the size of books

I posted this on Tumblr recently, just some random thoughts on the “standards” comics have about format size. I’ve been thinking a lot about this, recently looking back on the success of SCOTT PILGRIM and the different size options I have through POD services like MagCloud and Lulu;

As I reread Jeff Smith’s RASL (“RASL Pocketbook #1”), as well as a few Vertigo and Oni Press books I have laying around, I’ve been thinking a lot about the size of our format and the general disdain against working smaller. Larger-than-average sizes seem to be considered fancy, but a move towards a smaller (or “digest”/manga) size is seen as a risky move.

Why?

If anything, a lack of formalized standards for sizing not only encourages on the artistic side when it comes to monthly comics or OGNs (original graphic novels), but wouldn’t a reduced size be a cost-saver? Or alternately, offering more “bang for the buck” with more material at the same size? The inherent price issue of manga in the West rights and translation issues, not the size. The pages are even cheaper paper stock, not to mention they’re printed in B&W. Even ARCHIE comics come in smaller digest sizes.

As I work on a self-published/DIY comic that I want to get into print through a POD (print-on-demand service), I realize that a smaller format size will be cheaper all-round, not to mention it might accommodate the smaller paper stock I’m drawing on better. Should I care it won’t be in the “regular” comic size?

The above-bolded part of that unorganized little thought train is probably the root of the thought here. I browse my bookshelves and see that the non-comic books are almost entirely full of randomly-sized editions. A few are uniform, but that was completely random on my part in terms of purchase. A few William Gibson novels I have are the same because they’re hardcover first editions, but I didn’t get them because they’re hardcover first editions, I got them because they were there. Honestly, I tend to prefer paperbacks when it comes to my books.

Comic books on the other hand are a totally different monster. All the single-issue comics I have from major publishers (not necessarily just “the Big 2”) are an industry-standard size, one that translates to a similarly-uniform size with trade paperback collections of comics. And for the most part, they tend to scale up in size. Have you seen how big some “deluxe” editions of graphic novels and trade paperback collections are when they’re in hardcover? On the other hand, you can slip a paperback novel, or a manga volume, into your jacket pocket. You can hold it and read it with one hand while you ride a bus or a subway (standing), you can even slip it into your back pocket.

Those volumes of SCOTT PILGRIM? Way easier to carry around than that really beautiful but large and hardcover BATWOMAN: ELEGY trade I have.

I will allow that collections of newspaper comic strips, which come in REALLY big sizes, hardcover binding, or long landscape-style formatting, are sort of exempt in my eyes due to the inherit “need” of that format to collect HUGE amounts of material to justify compilation. Also, people read the funnies in the actual paper when they travel.

I guess that my point here is that I wonder why there’s such a weird insistence on certain pre-determined dimensions when it comes to funnybooks. Not just in a “I’m gonna be an artsy type and experiment with page layout” way, but rather a “if my work looks best at a particular size that isn’t the same as an 8.5×11 ‘regular’ trade, why try to make it fit like that?” way. Books like RASL, OLD CITY BLUES, collections of WHITEOUT volumes 1 and 2, the Vertigo Crime comics (non-glossy paper, small paperback size, coming in either hardcover or paperback), or MICE TEMPLAR are all amazing comics, and they manage to do so without having to conform their size to match someone’s collections of AVENGERS trade paperbacks on the bookshelves (man, Marvel and DC’s TPB’s are really bland sometimes in terms of material beyond the basics, but that’s another story for another day).

OK, now I’m just rambling. Back to work, losers.

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2 thoughts on “the size of books

  1. You pose some good questions, I’m looking to self publish as well and I need to cut costs anyway I can, without sacrificing quality. Digest size seems to be a really good way to go, but some collectors are all about uniformity, I believe that’s why the standard bookshelf size is so popular among publishers. Also the digest size comes off as niche and doesn’t get the attention of a broader audience. It worked for Scott Pilgrim because the writer played up the tropes of video games, which tend to be designed by manga/animae creators. I don’t know if you go to Cons or check out the indie section of your local comic shop, but there is a lot of variety in terms of scale and size for ash can books and indie books in general. I’m a long way from actually publishing but these are things I keep in mind, for the future.

    There are no limits to how you present your work, it’s all on you. Can’t wait to see what you come up with.

  2. Costa,

    Glad to read this post from you! I hope you choose to print your book is a way that best represents your work. I don’t have a problem with “the big 2” publishers & readers adhering to the “one-size-fits-all” way of printing. However, when it comes to my own work, I’ve always been keen on making my own rules, and although there’ve been a couple of gripes and grumbles, for the most part, if readers can be fully engaged with the content of the comic, than the format should become just a vessel. (Like a glass you use to drink a delicious beverage.)

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