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Why the surge in comic collection books?

The Austin American-Stateman has a good article on the reasons for the surge in the number and popularity of comic collections that have been produced in the last year or two. There are several popular releases: “The Complete Calvin and Hobbes”, The Complete Peanuts 1955-1958, “Hank Ketcham’s Complete Dennis the Menace 1951-1952”, etc.

Why this sudden upsurge after decades of benign neglect? “I think part of it is simply that, for publishers like Fantagraphics and Drawn & Quarterly, only in the past few years have we had proper distribution in book stores,” says Fantagraphics publicist Eric Reynolds. “Prior to that it was just comic shops, really, and the old-fashioned comic book shop isn’t a real strong ground for comic strip reprints. For years we were publishing things like “Thimble Theater” and “Little Nemo” and we were only able to get them under the nose of superhero fans, and I just don’t think there was enough of an interest from that audience.”

One big difference is packaging. Fantagraphics’ “Popeye” and “Little Orphan Annie” books were big, floppy paperbacks designed with minimal artfulness. The new books are nicely bound, hardcover volumes smartly wrought by such alt-comic auteurs as Chris Ware and Seth. The packaging has made such a difference in sales and critical attention that Fantagraphics plans to reissue its “Pogo” and “Popeye” reprints in hardcover format.

Incidentally, it’s not just readers and critics who appreciate these books. The estates of the various creators seem moved that, finally, the works of these golden age cartoonists are getting the respect they deserve. “Charles Schulz’s people are really concerned with keeping the integrity of the property alive,” says Reynolds. “They see us as a feather in the cap in a way I don’t think they feel about, say, a Snoopy beach ball.”

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