While reading the latest Usagi Yojimbo collection this week, I was reminded yet again how much I enjoy Stan Sakai's series, and thought to myself, "Maybe I should start reading the book monthly again? Now that the latest collected edition is out, surely it's not that far behind the single issues."
So then I did a little research. Usagi Yojimbo Vol. 21: The Mother of Mountains collects issues #83-89. The latest issue actually released? #106. That's more than just a few issues. And the problem is, for the past four years, Dark Horse has only released one Usagi Yojimbo collection a year (every summer), which collect seven issues. Meanwhile, each year has produced ten issues.
You can see where this is going, can't you? Not only are the collections running almost two years behind the serialized comic, but with each year they're getting further and further behind. (Meanwhile, the new Buffy the Vampire Slayer collection from Dark Horse has shown up only a few months past the storyline's conclusion in the comics.) So then the question becomes, at what speed do you collect your single issues into books?
If you collect comics too quickly, there are some immediate issues that will manifest themselves. First off, you're threatening to undercut the sales of single issues; why buy a book monthly if the very next month the collected edition will appear? Second, doing so will kill the shelf-life of your comic; savvy retailers order comics not only to sell in its first week of release, but for a longer, extended time period. A new reader who picks up the latest issue of a comic will come back for the previous four issues, for instance, but why do that if you can just snag the latest collection? A few years ago this was a problem that Marvel ran into when they raced collections out so quickly that retailers began to rightfully complain, and soon after the frequency slowed down a little bit.
On the other hand, collect them too slowly and you put the disconnect between the two forms of the comic so far apart that they'll never meet. Buying the first Crossing Midnight collection interested me enough that I started buying the book monthly, but it helped that only three or four more issues had been released since the first storyline wrapped. It was easy for me to go back and buy the other issues without feeling like I had to start searching eBay in the hope of finding those elusive missing chapters.
So where's the happy medium, a timeline that can make publisher, retailer, and consumer all happy? How quickly do you want to see your collected editions released? What's your vote?
(Don't mind me, I'll be wishing for more Usagi Yojimbo collections before I have to leave next-of-kin forwarding information with the comic book store.)