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Writing for the Trade

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When a story is written with the intention of reading well as a trade paperback, with the consequence of it being less coherent when first released as monthly or weekly installments.

Once upon a time, Comic Books were just floppy pamphlets that were easily forgotten and thrown away. But in the 1990s, when American comic books achieved a level of popularity that they had not managed for fifty years, the viability of collected editions of comics—known as trade paperbacks (TPBs) or trade hardbacks—increased dramatically.

By the early-to-mid 00s, virtually every halfway-popular Comic Book Run published by DC Comics or Marvel Comics—the "big two" companies in the industry—would get a shot at getting collected in a TPB. At around the same time, a fad for Decompressed Comics had developed that saw writers experimenting with the idea of taking more time than had been used previously to tell a story in order to give it a more cinematic structure.

Similar to Decompressed Comic, this can be a good or a bad thing. Stretching a thin story even thinner over five or six issues isn't good by any standards. But writing for the trades can also allow the author to tell a more complex story and go deeper into characterization, dialogue, pacing, and framing, things often glossed over in old-style short-format comics.

Among comics fans and critics, Writing for the Trades can mean either the good or the bad version of it, depending on the context.

This phenomenon is sometimes referred to as the Cerebus Effect, which aside from the common source of the name has little to do with the Cerebus Syndrome, although both tropes are often present in the same work.

Webcomics can fit this trope too, when written for either the print collection or simply for the archive on their website (making an Archive Binge the recommended way of reading them).

See also Better on DVD and Webcomic Print Collection.


