Ain’t It Great to (Trade) Wait

Chaos here!

A Little Background

Starting before I can remember, I’ve always loved superheroes.  Superhero toys, cartoons, movies, and other merchandise surrounded me, and I loved it.  My parents dressed me as Spider-Man for my first Halloween costume, my cousins and I played with action figures all the time, and my mom always made sure to record my favorite shows so I could watch them whenever I wanted.

As I got older, my love for superheroes evolved, but never faded.  I still collected action figures, watched all the shows, and wore the clothes.  I even had a favorite Spider-Man shirt (that I thought was a bit dressy) that I wore for three different middle and high school picture days.  I had plenty of other interests as well, but capes and tights were never far from my heart.

Then, one day in high school someone asked me a comic book question.  They wanted to know how different the Ultimate Universe Daredevil was from the normal Daredevil.  I had no clue.  So, then they asked if they could borrow some comics.  Again, I could help them.  I didn’t really read comics.

I had a bunch of single comic issues that I accumulated over the years, but not a real collection.  I had part of a storyline here, a comic that came with an action figure there, and something a family member might have handed to me, but nothing that added up to much, just a bunch of random comics sitting in an old Marvel Comics box that I’d had for years.

Me not reading comics didn’t seem like a big deal to that person, she simply said that I seemed like the kind of person who would read comics.  That got me thinking.  If I like all this superhero stuff so much, why don’t I read comics?  

Off to the local public library I went, and I quickly stocked up on Ultimate Spider-Man trade paperbacks (collections of previously printed issues).  Turns out I really enjoyed them.  Soon, I was buying my own copies of those trades and then getting more comics from there.

Freshman year of college, I felt like big stuff with my couple dozen trades sitting on my shelf.  Now, over a decade later, I, personally, own hundreds of comics and my collection keeps growing (along with my other comic and superhero related items).  

My original hunt from comics was very unfocused.  I grabbed whatever seemed interesting or prominently displayed at the time.  I mostly grabbed Marvel comics: Spider-Man, X-men, Captain America,  and some of the event comics (House of M), but I also wasn’t afraid to grab a few DC comics too: Batman and Superman.  At first I bought a mix of trade paperbacks and single issues, but before long, I almost exclusively went for the trades.  

It didn’t take long for me to settle into being someone who “trade waits,” gets their comics in trade paperback form.  But, Why?  Is it really best to get comics this way?

Does Fresh Matter?

Trade waiting goes by that name because readers have to wait to read anything new.  Most comics first come out monthly as single issues first.  Enough issues have to be published to justify a collection and then there is still a little lag time until the trade comes out (sometimes hardcover, more often lately, softcover).  

Reading this way, I’m usually anywhere from six months to a year behind current storylines.  This has its pros and cons.  The danger of spoilers is always a problem and there is also the potential for long lags between adventures.  Readers have to decide whether they would prefer a month between chapters or several months between story arcs. 

Personally, I like getting a story arc, 5-7 issues all at once.  It just feels more complete to me.  Also, as someone who sometimes rotates between series or simply falls behind anyways because of lack of time, I can often end up with several volumes/trades sitting around waiting to be read.  It can be nice to have access to a large chunk or even an entire writer’s run on a comic.  That can really help me appreciate a story.  So clearly, timeliness doesn’t mean much to me with comics.

Now, obviously, I can catch up using either singles or trades, but I prefer having a bound collection rather than having to mess with a bunch of singles.  

Waiting can also give you a chance to see if a series is going in a direction you want or feels worth buying down the line.

So, in the debate of trades vs. singles, how quickly you personally want your comics will matter.

Prices May Vary

Depending on what you’re after you may end up paying a little more or less for comics.  Sometimes you pay a premium to have anything bound together in a collection.  Other times, the collection comes off a little cheaper than what you would have paid for getting things as they came out.  

For older stuff, the prices will vary even more.  A lot of older backlog comics can be pretty cheap, but of course, there can be those rarer or harder to find ones too.

Price is more of a draw and toss up in the question of trades vs. singles.

