Cosmic Treadmill Presents… Comix Tawk, Episode 5: “Decompression & Writing For the Trade”

In this new-to-most former Patreon Exclusive episode, we discuss the not-so-secret phenomenon of writing “for the trade”.  When did it begin to take over the mainstream comics industry… and, after all years since, is it still just something the fandom “imagined up”?
It’s a lean and mean episode discussing excessively padded pablum… you won’t wanna miss it!

Writing “for the Trade” was one of those topics we discussed quite a bit off the air… and, we had similar opinions on the phenomenon.  For the most part, we weren’t fans of it!

We look at this more from a few points of view, including… most importantly, storytelling.  Why take up six issues to tell a story that would be better paced in two?  Well, we know why the industry does this… but, how does this affect the flow of a story?  How much “dead space” or repetitive “talking heads” scenes do we need in order to get a story to the proper “thickness” where it can be given a spine and hard-cover?

From a sales point of view, we ponder how well a “Part 4 of 6” of an arc might sell in a vacuum?  Back in the long ago, every comic was written in a way where it could be somebody’s “first”.  Well, maybe not “every comic”, but there was definitely more of a concerted effort.  “Current Year”, though?  Fuhgeddaboudit.  Nowadays first issues are nigh on incomprehensible to “new readers”.  I guess it’s a good thing there aren’t all that many of those!  Uh, aren’t all that many “new readers”, that is… there are many, many, many first issues… every. single. month.

From a “lying to your fanbase” point of view.  For the longest time, “decompression” was just something the fans dreamed up… and nobody at Marvel or DC was being told to pad their stories out to fill six issues… except that, well, they totally were (Dan Didio would admit to that in front of a sizable crowd… which we also talk about this issue).

Put a half-dozen Marvel creators on the same book, and they couldn’t agree on something as trivial as Captain Marvel’s hair length… and we’re supposed to believe all of these creators suddenly, all at the same exact time, decided to pace their stories as six-issue arcs?  C’mon, Brevoort… we comics fans may be dumb, but we ain’t stupid.

It’s a fun discussion, and I hope you decide to check it out.  This is also the first “new-to-most” episode that I’m not going to bother sharing on social media.  The overwhelming indifference to these pieces over there is a bit too much… not that anybody is really wasting their time visiting this site anymore either.

2 thoughts on “Cosmic Treadmill Presents… Comix Tawk, Episode 5: “Decompression & Writing For the Trade”

  • First off let me say I do not like "writing for the trade". My favorite comics were written in the 80s by guys like Claremont, Wolfman, Levitz, Stern, Conway, etc… These were stories heavy on subplots simmering in the background for months or even years before becoming the main story. Stories that can't be easily condensed into a collection of one single story.
    Having said all of that, I understand why publishers are "writing for the trade". If they can make more money selling to people who only buy books in bookstores where trades are sold then they need to go after the customers that are not going to comic stores. Making an easy buck by reprinting multiple issues in a single volume is a no brainer. Especially if it is intended for customers not buying the monthly issues anyway.
    I blame the whole "writing for the trade" phenomenon on the rise of the limited series. The 4 issue, 6 issue, or even 12 issue limited series gave a clear beginning and ending point and made it easy to collect the whole story without having any dangling subplots left hanging.
    When Marvel first gave Venom a solo series they did not make it an ongoing monthly series. Rather it was a series of limited series that when one ended in June the next started in July. Effectively it was 12 issues published monthly, just each story was its own series. Each with that all so valuable #1 issue.
    And each easily collected into a trade.
    The "writing for the trade" style is not even a thing invented by comics. When Charles Dickens released his novels he always released them one chapter a month with adds inside to offset the cost of printing. Only once all the chapters were released would the entire volume be bound.
    So I guess if modern comics are going to "write for the trade" at least they are fallowing in the footsteps of a literary giant like Dickens.

  • Walt Kneeland

    Ultimate Spidey was definitely where I first REALLY felt and saw the "decompression."

    Enjoyed the discussion; y'all kept me company while doing some painting!

    At this point with basically 20 years (of my 31 or so) involving this, I've been "trained" to expect it…but it's also (I think) "backfired" at least for someone like me.

    I don't remember at this point if I was aware of that Daredevil/Elektra TPB…but I do recall that sort of thing, and some of the "backlash" when Marvel started making more effort to distance the final issue of a story from the TPB's arrival.

    Lot more thoughts than I'm getting clear words to; so I'm gonna shut up and hit send before I derail myself too much more for now. 🙂


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