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    Comic Books 
  • This was Jack Kirby's plan for his various New Gods titles in the 1970s, but that was at least a decade ahead of its time when it became a standard publishing practice and the DC editorship would not cooperate.
  • Final Crisis was incomprehensible when it was monthly issues and separate tie-ins but is absolutely spectacular in its collected form, especially when a copy of Morrison's run on Batman and (to a lesser extent) Seven Soldiers is available as well.
  • Warren Ellis explicitly declared that he considered that "The graphic novel or album (or other more suitable nomenclature yet to be coined) is the optimised form of 'comics.'" Fortunately, he's pretty good at it.
    • Note that while Ellis prefers to write for the trade, he's flexible enough that he doesn't have to. Global Frequency, Secret Avengers, and Fell are all Done In One, and are generally considered solid reads.
  • This is an accusation frequently aimed at the Marvel Ultimate Universe. Many of the series (including the Ultimate Spider-Man, Fantastic Four and X-Men series) are mostly comprised of six-part stories.
    • This is a bit of a Justified Trope in the case of the Ultimate books though since they were specifically created as newbie-friendly alternatives to the continuity-laden mainstream books. They were specifically designed so that casual readers could pick up a trade paperback at a book store and then get into the series.
    • The Ultimates, on the other hand, came in 13-part arcs, and so was Writing For The Hardcover. Read in that format, it was arguably among Mark Millar's finest work.
    • Despite this, several Ultimate Marvel titles fell victim to the bad side of this trope. Warren Ellis' Ultimate Nightmare is essentially a single-issue story padded out into a full-length TPB with entire issues that can be summed up as "the X-Men and the Ultimates move further into the Elaborate Underground Base." The second and third series in the "Ultimate Galactus Trilogy" fare better.
    • Back when Marvel was soliciting scripts for their Epic imprint, the submission guidelines required a story outline that would run for five or six issues. It was explained this made it easier for TPB packaging later on.
  • Geoff Johns eventually stopped working for Marvel because he was tired of writing Avengers storylines in six-issue format, however, some of his work for DC slid in this direction, notably Flashpoint and the War of the Green Lanterns storyline.
  • The Sandman (1989): Neil Gaiman has admitted doing this with 'The Kindly Ones' arc.
  • Oddly enough, Hellboy and follow-ups aren't accused of this practice, although many of their storylines fall into the pattern. This is because multi-issue stories are clearly identified as "miniseries".
    • The B.P.R.D. series kinda fell into this starting with the Plague of Frogs miniseries, though. They recently put the massive story arc it spawned on hold for the 1946 story, which makes up a single volume of the trade.
  • The rebooted Amazing Fantasy series of the mid-zeros were often guilty of this. Their aim was to capture the style of the original Amazing Fantasy series, which introduced Spider-Man and the concept of mutants to the Marvel Universe. But where the original managed to introduce its characters in self-contained one-issue stories, the new version introduced them in six-issue arcs. Only the backup stories came close to the style they aimed for (and most of them were arc-based too).
  • James Robinson's Starman subverted this for maximum headache: With the initial run of TPBs for the series, Robinson was given free rein over how the series would be collected, resulting in the various one-off issues (flashback stories mainly) being omitted from the core TPBs and collected instead in what would be called "Times Past" TPBs. This would be well and good, except that the flashback issues established major plot points for the series and indeed, most of the narrative for the book collapses when those stories are omitted as far as said issues setting up key plot points and other essential information that is outright required for a lot of the main storylines to make sense. Even worse, for reasons unrevealed, many of the later series one-off stories were never collected as DC opted not to release any future "Times Past" volumes for the series. They've since made up for it, however, as DC has recently begun collecting the series in hardcover format, with the issues (and tie-in comics) being collected in the order in which they were published, meaning that fans can read the series in the fan-preferred reading order.
  • Pretty much the entire point of Cerebus the Aardvark, you could say. However, at the time that creator Dave Sim note  had the idea of turning the comic into a 300-issue epic storyline covering the eponymous character's entire life, only rare examples of the Graphic Novel format existed. In fact, he did the "comic books followed by collected volume" before just about anyone. In part because the Graphic Novel did not even have a name at the time, he nicknamed them "phonebooks".
    • Coincidentally "phonebook" is the name of trades in Japan where this is somewhat rarer.
  • Most of IDW's run of Transformers comics have been neatly arranged into 4-6 issue story arcs. Exceptions include the stand-alone Spotlight issues and the 16-issue "All Hail Megatron" series.
    • Excluding the supplemental "Coda" issues, All Hail Megatron qualifies, albeit much more in a "Writing to be read in one shot from issues 1 to 12" than "Writing For The Trade(s)". To say the story's pace is slow would be an understatement.
    • And the new Ongoing also suffers heavily from this. While there are some moments (and one great issue focused on Thundercracker), it happens to be slow and uneventful for the most part.
    • Even Regeneration One, which is a continuation of the original Marvel G1 series, is being broken up into five-issue arcs, to the point where the issues don't even have individual titles. (The two named arcs in the Marvel series, "The Underbase Saga" and "Matrix Quest", still had individual issue titles.)
    • Robots in Disguise and More than Meets the Eye seem to be an exception to this tendency, with James Roberts even declaring he preferred to write self-contained issues or 2-3 part arcs.
  • Since Dark Horse's solicitation model seems based on the miniseries format, it's not surprising that their other titles seem to follow the Hellboy model. Other series include The Umbrella Academy, Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Eight, and Grendel.
    • Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8 is an example that must be pointed out: It is a single story broken up in smaller arcs that all follow each other. Every single arc is done by a different author and consists of 4 or 5 issues. One TPB = 5 issue. In case of an arc with 4 issues, the first (or fifth) one is a one-shot done by Joss Whedon himself. Due to pacing issues, the series is a lot better in trade, as its goal of emulating the show's format is easier to obtain if you don't have to wait a month (or sometimes more) between issues.
  • Star Wars:
    • Dark Horse's entire Star Wars line for the year 2011 consisted entirely of 5-issue and 6-issue arcs. By contrast, arcs from the 2000s had no such constraint and varied all the way between 2-issue and 6-issue pretty evenly, with a healthy mix of odd standalones.
      • It also seemed like they weren't even trying to hide it, with several ongoing series such as Dark Times became a series of miniseries.
    • Star Wars (Marvel 2015) follows suit. Each five- or six-issue story arc begins with an opening crawl just like the ones in the films but with "Book [X]" rather than "Episode [X]," essentially dividing them into trades before the trades even get published.
  • Pretty much the only way Batman RIP is going to make any sense is if you read the previous two trade paperbacks in the Myth Arc. And that one issue where Bruce gets high on weapons-grade heroin and runs around in a red-and-purple Batsuit makes a whole lot more sense as a chapter of a graphic novel than as a standalone issue.
  • Pat Mills is criticised here for ending the Volgan War mega-arc of ABC Warriors in a way which shows he was clearly thinking more about the inevitable collection than about a sensible weekly series. The strip is written in six-page installments; the final one ends the war in two pages, followed by a four-page epilogue.
  • While Invincible isn't that bad, Robert Kirkman tends to write The Walking Dead with the trade in mind. The issues tend to continue right after one another, so new readers don't get much of catch-up, and there's one point in the fourth volume where if you count the pages, the last page of chapter four and the first page of chapter five are a two-page spread. Taken to the extreme as Kirkman at times mentioned that he wrote specific things so they'd hit harder at the end of the omnibi collections.
  • David Herbert's Warriors of the Night makes a lot more sense in one reading than going by individual chapters. Thankfully, Gemini Storm seems to avert this.
  • Then there's the arguable king of this trope—Brian Michael Bendis. The story arcs in The Mighty Avengers are so obviously padded that you could skip every third issue and not miss a single narrative beat. And this isn't even the most egregious example in Bendis' bibliography.
  • Sonic Universe flat-out tells you in its subscription pages that it intentionally makes four-issue story arcs for purposes of bundling into trades. The mainline Sonic the Hedgehog (Archie Comics) comic series also started breaking up arcs in trade sized pieces once Cerebus Syndrome kicked in and it stopped being a self-contained-per-issue gag comic.
  • Hardly anyone remembers reading Watchmen in its original 12-part format. Although instantly acclaimed even before the story had reached its conclusion, it was only after the collected edition was issued that it came to be regarded as a true novel.
  • Averted with DC's Showcase and Archive lines, and Marvel's parallel Essentials and Masterworks lines. While all four of these lines consist of compiling entire runs of classic comics into either deluxe color hardcover editions (Archives and Masterworks) or less-expensive Cerebus phonebook-style black-and-white omnibuses (Showcases and Essentials), very few of the reprinted stories are anything other than done on ones.
  • Jonathan Hickman has been said to not just write for the trade, but for the omnibus. His most prominent works (Fantastic Four and Avengers) tend to have individual arcs... but always end up forming some huge story arc across multiple years. The individual arcs are always at least four issues long, and those arcs themselves tend to be parts of "acts" in his huge stories. So you have Fantastic Four #570-574 being the "Solve Everything" arc, which is actually just part of the first act of his Fantastic Four saga. The acts themselves tend to have about five "arcs" in them. The entire saga had three "acts". The result is a story that very much feels epic and carefully planned out, and constantly builds on itself, but is also is very self-referential (and not even explicitly, at that) and reliant on the reader having started from the beginning.
  • Despite using a decompressed style Chris Claremont's famous run on Uncanny X-Men really isn't this. He tended to have multiple storylines and plot thread going on simultaneously and at different stages of their arcs. As a result, a trade for one story will seem to digress to something irrelevant and/or be missing some of its own setup because it's covered in other trades.
  • The Rainbow Brite comic was written for the trade as a miniseries, with future adventures dependent on trade sales.
  • Empowered has been steadily shifting towards this. The first volumes were collections of short episodic stories, while the recent ones have increasingly featured longer continuous ones, particularly volumes 9 and 11, each of which consisted almost entirely of a single continuous story arc.

