Custom Marvel/DC Trades

By | Wednesday, May 27, 2020 1 comment
Right off the bat, I cannot take credit for the following idea. This came from Ladies Making Comics. She and I talked a bit about it on Twitter last year, but I don't think I ever elaborated on the idea here on my blog. So consider that rectified after today!

Let's start off with a hypothetical. Let's say that you would want to read a collection of stories from Marvel's 1989/90 "Acts of Vengeance" crossover. You could, of course, track down all the individual issues but that was 70+ individual comics; that would take a while and probably wouldn't be cheap. Marvel did put out an $100 omnibus edition, but I don't think that actually collects everything. Plus, what if you didn't actually want all of the individual issues? Maybe you're perfectly fine skipping over all of the X-Men related stories. You'd be paying a big chunk for a book in which you only want to read about half the stories.

She-Hulk #8
Here's another hypothetical. What if you're amused by Marvel's Captain Ultra character and you want to read all of his appearances? Again you could track down all the individual issues -- and in this case there's less than two dozen -- but they're a bit all over the map, so there's a bit of a hunt involved. And that's really your only option because his stories have never been collected in a single volume. Several have never been reprinted at all, I believe.

But what if you could go through a list of comics, select the ones you liked, and have them printed up in a single bound volume? Any random collection of titles or stories, in any order you wanted, all in one set of covers.

The technology exists to do precisely that today. Print on demand services basically do this all the time. Not just writers who use POD to print off and sell their books without a formal publisher, but think of those photo album books where you upload a bunch of pictures, write some captions, and get a bound book in the mail a few weeks later? The printer has a template set up, drops in the images you select, and run it as a single print job. Custom comic TPBs would be even easier since you'd be selecting exclusively from pre-existing artwork (the already completed individual comic issues) and the POD folks would just crank out your specific set.

All a printer would need for this would be access to the digital comics files. And Marvel and DC have both got digital versions of just about everything in their catalogs at this point. I mean, how many of them are on comiXology already? You could go through a comiXology-like interface and the issues would get dropped into your cart, more or less as it happens now. But then, instead of checkout leading to gaining access to digital versions of those comics, you get a bound book in the mail a few weeks later.

The database setup is all there; you would just need a print-on-demand printer to get access to those files. Print-on-demand is definitely not something all printers can do, so Marvel and DC likely couldn't use the printers they have for their regular books. Would they be pricier on a per page basis than regular TPBs? Almost certainly. But how many people these days go about taking the original issues and having them professionally bound into collections? That's the same idea, but more expensive and, in the cases of Bronze Age books and older, you're stuck with whatever crappy newsprint they were originally printed on.

Admittedly, there's a fair amount of logistics that would need to happen in order to set this up, but once it was set up, it would largely run itself. You'd obviously need press managers to make sure nothing funked up on the actual printing line, and some support staff and such, but you could have an automated system feed the POD database new issues as the files were completed from the publisher, and kick print jobs out more or less automatically as they came in. People expect POD books to be a little pricier already, I think, so you could still print the books one at a time and make money off each one. I think this would be a totally do-able idea, and I'm kind of surprised no one has worked to implement it yet. (At least, not that I've heard/seen in any capacity.)

I think it's a frickin' genius idea, and I'd love to be able to put together odd collections of books that don't make any sense to anyone else but me! C'mon, somebody get on this!
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