Show Me What You Got

Trades and collections tend to display better and look nicer on a shelf.  Most of my singles are bagged and boxed, out of sight.  The collections have spines that allow them to be placed nicely on a shelf and easily browsed later.  My wife is okay with me having a comic shelf of trades/collections.  I doubt she would be as okay with a pile of longboxes or a bunch of single issues on a shelf.

I think people are a bit more willing to borrow a collection of comics than a stack of single issues.


I always keep an Amazon wishlist running, throwing trades on them as they either catch my interest or as the latest batch of solicitations come out.  I believe it’s easier for those who don’t know comics as well to buy some trade paperbacks than to have to track down issues themselves.

Giveth and Taketh

Often, the trades do a good job of collecting a storyline, but they may even come with a few extras.  I like how trades will usually include a bunch of art (alternate covers, storyboards, concept art, sketches, etc) and sometimes a few other goodies.

However, trades usually don’t come with ads or letter pages from the original publishing of the issue.  Those pieces can be fun time capsules to when the comics came out.  If that matters to you, trades probably aren’t for you.

Trades also sometimes have edits that alter it from the original.  Errors may be fixed, but there may also be edits made because something no longer seems appropriate or okay by some standard.  Again, the importance of that aspect will have to fall to the individual.

A Little Hit or Miss

As stated above, what you get from trades and singles can vary.  When you purchase single issues, you get to pick out exactly what you get (assuming what you want is available).  With trades, you are subject to whatever a publisher decides goes into the trade.  This can be both a blessing and a curse.

Trades are going to collect a full story or a large chunk of a story.  They may even throw in some relevant issues from across several comic series (both modern and older).  This makes getting a complete story pretty easy, without having to track down other issues.  This is great…unless you already have those issues.  

Sometimes there is overlap between trades, which means you’ll be paying for something you already own.  Nice to get a back issue that gives context, but if I already own that, now it feels like it’s just taking up space in the collection from something else I need.  It can also suck if a crossover is important to two different series that I”m reading and now those issues are collected in both series collections.  I’ll need to buy both trades to get other issues, but I didn’t really need those overlap issues twice.

Of course, while it doesn’t happen as often, there are times when a few issues of a run might be missing because the publisher decided it fit in better in a different collection.  It can suck to suddenly be missing two or three issues in the middle of a story and having to decide if you want to get those missing comics in singles or whether you’ll need to buy a different trade which may contain other comics you’re not as interested in.

These aren’t super common problems, but they do happen enough that potential buyers should be aware of these concerns.

Back to the Past/Availability

Trades are great for collecting current and recent series because most of those have been collected by the major publishers.  Trades also are a great way to access older series and comics, which would be difficult or impossible to find as singles.  However, with the plethora of comics that have come out over the years, there are plenty of gaps that have never been collected or may not have been collected in the format or order you’d prefer.

Buying the trade paperbacks are great, but sometimes you will have to just get the singles.

Where’s the Support?

The biggest issue with trade waiting is that you’re not supporting a series until months laters.  That delayed support can be the difference between a series getting continued or not.  There will probably always be big characters like Spider-Man, Flash, Thor, and Wonder Woman, but smaller series and characters can get canceled pretty quickly.

If you trade wait and end up liking a series, you have to hope that there were enough people supporting it month to month to keep it going.  While the publishers seem to be recognizing that some series are going to do better in trade, especially those that are aimed younger, the market is still going to maintain those that are getting the immediate support.

Hopefully you’re not killing what you want to love.  Trade waiting  will definitely hurt smaller and more independent titles.

Wrap Up:

I have always been a happy trade waiter, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.  I’m not opposed to single issues, which I have gotten plenty of over the years (Free Comic Book Days, conventions, giveaways, etc.), but trade is the way for me.  I have the patience and storage from collected editions, and I like the ease of access that comes with items nicely displayed and organized on a bookshelf. 

No matter how you decide to collect though, I just hope you’re enjoying some good comics.  There are plenty of great ones out there.

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