  • It's quite obvious that Masashi Kishimoto, creator of Naruto is writing his storylines for collection in volume form later on, most noticeably in the Fourth Great Shinobi War Arc. Volumes are 10 chapters. So the first part of the war's 20 chapters for two volumes. Then the main character finds out about the war and spends 10 chapters running towards it so that it can be collected in Volume 57. Then he spends 11 chapters finding random guys, which is collected in Volume 58. Then, after some major revelations, he spends 10 chapters fighting Tobi, the masked dragon to Madara Uchiha. But due to Kishimoto not padding out the previous story segment enough, two chapters of this fight are at the end of Volume 59 and the next eight are in Volume 60. Then after Kishi writing too much, we get the inconsistent Volumes 61 and 62. But then Volume 63 is a ten chapter long story segment about Naruto learning the incredibly obvious identity of Tobi. And then Naruto fighting Tobi and the Ten Tails after the reveal takes ten chapters, even though Naruto clearly can't win until the story progresses. And then the story cuts to Naruto's rival Sasuke talking with a zombie wood guy, which manages to be stretched out to ten chapters so it can be in another volume. After that, Volume 66 is another ten chapter-long fight which is basically padding because the story can't progress until Tobi or Madara absorbs the Ten Tails, but they wait ten chapters so Kishi can have a volume of it. And then, after countless chapters of waiting, Tobi finally gets the Ten Tails, and now he just needs to cast a spell and the freaking plot will finally progress. Because this is, you know, the final battle. But how long does it take him to cast the spell? You guessed it, ten chapters. The rest of the volume is about him angsting about how a girl he barely knew died seventeen years ago.
  • Bakuman。 features this trope In-Universe, given that it's a story about the manga industry. The protagonists' long-term story arc in their final manga is both a blessing and a curse since there's no real way to swap out elements that the audience doesn't like.
  • Attack on Titan is a notorious case of this among the fandom with its monthly release format and the author's fondness for rather intense cliffhangers.
  • Most manga are clearly intended to be finite stories that will be collected in a series of several books, even Long Runners such as One Piece. However, since most publishing houses in Japan make most of their money from weekly magazine anthology publications, authors are forced to break up their stories into 10 to 15 page long chapters first.
    • Depending on the title, manga can also suffer from the inverse of this: sometimes authors don't know or don't care where a certain volume will end, so an arc might end and another one start halfway through the book, and the end of a volume can make a What Cliffhanger.
  • It seems like the author of The Demon Girl Next Door clearly knows that every volume contains 13 chapters, so the plot-heavy content is always arranged to come towards the end of the volume—especially on the second to last chapter of each volume (or the 13n-1th chapter), which nearly always contains important plot twists.

