DC's 1978 Pocketbooks

By | Sunday, June 02, 2013 Leave a Comment
As I mentioned last week, I picked up a couple of DC pocketbooks at a used bookstore recently. One featuring just Superman and another featuring Superman and Batman (and Robin). They cost barely more than the original $1.25 cover price, and I was curious to see how well they would translate into the 21st century. I had had a few Marvel pocketbooks from the same era, and quite enjoyed them. But that was when I was a kid -- not only were the stories new to me, but I was pretty oblivious to the production changes that would've needed to have been made to cut up the pamphlet format into something that would fit in the "standard" trade paperback size.

The first curious thing that struck me was the story choices. Despite these books being published in 1978, the stories all came from the late 1950s up through the mid-1960s. It seems to me an odd choice. They're certainly old enough to not worry about competition from the then-burgeoning after-market, but they're not really old enough to have been classics yet. In fact, they're right about the age that would've been seen in the same light as that embarrassing old photo of you from 15 years ago. It looks dated; you can recognize the styles and fashions as sophomoric, and it's old enough to remind you that you're aging. But you've moved just beyond that and haven't quite reconciled that era with yourself yet.

And it's not like they didn't have access to more contemporary work. Both books feature some title page art by Neal Adams.

The choice that struck me as odd was that the Superman book starts with a Superman origin story from a 1961 retelling, but the World's Finest book has nothing by way of an origin tale for any of the characters, much less how they came to meet up and/or be friends. This, despite several pieces of dialogue throughout many of the stories referencing how Superman and Batman have a long history with each other and know each other's tactics well. I suppose the publishers assumed if you were buying a Superman/Batman team-up book, then you already knew a lot about the characters?

The other thing that struck me was the complete layout changes from the originals. The Marvel pocketbooks, to my recollection, largely just ran all the panels in a landscape format and were able to fit two on each page with a minimal amount of fuss. These books work in the portrait format, but the various panel widths lead to a wide array of croppings, re-sizings and (in many cases) re-letterings to fit the new format. Having read these types of formats (from some comic strip collections I had back then that did pretty much the same thing) I didn't have any mental issues in reading the stories, but looking at it now with fresh eyes showcases how absurdly clumsy and awkward the pacing and page layouts became in the process. Seriously, there are just some weird-ass layouts going on in places. Not to mention some art patches that were less than skillfully rendered.

I was surprised at how well the books have held up physically. The paper is a bit yellowed, but still very pliable. The glue has held up remarkably well, and these particular copies have very little cracking on the spine at all. A little nicked around the corners, but not exactly what I'd call dog-eared.

I have some level of appreciation of comic stories from that era, but I'm not a big fan of them generally. But this specific presentment was interesting, and I'm left wondering why that particular market didn't last. Was it just bad story selection? If so, was that the fault of DC (and Marvel -- their reprints from that time were also mostly from the early 1960s) for only allowing older comics to be reprinted, or was that the fault of the pocketbook publishers themselves for choosing poor examples?
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