DC Comics' collected editions have seen annual double-digit sales growth for a number of years, according to George Brewer, DC Comics’ v-p of design and retail product development. Beginning in spring 2008, as DC's books begin to be distributed to the bookstore market by Random House, the company is introducing a new line of collections: Deluxe Editions, trade hardcovers with a trim size a bit larger than a standard comic book or paperback, but not quite as large as DC’s high-end, oversized Absolute Editions.
The first book in the new format, Jeff Smith's Shazam!: The Monster Society of Evil, was released in October. “We kind of backed into it with Monster Society of Evil,” Brewer said. "It was such a singular work that for its first incarnation as a collected edition, we thought it'd be a great way to test the waters. We can only do so many of the Absolutes a year, and we want to keep them the high-water mark. So we started looking through our short list—things that couldn't have been Absolutes—but where we wanted to do something more special than a regular collection.”
Upcoming volumes in the format include Alan Moore and Brian Bolland's Batman: The Killing Joke, re-colored by Bolland (the story will also remain in print in the trade paperback DC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore); the World's Finest miniseries by Dave Gibbons and Steve Rude; and the first volumes of Brian K. Vaughan and Tony Harris's Ex Machina and Grant Morrison and Howard Porter's JLA. According to DC's summer 2008 catalogue, the first collection of Frank Miller and Jim Lee's All Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder will also be in the new deluxe format.
The only Absolute collection planned for next summer is the third volume of Neil Gaiman's acclaimed Sandman series; the fourth volume will also be released next year, in time for the 20th anniversary of Sandman. “We’ve also got what we’re calling, for the moment, Omnibus [editions],” Brewer said. The Omnibus editions released so far are Jack Kirby's Fourth World Omnibus and The Death and Return of Superman. “What we’re doing with those is bringing together an entire long-format story in fewer volumes. For a retail environment, larger, fatter collections seem to be in vogue.” James Robinson and Tony Harris’s Starman is next on the docket; the first volume will be a 448-page hardcover, due out in May.
The ongoing Archives series may soon be ending, at least in its current form, Brewer implied. “We’ve looked at some of the series that we could finish up quickly, and we’ve accelerated those—like Seven Soldiers of Victory and Adam Strange. And we’re really trying to look at this format: classic library material in deluxe hardcovers. DC’s had an incredible run on a series of books that's well over 20 years old. Not many people can say that.”
Brewer said DC will continue to look for new ways to reprint backlist material. “We’re seeing that tastes have changed a little bit, and we've also collected a lot of that prime material from the early days. So what we’re going to be doing is announcing some new opportunities for some of that material, and different material, but in a different way—it’s a little early to talk about it yet, but the last season of next year we'll be seeing the first of those. Clearly, there’s a market for this classic material in a sturdy or archival format, but we're just not sure that calling it Archives and keeping it the same format and branding is the way to go.” Brewer also noted that The Spirit Archives, volume 25, due in August, will be the first complete reprinting of the daily Spirit strip from the early 1940s.
At the opposite end of the price scale, there's the Showcase Presents line: fat paperbacks that reprint classic DC material with a $16.99 price point. “Showcase has done really well,” Brewer said. “We’re very pleased with that particular series. What’s been a little surprising is how well the off-genre stuff has done. Jonah Hex has done phenomenally well. House of Mystery did well.” The series has also been selling well in bookstores outside the direct market, according to Brewer. “There have been titles that we thought were probably more direct market and geared toward your hardcore comics reader, like Jack Kirby or the Showcases, and seeing the success they're having beyond that market tells you that the underlying work is really what's carrying it through.”