Mar 8 2010 11:58am

Absolute Editions: Geek Heaven?

I just brought home a plastic-wrapped, weighty, beautiful copy of Neil Gaiman’s Absolute Death. It’s going to go on one of the tall shelves in the library right next to the slip-covered, leather-bound and equally gorgeous Absolute Sandman volumes. I can’t help it. It doesn’t matter how expensive they are. I need those Absolutes. I’m not sure whether it’s the geek collector-instinct or my inner book diva that convinces me to pay twice as much for the privelege of having such a handsome version of a comic, but I’m not the only one—we sell quite a few of them in the bookstore I work for. There are different kinds of definitive collections, too, beyond the Absolutes line.

Several of the comics on the list for the Great Comics Read-Along are available in more that one format. The trade paperbacks might be on the shelf right next to a complete collection, or a collector’s edition. So if you’re going on a merry trip to buy, say, Bone or Death at whatever time we make it to reading them: what’s the difference and how do you decide what’s worth buying?

There are four things I measure when deciding what version to buy: price, bonus content, print/color quality, and durability. The trend is usually that the better the last three are—the higher the first one is. For example, compare four different kinds of definitive editions.

Absolute Sandman & Absolute Death—These are the kind that I vote top of the heap. They include recoloring, fixed text, a mountain of extras in the form of interviews, sketches, etc, not to mention the packaging. The slipcovers are sturdy and decorated in the vaguely hallucinogenic art of Dave McKean. The actual books are prohibitively large and heavy, so they aren’t good for carrying around like a trade paperback, but the pages are thick and glossy. The leather binding is tough. They aren’t going to fall apart any time this century. Plus, ribbon bookmark inside! The recoloring and the bonus material are the best parts but I love the overall size and classiness of the Absolute runs. They will cost you, though; the average is $100 a piece list price. Judicious use of coupons at the bookstore of your choice will help. There are four of the Sandman books containing all sixty issues. (Trust me, seeing the Corinthian even bigger and more colorful is just that much more horrifying.)

Lost Girls by Alan Moore—sometimes it’s all about availability in addition to the other markers of worth. The newest Lost Girls edition is a large hardcover approximately the same size and height as the Absolutes, but it isn’t leatherbound and has no slipcover. The art hasn’t been recolored but the pages are thick and the watercolor swishiness of the art is well-captured without glossy print. There are other series released this way, too. The price isn’t bad. It’s half the cost of an Absolute and is a little bit less sturdy, but it would still take a serious effort to damage the binding.

Preacher/Fables/Y the Last Man special editions—in this case, it depends on how you want your shelves to look, too. These deluxe $30 editions are oversized hardcovers, but they don’t have much additional material for the price. The Fables edition only has a new introduction and an added sketch gallery. There was nothing listed on the Y the Last Man version. Considering that the first trade paperback of Fables is only $10 it seems almost pointless to spend three times as much for very little benefit aside from having a hardcover. Also, the entire series isn’t offered in deluxe editions, so the volumes won’t match. End vote: if you love hardcovers or collecting, go for it. Just for reading the trades are a better bet.

Bone complete collection—this is one of the collections that is actually lower in quality than the trade paperbacks but it’s also the only kind that’s cheaper. This style is popular in manga collections as well, an extremely thick paperback containing all of the story in one. The difference for Bone pivots on the art: the trades are colored, but the complete collection is only black and white. No extras whatsoever, either, but it is half the price of buying the trades separately. The durability is a problem, too. The thickness of the material and the relative flimsiness of the binding can result in your complete edition falling apart if you attempt to read it too many times or carry it around with you. The bonus is all about price. If you don’t mind spending $100 instead of $40, it would be best to buy the trades, but if you only want the story on hand the complete collection will work just fine.

Hopefully that will help any new comic-shoppers decide which versions are best for them. Alternately, if you’re looking for a challenge, most series also had a single-issue run. That’s dipping your toes into the slightly more obsessive end of comics collecting but it can be more fun than you would think. Overall—the trades are often a better deal, unless you have coupons to use on the hardcover collections, in which case go for it! (Or if you just like really pretty books.)

Brit Mandelo is a multi-fandom geek with a special love for comics and queer literature. She can be found on Twitter and Livejournal.

1. pskye
You evil, evil man!
Don't publicize the Absolute Sandman books. I haven't bought volumes 3 and 4 yet and I don't want the thousands of people who read your post to go out and order the set for themselves (which they should, honestly) therefore depleting world supply before I can complete my set. Gah! Now I'm going to have to stop by B&N at lunch to put in my order and try to beat the masses.
Thanks a lot, jerk.
2. pskye
I'm the jerk it seems with my own personal genderfail. I didn't read the bio at the bottom before coming up with my post. Sorry about that! I work with a person who goes by "Brit" and it just so happens that he's a very imposing dude at six-five and about 280. I try not to tick him off either. . .
Marcus W
3. toryx
pskye @ 1:

She's also not a man. :)


I'm not a collector but I've got to say that the Absolute Sandman titles are particularly gorgeous. I'm never going to get them myself, but from time to time I like to take a look at them with gentle, slightly shaky hands.
Irene Gallo
4. Irene
The Absolute Sandman are my curse...I _so_ much want the better color, but I hate having books too precious to read.