  • Some of the less popular arcs in Sluggy Freelance (such as "Oceans Unmoving") are much more enjoyable when read during an Archive Binge instead of one-strip-per-day.
  • Schlock Mercenary, while intimidatingly Long Running, is very rewarding to read in archives, especially when most of the plots involve a Gambit Pileup or two with a cast of a thousand characters (an exaggeration but not by much). Since the 1000th strip, the author has written with shorter series arcs for ease of publication later, to the point where the first 1000 were not even meant for inclusion because they were not, though thankfully they were compiled into larger collections later.
  • Dan Shive, the author of El Goonish Shive, has said that he writes for the archives.
  • Seeing as only one page comes out at a time, it can be easier to read the Girl Genius archives and check back again every few months once you've finished them. It was allegedly going to be pitched as a regular print comic before the Foglios realized that the plot was going to be horribly confusing in that format and took it online.
    • It originally was a regular print comic. The first issue came out in 2001; it didn't go online until 2005.
  • Have only one page come out every week & a half at best, and you can say the same thing for MegaTokyo. The TPBs are a lot easier to follow than it is online.
  • Misfile: With the sky shots and low number of panels per page, the later pages work better when you can read the whole book, or are at least more fulfilling when you don't have to wait two days to find out what happened to so and so because the page in between is made up of establishing shots.
  • Ow, my sanity seems to have been written for the print collection, occasionally spending an entire update on a single page-sized illustration.
  • Whether Homestuck is better experienced as an Archive Binge or as incremental daily updates has been debated by the fandom. When people started to question the direction the story was going in based on the latest pages, author Andrew Hussie brought this trope up, stating that reading the story serially may be causing people to judge plot developments out of context since they can't quickly see what comes after. He's also indicated that he keeps in mind that at the end of the day, once it's all finished, it'll be sitting on a server for years to come and will be exclusively read as an Archive Binge.
  • FreakAngels, with its very detailed panels and extremely slow storyline fits this trope, all the more so since every so many chapters, it's actually made into an album.
    • Given that it's by Warren Ellis, whose beliefs are outlined above, this is hardly surprising.
  • The Zombie Hunters: Great art, but very little story per page, and it updates once a week.
  • The creator of Paradigm Shift actually switched the schedule from one page a week to one chapter a month partly because of this trope, but also because the update schedule combined with his love of superbly detailed Chicago cityscapes was taking a considerable physical toll; he had to take quite a long break from drawing it on the advice of his doctor because he'd quite seriously injured his hand.
  • The 10 Doctors makes a lot more sense when you read it all at once instead of one strip at a time.
  • Just like his approach to writing Ravine, Sejic views his work Sunstone as full-sized graphic novels allowing him to have naturalistic narratives. (Sunstone One is a massive 160 page graphic novel about to go into trade.) What makes this interesting is that as the entire work is viewable on DeviantArt as strips, a lot of readers are people who simply spotted the strips when browsing; leading to a lot of confusion in the comments met with suggestions to start from the beginning.
  • PepsiaPhobia flows much better when read in batches. The author has stated in interviews that it was always meant to be read in print books.
  • Gunnerkrigg Court is very plot and mood-heavy. Though you can stay on top of new plot developments by checking every other day, you'd better go back and reread them later in batches to get the proper pacing and coherency.

