Reprints: price versus quality

Last week a small corner of the comics internet exploded over an article on The Comics Journal about Craig Yoe Books. Here’s a salient quote that sets the tone.

The hardcovers discharged monthly by the IDW imprint Yoe Books have varying themes and subject matters, ranging from wacky horror stories and wacky romance stories, all the way to wacky funny-animal stories. Yoe Books look like they’ve been put through the Print Shop Deluxe ringer. They are all faux-sturdy, piss-poor print jobs, and committed to a cookie-cutter 9”x11” template, no matter the size or layout of the original material. This is because Yoe is the Spencer’s Gifts of archivists—forever more interested in novelty than preservation.

Eyes that go googly over nostalgia are often clouded by it as well. That can be the only reason these books look like they are assembled from color Xerox copies. It appears that the pages were scanned from the original comic book, blown up, and then that enlargement was shrunk down again to fit the book’s page size. 

Ouch. It continues it’s scathing look at Yoe Books, but you get the point from the above. What’s interesting are the (at this point) 184 comments. Most of these are supporters of Yoe and his work, noting the low price point and access to this material.

The article seemed a bit heavy handed, but for the most part I agreed with the author: Yoe Books are scans of old comics, with little to no restoration. And I speak with my wallet and don’t buy any of them.

But reading through the comments posted it seems most people just want a cheap collection of old comics material. They say it’s not available elsewhere and they just want to read the material. Yoe Books focuses on pre-silver age, with a lean towards 1950s horror. Yes, there is material outside this genre, but the bulk seems to fall within. Prices for these books are about $25, with others going up to $40. All are available on Amazon with a healthy discount: $25 volumes go for $17.

We’re told this is a golden age of reprints, and with good reason: more material is available right now than at any other point in history. When we think of comic book reprints a few companies spring to mind, and they seem to focus on newspapers strips: Library Of American Comics, Sunday Press Books, Classic Comics Press, Titan. Each of these companies spends an inordinate time cleaning up, retouching and correcting their scans for publication. And as such their prices reflect this effort: You’re going to spend about $50 for a decent length reprint. And we’ve come to appreciate and expect this high level of correction and restoration.

I was recently on a forum where people were complaining about the poor reprints of early Marvel comics when the original art was readily available in an Artist’s Edition. Unfortunately people speak with their wallets, and those $75-$100 Marvel Masterworks contain lots of correction but the reader is paying heavily for that effort. That restored material filters down to every level of reprint eventually, but the costs have to be covered. Same for the DC Archives that have moved to Omnibus format: those early Golden Age Omnibus volumes were $75 when the material was already restored for the DC Archives, but now those new Omnibus reprints with newly restored material are $125. Wait for the smaller softcover and you’ll get the same restored material at a discount, but again, the costs have to go somewhere.

There is room for both types of books in the current comics market, but it’s argued that once a cheap and low quality volume of previously unavailable material is published that effectively kills the market for a quality restored reproduction. That’s certainly true for a percentage of readers. But we see material done in different formats all the time, and there’s always a market for it. Yes, the market will be smaller once the material is available elsewhere, but that’s how supply and demand works. How many versions of movies do people have as they upgraded from VHS to DVD, HD-DVD, Blu-Ray and now 4K?

Scott VanderPloeg
Scott VanderPloeg

Scott works in I.T. but lives to eat and read. His other ramblings can be found at AE Index and eBabble. Art collection at Comic Art Fans.

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Charlie Kim
6 years ago

I just wanted comment about reproduction in general, which will also apply to overall production of things. There are many people who understand how to scan and use tools like Photoshop to clean up an image. The problem is, at each step, judgement is required and most of the world gets by on “good enough”. After all, it’s just factory work.

Also, it’s very time consuming to do things properly, and in the end, the average consumer wont be sensitive to the nuances and most people don’t care enough or appreciate the process to pay for the extra work. The result is a cheaply made product, slapped together as quickly as possible because time is money… just so long as it’s “good enough”. If you don’t believe me, think about the proliferation and success of Walmart and Dollarama. However, this isn’t necessarily such a bad thing since most things don’t need to be highly crafted and the extra effort can become a big waste of time (or so I’m learning), which is in part, why hand crafted and custom fabrications have so much value. Still, I would think that it’s better to do reprints properly the first time… because:

1. Preservation. Unlike paper, digital does not degrade.
2. You only need to do it once. Subsequent reproductions wont require re-scanning and retouching.

But human nature being what it is, in the end, you’re absolutely right and consumers can and should decide for themselves.

Gerald Eddy
Gerald Eddy
6 years ago

I have a few volumes of well restore newspaper comics and they are beautiful. I guess to make a judgment on the Yoe books I would have liked to have seen examples in the article of what the quality of the books looked like. There are some instances where ANY material is better then no material and I presume that was where the comments in the Journal were coming from.

Gerald Eddy
Gerald Eddy
6 years ago

Thanks Scott for pointing that out, and I agree the reprints are pretty bad…worse then late Bronze Age Marvels which I have always felt detracted from some of the great art that was done. I would think even a small amount of clean up would have helped the Yoe books and not added that huge an inflation in the price. It seems my thoughts on the reaction were spot on though…some people want the material no matter what. By the way I rarely go to other comics sites because I enjoy CBD so much! You guys do a fantastic job!