Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Bindings

Despite the title, this post is not about golden age Wonder Woman comics. Well in a way it is. And given how DC's merchandising department works, the title might also fit upcoming Wonder Woman statues. And Wonder Woman bondage jokes would get me more hits, I'm sure...

No, this is starting off in SUNDERLAND. Bryan Talbot's work in ALICE IN SUNDERLAND is good enough that it would be a pleasure to read regardless, but one reason is the binding. It's just a gorgeously made book, with the binding letting me lay it flat on a table or comfortably read it eased back in a chair or lying down. Even on the full-bleed pages (those that have no margins on the edges, print to all four edges of the page) I can see the whole image with almost no distortion caused by the curve of the pages, nothing vanishing into the spine. On the rare occasion that an image goes across two pages there's only the slightest of unavoidable discontinuity where the two pages join at the spine. Binding to make a pleasurable reading experience even more so.

This wouldn't be notable except for the fact that it's sometimes more the exception than the rule in American comics, at least from some publishers. Fortunately Dark Horse, North American publishers of SUNDERLAND, usually do much better, at least for hardcovers.

Pulling some stuff off my shelf...

David Lloyd's KICKBACK, also from Dark Horse. Not quite as nice as SUNDERLAND, but a solidly built thin book. It sits flat nicely. The last page is glued to the endpaper at the edge, so you lose a bit of the image right at the end.

Schulz's COMPLETE PEANUTS from Fantagraphics. Gorgeously made book. Sits flat, you can see the full page, pages curve a bit down towards the spine but since the art never comes within a half-inch of the spine that's not an issue.

Jessica Abel's LA PERDIDA from Pantheon. Not too bad. The binding is a bit tighter than I'd like, so that the book doesn't usually sit flat on a table or in your hand, you have to sort of press it down or keep a finger in there. If there was any full bleed art or double-page spreads it would get a little annoying with losing stuff in the spine.

E.C. Segar's POPEYE from Fantagraphics. Pretty much the pinnacle of the form, along with SUNDERLAND. Handsome oversized book, sits perfectly flat, kind of awkward to read lying in bed but anything that size would be. Generous margins so the art never comes within an inch of the spine, but if it did that wouldn't be a problem.

DC and their "Archives" series hardcovers have varied over the years, based on the sampling of about a dozen of them on my bookshelf. And not in any especially logical way, like recent ones being better than early ones. For the most part they're about middling. Usually sit open on a table, if you press them down first. Pages curve a bit more than I'd like at the spine. They don't have much stuff with full-bleed art or double page spreads, but if they did they'd lose points, because stuff would get lost in the spine in almost all these books. The KAMANDI ARCHIVES book I have has a few double page spreads, but they print them with a gap between the two pages. An inelegant solution, but better than what would have happened if they'd tried to print them the right way with this binding.

And that brings us to Marvel. High falutin' names like MASTERWORKS, VISIONARIES and OMNIBUS on the books I have. They must spare no effort on making sure the presentation of that material is top-notch...

Wait, let me guess, you've heard this joke before.

And a joke it would be if this material from the likes of Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko wasn't among my favourite comics of all time. The only MASTERWORKS volume I currently own (having sold the early editions I had because I found the printing unacceptable, but that's another story) is TALES TO ASTONISH. Great artwork by Kirby, Ditko, Williamson and others. The binding is awful. The book not only will not sit flat on a table, but you have to literally hold down the pages at both edges just to get it to sit open. Almost impossible to get a good, clear undistorted view of any of the pages, the only way to see them without a noticeable curve on the pages is to hold the book less than half open, in which case you're looking at the page at an awkward angle. I recall my early editions being quite a bit better bound, although otherwise more poorly produced.

THE ETERNALS OMNIBUS is pretty much more of the same (but with slightly bigger pages), with the added menace of a double-page spread in almost every issue, so you can imagine how bad that looks. For added fun, the art also prints closer to the spine, so it is even more impractical, almost impossible, to see the full image flat even on the non-double-page pages.

The MARVEL VISIONARIES books are just about like the OMNIBUS. Maybe just marginally better, probably because they're fewer pages. I can't imagine how the 800+ page OMNIBUS books are.

I could almost justify at least DC's quality (Marvel's is too far gone) if it seemed to be a "keeping costs down, passing the savings on to you" situation. Except that Marvel's books are by far the most expensive ($55 for a MASTERWORKS now, $75 for the ETERNALS OMNIBUS, $35 for the VISIONARIES. Oddly the cheapest, both in absolute and per-page, is the marginally more acceptable one). DC happily charges $50 for books often down around 220 pages. The other books range in price from $13 (KICKBACK) to $30 (SUNDERLAND). And that's with POPEYE being literally twice the page-size of the DC and Marvel books, SUNDERLAND being over 300 pages of lavishly produced full colour (wherever it needs to be) original material. Overall the non-DC and Marvel books are better produced in every way and better deals than those from the "Big Two". So there's no way I'd believe that better binding would actually cost much more.

I'm at a loss to understand this. I really would like to buy more DC and Marvel hardcovers. I'd be more than happy to plop down the money for SGT. FURY MASTERWORKS, RAWHIDE KID MASTERWORKS, the upcoming second FANTASTIC FOUR OMNIBUS. If I thought they would look half as good as SUNDERLAND I would order them right now. I accept the kind of crappy binding in the SHOWCASE / ESSENTIAL books, because they're cheap, but surely prestige projects deserves prestige production, not just prestige labels and prestige pricing. Am I wrong and the differences aren't objectively clear? Find me one person who can look at SUNDERLAND and my ASTONISH book and not pick SUNDERLAND. Do management at DC and Marvel just not look at their books and those of other publishers? If so, could someone please show them? Hit them over the head with the POPEYE book if you must (that thing would stun a horse). Get them a quote from the Dark Horse or Fantagraphics binder, which I'm sure is only marginally higher than what they're paying now. Or is it that they just don't care?

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