Watchmen Record?

By | Thursday, November 19, 2020 4 comments
It was Alan Moore's birthday yesterday and it got me thinking: is Watchmen the comic that has been in print the longest? Moore's deal with DC is pretty widely known: the rights would revert to him and co-creator Dave Gibbons if a full year went by without DC doing anything with it. But DC has kept the story actively in print since its debut in 1986 and, thus, those rights have never reverted back. But I'm wondering, then, what other comics have been in continuous print for 34 years or longer?

Now, I'm talking about a single story that has remained in continuous publication here, not just a comic title. Action Comics has obviously got a long track record behind it, but has any specific story from that title continuously been in print that long? Action #1 has been reprinted any number of times, but it always gets printed once and then that's it until several years later when it might get included in a new collection or something again. It's not continuously in print.

Obviously, anything published after 1986 isn't going to have been around as long as Watchmen to begin with, so any newer works aren't in the running by default. And interestingly, because the notion of paperback collections was fairly new as an alternative to the serial format, there weren't that many comics that got repeat printings before 1986 either. Books like Gods' Man and It Rhymes With Lust easily pre-date Watchmen but their original print runs certainly didn't last decades! In many ways, Watchmen helped launched the trade paperback market for comics.

That said, 1986 is often considered a pivotal year for comics as it also saw the publication of The Dark Knight Returns and the first collected volume of Maus, both of which came out several months before Watchmen. Indeed, Art Spiegelman had been running individual chapters of Maus in his comic Raw since 1980. And while those two stories have been staples, argueably even icons, of the graphic novel market, I can't definitively find if those have remained in print this entire time.

I believe the original collection of The Dark Knight Returns went through ten printings, but I think they had stopped before 2002 when they came out with a new edition. Is that "new" edition still in print? I think it fell out for an "absolute" edition a few years back (which itself was just republished a couple months ago) but I can't find precise dates on when one stopped and the next started. How much of a gap was there between editions? I'd certainly concede that different editions, if published in fairly close proximity, would constitute "continuous" publication but I can't seem to find how much time went between these.

Maus, I believe, also dropped out of print in 1992 before a complete, single volume edition came out 1996. While you could argue the story beginning in Raw initially gave the book an edge of Watchmen, the four year hiatus between editions seems to me to preclude "continuous" publication. You can put Maus down for a 12-year run and then a 24-year run, giving it a longer publishing history, but there's that pesky gap in the middle there.

So does Watchmen qualify as the longest continuiously-in-print comic? Was DKR out of circulation long enough to no longer qualify for "continuous?" Are there other contenders I'm not thinking of? Does the work Alan Moore has distanced himself the most from put him ironically in a record-holding position, as well as being a critically acclaimed work?
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Matt K said...

Great question, although I think that ultimately it points toward the somewhat mysterious and arbitrary definition of "in-print."

"In-print" is a little vague, of course, but I think a reasonable definition might be that a retailer can call the publisher and get a copy of the book from their current stock. If a publisher decides they don't want to keep a book in circulation any more, the will typically "remainder" any copies they have left in warehouses by unloading them cheaply to places like Half Price Books and/or sending copies to the author.

Bob said...

I'm pretty sure the two volumes version of MAUS are still in print, in fundamentally the same form that they were published back in 1986 and 1992. I'm not 100% certain that they've been in print continuously, but I'd be surprised if at least the first hasn't, since I'm sure it's been on a few university course lists since it was published.

On the other hand, the WATCHMEN in print today is a fundamentally different book from what was published in 1986. The colours are all new, there's a new Gibbons introduction and there are over 30 pages of extras in the back.

Older than either of those, I believe the classic European album versions of the Asterix and Tintin books, last time I saw them, were pretty much the same as the editions I read circa 1980, and were in print long before that (I know the current US editions of Asterix have new colours and translations, but I think the British versions are still the same).

That's certainly a fair point about Watchmen being different for a number of reasons (not the least of which is simply that the basic format from serial pamphlets to a bound collection changes the way a reader interacts with the story!) but for my purposes here, I was thinking about things in the same terms as the original agreement Moore/Gibbons had with DC. Any edition, whether it's recolored or reformatted somehow would still constitute publication even if the specific TPB format that it's most commonly been read (probably) is no longer available.

You make an EXCELLENT point about Asterix and Tintin! I unintentionally couched my entire premise around American publishers, despite my ongoing attempts to keep a more global perspective. Those both likely have had longer continuous publication than Watchmen by a matter of decades!