Have you ever been in a comic book shop and noticed that collected editions come in different formats? Many will look standard, featuring conventional dimensions, while others will be smaller, significantly larger, or incredibly thick. This is because the comic book industry likes to publish various formats, each serving a different purpose.
This guide explains the different collected edition formats, explaining their characteristics and appeal to various readers.
What do I mean by collected edition?
I should explain what I mean by a “collected edition” before digging into the different formats. For the purpose of this guide, a collected edition is a book that collates comic book material that originally appeared in a serialised form. That could be in single issues, digitally-first comics, original graphic novels, newspaper strips, or webcomics/webtoons.
Collected edition is an umbrella term and can cover several different formats. These come in all shapes, sizes, and cover materials and serve different purposes. We’ll discuss the various collected edition formats below.
Why are there different formats?
As you’ll see discover, there are several collected edition formats. Publishers strategically choose to publish comic book material in different formats to cater to different audiences and their reading preferences.
Some formats are made for a general audience. Others are made for the budget conscience. Some work well for younger audiences. While others cater towards the collector with more disposable income.
Older comic book material will often be collected in different formats at different times as the publisher tries to cater to different audiences. For instance, Hellboy was first collected in trade paperback. However, it has also been available in a library edition and budget omnibus too. These cater to different audiences who have different budgets and reading preferences.
Changing formats can consolidate comic book material into fewer books. For readers, this means fewer books to track down. For publishers, this means fewer books to worry about keeping in print.
What are the different collected edition formats?
Find out all of the different collected edition formats below, including their characteristics and what makes them unique.
The trade paperback is the most common format and one of the most versatile. It’s characterised by its soft-bound cover and simimilar dimensions as a traditional comic book. Trade paperbacks can collect anywhere from 3-20 comic issues. However, you’ll find that most collect 5-8. Many trade paperback collections will also include extra material, such as cover art, concept art, interviews, and more.
The trade paperback tends to be the defualt option, with most series collected in trade paperback first. This is because they’re affordable to mass produce and can be sold at an afforable price point for readers.
Trade paperbacks are often the go-to format for older material, collecting ~500 pages of comics in a single volume. A great example is the Marvel Comics’ Epic Collection line, which chronolocally collates a series.
Sometimes they get referred to as a “graphic novel” but there’s a distinct difference between the two.
As the name suggests, hardcovers have a thick cardboard cover and sometimes a dust jacket. The material of hardcover editions tends to be the same as the trade paperback. However, some editions might combine the comics of two or more trade paperbacks.
More often than not, hardcovers have larger dimensions than trade paperbacks. How much larger will depend on the publisher and the material. Some will market these as “oversized hardcovers”.
While many comics are initially collected in trade paperback, a publisher might decide to collate material in hardcover beforehand. This was a common practice for Marvel Comics in the 2000s and early 2010s through their Premiere Edition and Premiere Classic hardcover programs. But today, it’s a practice usually reserved for prestigious comics, such as comic book events and premium miniseries.
Archival material is often collected in hardcover collections. Through this practice, they treat the material with more reverence. This includes the Marvel Masterworks and reprints of classic material from Fantagraphics like the Complete Carl Barks Library and the EC Artists’ Library.
Digests are softcover collected editions that are smaller in size than the average trade paperback. These tend to be approximately 17x13cm (16x5in), but the dimensions can vary slightly depending on the publisher. Although they’re smaller, the page count is comparable to a trade paperback collection with 150-200 pages. However, some can reach as many as 480 pages, like the Archie Giant Comics Digest.
The format was popular in the 1960s to 1980s as a precursor to the traditional trade paperback collection that’s prevalent today. However, Marvel Comics published dozens of digest collections in the 2000s and reprinted them in the early 2010s.
Archie Comics publishes the most digest editions nowadays, with a steady stream of regular each month featuring collections focusing on different characters and themes.
Tankobon is the Japanese term for “independent” or “standalone” book. In the context of comics, it’s the format manga chapters are collected in. This is characterised by its 10.5×17.3cm (4.1″x6.8″) dimensions and its flipped structure to read right-to-left.
Many readers will refer to it as a trade paperback, but the term does get used by dedicated manga readers.
Omnibus collections are big oversized hardcover collections that collect a lot of comic material. These tend to collect entire series or runs of a comic/characters, featuring anywhere between 30-50 issues in a single volume. This means these collected editions can be up to 1000 pages or more.
Many readers enjoy the format for the convenience of having a big chunk of material in one volume and for how they look on a bookshelf. However, they’re a significant upfront cost, retailing for $100-150 each. (Although tracking down the issues in single issues or other formats tends to cost more in the long run.) Additionally, they can be heavy, which is not ideal for those who enjoy reading in bed.
There’s another form of the omnibus that are more budget conscience. These are what I like to call the “budget omnibus”. While these are referred to as “omnibus” by publishers, these differ from the heavy hardcover variety through their dimensions and cover stock.
While the hardcover variety is oversized, the budget versions carry the dimensions of a trade paperback (or slightly smaller) and have a soft cover. As a result, they tend to look like very thick trade paperbacks. Due to fewer materials used and the lighter weight, this format is sold much cheaper and often offers the best bang for your buck.
This format is popular through Dark Horse Comics, IDW Publishing, Viz, and some manga publishers. Skybound (an Image Comics imprint) also use this format but refers to it as a compendium. These publishers use the format to print older material once they’ve cycled through other formats first. As a result, it can take years before a comic series receives this format.
Other publisher-specific formats
There are a number of collected edition formats that are publisher specific. These are often trade paperbacks or hardcovers that have a slight point of difference, mostly in branding or content. As a result, I haven’t given them a dedicated section but are worth calling out. These include:
Absolute edition: DC Comics’ Absolute edition are oversized hardcovers that have archival quality paper and a slipcase. They are usually reserved for classic storylines and series.
Essential edition: This a defunct line Marvel line that collected classic material in thick phonebook-like trade paperbacks.
Library edition: This is Dark Horse Comics’ oversized hardcover line, which collects the equivalent of three trade paperbacks.
Treasury edition: This is an oversized trade paperback collection published by Marvel Comics.
VizBig: VizBig collected editions collect three volumes of manga in an larger dimension.
Which collected edition format is right for me?
There’s no wrong answer to this. It all comes down to availability, budget, and personal preference. If a comic is collected in more than one format, weigh up the pros and cons and make an informed decision based on that.