Brit: Looking forward to your series. I've only read a few comics -- Sandman, Watchmen, Blankets, just a few others -- I've loved those and am looking forward to having a guide through new material.
5. ctkierst
I grew up with Asterix and Tintin, so it always seemed odd to me that North American comics came on cheap paper, with paper covers, and only a few pages of actual story compared to the number of ads. The trade paperbacks were only a modest step up. I adore the absolute editions, and have bought more than my wallet would really like. Some are very hard to find (Planetary, The Authority). The "Midnight Nation" oversized deluxe edition is a real beauty, and worth seeking out!
Teresa Jusino
6. TeresaJusino
I bought Absolute Death, because she's my favorite character, and she's in few enough issues that I wanted all her appearances collected all in one place. However, I don't feel the need to have hardcover, "special edition" copies of everything.

I LOVE Y: The Last Man, but I'm perfectly happy to have that in trades. (Except for the last issue, which I got signed by BKV. Go ahead. Be jealous) For me, portability and lendability trump fancy-pants packaging any day.
7. mirana
I agree about wishing Bone had a better cover/binding set-up, but the lack of color was actually a fantastic trade-off. I can't be the only one that thinks Bone looks even more amazing in just ink.
Pablo Defendini
8. pablodefendini
@ Brit @ mirana:

Actually, before Bone was repackaged as a paperback omnibus, Cartoon Books put out a *gorgeous* leatherbound omnibus, which features the art in its original B&W (which I also find superior to the aftermarket colour treatment from Scholastic).

It's bound into black leather without boards, and features gold stamping on the cover and spine—in other words, it looks like a fancy bible, which is kinda cool.

I'm unsure if it's in print still, it was probably a limited edition, but it sits in my library along with Absolute Sandman and Absolute Watchmen (which is chock-full of fantastic extras as well) and is a joy to read.

Also, the first hardcover edition of Lost Girls (also on my shelves) is bound in three hardcover and just-jacketed volumes, and comes in an attractive cloth-wrapped slipcase.
Alex Brown
9. AlexBrown
I do really want the Absolute collections, but I just have a thing for my old trade volumes. I bought them used off Amazon (I know, I know, but the local brick and mortars near me didn't carry them used and I like owning books that come with their own histories that I get to add to) and relish adding to the bend spine and dog-earing the pages. I'd never be able to do that with the Absolutes. More importantly, I sooooo don't have that kinda cash to throw around. If anyone wants to buy them for me, my birthday's in March...

@ ctkierst: I also grew up with Tintin and was surprised when I picked up my first Marvel comic book (one of the myriad X-Men titles...what can I say, I was 12 and naive) to find it so flimsy. But Absolute Tintin is something I could totally get behind. Last time I was in Paris I found several copies in French at one of the stands on the Left Bank and almost bought them, but I just didn't have enough cash, and they were gone by the time I trekked back from the ATM :(

@ Teresa: I so totally hate you! Y was the first graphic novel I ever read, and I can honestly say that I wouldn't be on Tor right now if it wasn't for Yorick Brown. Y led me to Preacher, which led me to a bunch of articles and interviews when I realized that Sandman and Hellboy existed, and from then I was sunk. (I was a late comer to SF...very late...I was one of the brainwashed masses who didn't "get" SF until I finally stopped trying and just accepted it...I'm much happier now...)
Brit Mandelo
10. BritMandelo

Dude, it's cool. Friends I have known my entire life occasionally call me "man" too. *g* I tell you what I'm sad I missed--the Dream&Death bookends that came out with volume 4. They were just tooooo expensive.


I know; I spend a lot of time petting the ones I can't afford for other series.


Awesome! I can't wait to do Transmetropolitan. It's a great story with such gorgeous art. I think you'll like it.


Single issues really are deadly-flimsy. I never quite understood why, for the price.


Most things I'm prefer trades for the ease of carrying and reading them, too. It's just that collector instinct that rears its head sometimes...

@mirana @pablodefendini

I'll have to think harder about the color vs. black-and-white thing. I think I might just be color-spoiled.

Also, that big leather edition of Bone sounds delicious! I've never laid eyes on one. A friend has the three-volume version of Lost Girls but I couldn't find those anywhere. I like the giant-size hardcover pretty well excepting the size and weight of the thing.


I still have trades of some of the things I also have in Absolute just for the ease of carrying them around. Plus, if one of those gets wet or torn up or dropped from a moving vehicle, it's not going to induce tooth-gnashing despair.
Nick Eden
11. NickPheas
The Hellboy library editions are so worth having. Lovely books and a lot cheaper than Absolute editions.
Pablo Defendini
12. pablodefendini

In addition to the Hellboys, and under that same publishing program, Dark Horse has also put out a beautiful edition of Frankenstein illustrated by Bernie Wrightson—not strictly a comic, but well worth the hunt, as well.
Pablo Defendini
13. pablodefendini
Huh, it had been a long time since I'd pulled Bone off my shelf—for some reason I was misremembering it as bound in leather without boards. It's not. It's bound into boards all right, it's got gilded edges, and the endpapers are really nice. I've put up some pics here.

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