  • Unlike most games in the franchise, which tell self-contained stories with only ongoing Character Development among the cast linking them, the first The Great Ace Attorney game (Adventures) is very clearly written with a sequel in mind, leaving many mysteries and plot threads unresolved. This ended up backfiring, as Adventures received significant backlash on release due to fans expecting a stand-alone story. When it and Resolve were finally translated, they were packaged together, and many fans feel treating them as not separate games, but one 10-case-long game, leads to a better experience.
  • This occurs, oddly enough, with judicial decisions. In countries using The Common Law, some appellate cases have precedential value — that is to say, they are followed and considered law by the court issuing it and by courts below in the hierarchy. Not every case is precedent since the general run of cases can be decided on principles of settled law; appeals judges generally dispose of these in short, terse opinions, only a paragraph or even a sentence long (e.g. "This case is purely settled law; see So-and-so v. Such-and-such, etc. Decision of lower court affirmed."). These decisions are not formally published; copies are filed with the parties' lawyers and the record office of the jurisdiction, but they are not intended to be general information. Cases which bring up new points of law, however, are precedent, and so are published in "reporters"; furthermore, if the point at hand is particularly important, the case may be gathered by a law professor for use in a "casebook", which is the usual sort of textbook for law students (particularly in the US but also elsewhere in the common-law world). Thus you get every now and then a judge who appears to be "writing for publication" or "writing for the casebooks": taking what would ordinarily be an unpublished decision, or a very run of the mill published one, and jazzing it up a bit so that it might be considered worthy of publication. If you want to get particularly extreme, you can include a relatively complete survey of the area of law the case at hand falls under, which is usually completely useless—and very annoying to the parties to the dispute, as it has little impact on them—but is very attractive to law professors writing casebooks, since it relieves them of the burden of writing such a survey themselves. The upshot of this is that this trope may well be Older Than Radio: the famous New York case of Pierson v. Post, decided in 1805, creates an elaborate philosophical argument out of two hunters' dispute about a dead fox, possibly with the intention of displaying the judges' erudition and to get it published in something other than a law reporter. (It worked; Pierson is usually one of the first cases American law students read in Property.)
    • U.S. Immigration courts sometimes just write up a decision for a non-controversial case for the purpose of establishing a rule. For example, in In the Matter of Price, nobody really doubted whether a Zimbabwean golfer Nick Price could move to the US as an "extraordinary athlete." The reason a whole decision was written for this case and declared a precedent was just to clarify evidential standards for "extraordinary athlete." In another situation, in 1998, the court allowed Chinese asylum cases based on the one-child policy, due to a change in the law. In 2002, the same court issued another decision on reopening an asylum case this way, approved it, then said, "90 days after this decision, we will not entertain asylum cases to be reopened like this."