Writing for the Trade

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

When a story is written with the intention of reading well as a trade paperback, with the consequence of it being less coherent when first released as monthly or weekly installments.

Once upon a time, Comic Books were just floppy pamphlets that were easily forgotten and thrown away. But in the 1990s, when American comic books achieved a level of popularity that they had not managed for fifty years, the viability of collected editions of comics—known as trade paperbacks (TPBs) or trade hardbacks—increased dramatically.

By the early-to-mid 00s, virtually every halfway-popular comic book published by DC Comics or Marvel Comics—the "big two" companies in the industry—would get a shot at getting collected in a TPB. At around the same time, a fad for Decompressed Comics had developed that saw writers experimenting with the idea of taking more time than had been used previously to tell a story in order to give it a more cinematic structure.

Similar to Decompressed Comic, this can be a good or a bad thing. Stretching a thin story even thinner over five or six issues isn't good by any standards. But writing for the trades can also allow the author to tell a more complex story and go deeper into characterization and dialogue, two things often glossed over in old-style short-format comics.

Among comics fans and critics, Writing for the Trades can mean either the good or the bad version of it, depending on the context.

See also Better on DVD and Webcomic Print Collection.

Examples of Writing for the Trade include:

Comic Books

  • Virtually every single Crisis Crossover, especially if it includes the word "Crisis" or "War" in it.
    • Of particular note is Final Crisis, which was incomprehensible when it was monthly issues and separate tie-ins but is absolutely spectacular in its collected form, especially when a copy of Morrison's run on Batman and (to a lesser extent) Seven Soldiers is available as well.
  • Warren Ellis explicitly declared that he considered that "The graphic novel or album (or other more suitable nomenclature yet to be coined) is the optimised form of 'comics.'" Fortunately, he's pretty good at it.
    • Note that while Ellis prefers to write for the trade, he's flexible enough that he doesn't have to. Global Frequency, Secret Avengers, and Fell are all Done In One, and are generally considered solid reads.
  • This is an accusation frequently aimed at the Marvel Ultimate Universe. Many of the series (including the Ultimate Spider-Man, FantasticFour and X-Men series) are mostly comprised of six-part stories.
    • The Ultimates, on the other hand, came in 13-part arcs, and so was Writing For The Hardcover. Read in that format, it was arguably Mark Millar's finest work.
    • Back when Marvel was soliciting scripts for their Epic imprint, the submission guidelines required a story outline that would run for five or six issues. It was explained this made it easier for TPB packaging later on.
  • Geoff Johns eventually stopped working for Marvel because he was tired of writing Avengers storylines in six-issue format, however his more recent work for DC is sliding in this direction, notably Flashpoint and the War of the Green Lanterns storyline.
  • Neil Gaiman has admitted doing this with 'The Kindly Ones' arc in Sandman. He sounded sorry.
  • Oddly enough, Hellboy and follow-ups aren't accused of this practice, although many of their storylines fall into the pattern. This is because multi-issue stories are clearly identified as "miniseries".
    • The BPRD series kinda fell into this starting with the Plague of Frogs miniseries, though. They recently put the massive story arc it spawned on hold for the 1946 story, which makes up a single volume of the trade.
  • The rebooted Amazing Fantasy series of the mid-zeros were often guilty of this. Their aim was to capture the style of the original Amazing Fantasy series, which introduced Spider-Man and the concept of mutants to the Marvel Universe. But where the original managed to introduce its characters in self-contained one-issue stories, the new version introduced them in six-issue arcs. Only the backup stories came close to the style they aimed for (and most of them were arc-based too).
  • James Robinson's Starman subverted this for maximum headache: With the initial run of TPBs for the series, Robinson was given free rein over how the series would be collected, resulting in the various one-off issues (flashback stories mainly) being omitted from the core TPBs and collected instead in what would be called "Times Past" TPBs. This would be well and good, except that the flashback issues established major plot points for the series and indeed, most of the narrative for the book collapses when those stories are omitted as far as said issues setting up key plot points and other essential information that is outright required for a lot of the main storylines to make sense. Even worse, for reasons unrevealed, many of the later series one-off stories were never collected as DC opted not to release any future "Times Past" volumes for the series. They've since made up for it however, as DC has recently begun collecting the series in hardcover format, with the issues (and tie-in comics) being collected in the order in which they were published, meaning that fans can read the series in the fan-preferred reading order.
  • Pretty much the entire point of Cerebus, you could say. However, at the time that creator Dave Sim [1] had the idea of turning the comic into a 300-issue epic storyline covering the eponymous character's entire life, only rare examples of the Graphic Novel format existed. In fact, he did the "comic books followed by collected volume" before just about anyone. In part because the Graphic Novel did not even have a name at the time, he nicknamed them "phonebooks".
    • Coincidentally "phonebook" is the name of trades in Japan where this is somewhat rarer.
  • Most of IDW's run of Transformers comics have been neatly arranged into 4-6 issue story arcs. Exceptions include the stand-alone Spotlight issues, and the 16-issue "All Hail Megatron" series.
    • Excluding the supplemental "Coda" issues, All Hail Megatron qualifies, albeit much more in a "Writing to be read in one shot from issues 1 to 12" than "Writing For The Trade(s)". To say the story's pace is slow would be an understatement.
    • And the new Ongoing also suffers heavily from this. While there are some moments (and one great issue focused on Thundercracker), it happens to be slow and uneventful for the most part.
  • Since Dark Horse's solicitation model seems based on the miniseries format, its not surprising that their other titles seem to follow the Hellboy model. Other series include The Unbrella Academy, Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Eight, and Grendel.
    • Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8 is an example that must be pointed out: It is a single story broken up in smaller arcs that all follow each other. Every single arc is done by a different author and consist of 4 or 5 issue. One TPB = 5 issue. In case of an arc with 4 issue, the first (or fifth) one is a one-shot done by Joss Whedon himself. Due to pacing issues, the series is a lot better in trade, as its goal of emulating the show's format is easier to obtain if you don't have to wait a month (or sometimes more) between issues.
  • Dark Horse's entire Star Wars line for the year 2011 consisted entirely of 5-issue and 6-issue arcs. By the contrast, arcs from the 2000s had no such constraint and varied all the way between 2-issue and 6-issue pretty evenly, with a health mix of odd standalones.
  • Pretty much the only way Batman R.I.P. is going to make any sense is if you read the previous two trade paperbacks in the Myth Arc. And that one issue where Bruce gets high on weapons-grade heroin and runs around in a red-and-purple Batsuit makes a whole lot more sense as a chapter of a graphic novel than as a standalone issue.
  • Pat Mills is criticised here for ending the Volgan War mega-arc of ABC Warriors in a way which shows he was clearly thinking more about the inevitable collection than about a sensible weekly series. The strip is written in six-page instalments; the final one ends the war in two pages, followed by a four-page epilogue.
  • While Invincible isn't that bad, Robert Kirkman tends to write The Walking Dead with the trade in mind. The issues tend to continue right after one another, so new readers don't get much of a catch up, and there's one point in the fourth volume where if you count the pages, the last page of chapter four and the first page of chapter five are a two-page spread.
  • David Herbert's Warriors of the Night makes a lot more sense in one reading that going by individual chapters. Thankfully, Gemini Storm seems to avert this.
  • Then there's the arguable king of this trope -- Brian Michael Bendis. The so-called "story arcs" in The Mighty Avengers are so obviously padded that you could skip every third issue and not miss a single narrative beat. And this isn't even the most egregious example in Bendis' bibliography.
  • Boom! Comics model for Disney comics generally follows a four-issue arc to trade format.
  • Sonic Universe flat-out tells you in its subscription pages that it intentionally makes four-issue story arcs for purposes of bundling into trades. The mainline Sonic the Hedgehog comic series also started breaking up arcs in trade sized pieces once Cerebus Syndrome kicked in and it stopped being a self-contained-per-issue gag comic.
  • Hardly anyone remembers reading Watchmen in its original 12-part format. Although instantly acclaimed even before the story had reached its conclusion, it was only after the collected edition was issued that it came to be regarded as a true novel.
  • Averted with DC's Showcase and Archive lines, and Marvel's parallel Essentials and Masterworks lines. While all four of these lines consist of compiling entire runs of classic comics into either deluxe color hardcover editions (Archives and Masterworks) or less-expensive Cerebus phone book-style black-and-white omnibuses (Showcases and Essentials), very few of the reprinted stories are anything other than done on ones.
  • Most manga are clearly intended to be finite stories that will be collected in a series of several books, even Long Runners such as One Piece. However, since most publishing houses in Japan make most of their money from weekly magazine anthology publications, authors are forced to break up their stories into 10 to 15 page long chapters first.

