at the average price difference—Collected American comics averages around $25 US and manga volumes averages around $13 US.
That’s Right We Are Talking American Comics VS Manga
Hey! Don’t click away! There’s legitimate discussion points here.
You can walk into most mass market bookstores and see the size difference between the sections devoted to American comics and Manga. You would be luck to see 1-2 shelves devoted to American comics. While you will find AISLES devoted to Manga. Manga is measurably more popular than American comics with kids. Which is wild when you consider one of the most popular media properties (though in decline) is American Superheroes.
Some will point to manga’s ease of access. I don’t believe that when you consider that most of the popular manga is long form sequential storytelling numbering from 40-100+ volumes. Those aren’t any easier to jump into compared to Batman or Spider-Man. Though, a point could be made about consistent creative teams and adequate presentation of reading order. It still isn’t the sole factor.
Instead, I (along with many others) propose that one of the reasons for manga’s popularity is due to PRICE. For the price of 1 trade paperback (roughly 200 pages of comics), you can get roughly 2 Manga volumes (200 pages EACH). Manga is the better value. That’s pure economics.
When you consider the fact that comics (both manga and American) are largely luxury goods that people purchase with disposable income, you want to see a more approachable price point. Manga satisfies that requirement. Now, one thing we haven’t been discussing is the other form of American comic and that’s the young adult market.
Scholastic (and other publishers of this vein) publish comics at a trim size comparable to manga and offer varying price points but typically hover around $10-15 US. These comics are by and large the number one selling American comics and it’s not even close. They feature genre beyond just Superhero and come in a variety of mixed formats by often mixing prose writing, data pages, and sequential art. They are exciting and dynamic. Most importantly they are cheap and easily available.
When you consider all of this, it is no wonder that DC is now doing what they have been doing for their Young-adult and children’s graphic novels but with their mainstream superhero classics.
This isn’t the first time DC has published classic comics in a smaller format, but this is the first time in a modern era. Pricing them at 9.99 is a brilliant move too as it strikes at the issue at hand for comics.
Variety of Product Is Good
That all said there are some legitimate concerns. A lot of the comics that DC (or marvel for that matter) they have published in this digest format were often created with that format in mind. Most of these stories weren’t intended to be published at a smaller resolution. I am curious how a dense story like Watchmen will translate into a smaller format. There are also questions about some of their story choices. I’m looking at you Wonder Woman Earth One and Batman Hush.
This doesn’t mean the deluxe editions and nice hardcovers should go to the wayside, far from it. I think comic publishers should continue to offer those. Personally, I would enjoy it if they took the moment to offer a higher quality product in their traditional trade paperbacks and make them feel like a worthwhile purchase. Then, make the regular 5-6 issue trade the more budget friendly digest size.
Overall, I am supportive of this publishing initiative, and I would love to see it expand. Anything that gets classic stories into the hands of readers. DC is especially primed for this given their deep library of evergreen and standalone stories. The possibilities are limitless.
Links and Such
Hey, if you like Extremely Uncanny but don’t want to check out the page for updates, subscribe and get blog posts as a Newsletter. It’s what all the kids are doing, or so I am told.