Web Comics

  • Some of the less popular arcs in Sluggy Freelance (such as "Oceans Unmoving") are much more enjoyable when read during an Archive Binge instead of one-strip-per-day.
  • Schlock Mercenary, while intimidatingly Long Running, is very rewarding to read in archives, especially when most of the plots involve a Gambit Pileup or two with Loads and Loads of Characters. Since the 1000th strip the author has written with shorter series arcs for ease of publication later, to the point where the first 1000 were not even meant for inclusion because they were not, though thankfully they were compiled into larger collections later.
  • Dan Shive, the author of El Goonish Shive, has said that he writes for the archives.
  • Seeing as only one page comes out at a time, it can be easier to read the Girl Genius archives and check back again every few months once you've finished them.
    • Have only one page come out every week & a half at best, and you can say the same thing for Megatokyo. the TPBs are a lot easier to follow than it is online.
  • Misfile: With the sky shots and low number of panels per page, the later pages work better when you can read the whole book, or are at least more fulfilling when you don't have to wait two days to find out what happened to so and so because the page in between is made up of establishing shots.
  • Ow, My Sanity seems to have been written for the print collection, occasionally spending an entire update on a single page-sized illustration.
  • Whether Homestuck is better experienced as an Archive Binge or as incremental daily updates has been debated by the fandom. When people started to question the direction the story was going in based on the latest pages, author Andrew Hussie brought this trope up, stating that reading the story serially may be causing people to judge plot developments out of context since they can't quickly see what comes after. He's also indicated that he keeps in mind that at the end of the day, once it's all finished, it'll be sitting on a server for years to come and will be exclusively read as an Archive Binge.
  • Freak Angels, with its very detailed panels and extremely slow storyline fits this trope, all the more so since every so many chapters it's actually made into an album.
    • Given that it's by Warren Ellis, whose beliefs are outlined above, this is hardly surprising.
  • The Zombie Hunters: Great art, but very little story per page, and it updates once a week.
  1. after tripping out on LSD early in its run