I received a large box a few days ago from the folks in Indiana who run the Discount Comic Book Service. Like a few other outfits, Cameron & Carrie run a service that allows people to order comics, books, toys, etc., essentially anything that gets sold in comic book stories and their equivalents, at pretty high discounts, with the caveat being that you have to pay upfront for goods that will get delivered anywhere from 2-6 months later. (A nice exception to this is that when you order books that have already been published - i.e., from the publishers' backlists - they can be in your hands in just a few weeks instead.)
In addition to an unholy amount of styrofoam packing peanuts, the box contained several volumes of DC's expanding line of Showcase volumes. Each volume reprints the sequential stories of a given character from DC's roster:
These books fit a fairly straightforward publishing model: cheap and thick (over 500 pages), printing in black and white on inexpensive paper, with a card stock cover. Once you get past the lack of the traditional four-colour processing, you realize that the value of these books is huge. Trump-level hyperbole huge. That's how nice these are.
Marvel's been doing this a while now, too, with their Essential lines of collections.
For both companies, the visual appeal of these books is going to vary from artist to artist. Some are so skilled at design and composition that the lack of colour doesn't hurt the stories in the least. Others, not so much. Regardless, the use of this format to get a lot of this material in print, inexpensively, is a grand, grand thing, particularly when both companies have discovered that there's a market for such volumes centered even on obscure characters or those thought to have only niche appeal.
So do I figure should get the official Hembeck Files nod for pioneering the format and demonstrating its viability and profitability?
Yes, the guy who created Cerebus the Aardvark.
By the late 1980s or thereabouts, Dave had been writing, drawing, and publishing Cerebus himself for some ten years, getting a lot of critical praise and a reasonably healthy and devoted fan base. My recollection might be fuzzy by this point, but what I believe happened was that DC came knocking on Dave's door looking to make a deal to acquire Cerebus. Instead, Dave came up with a publishing model for reprint books that would give him the same kind of pay-off, but still leave him with complete ownership: the Cerebus "phonebooks," called such because of their thickness. Notwithstanding the subsequent battles with distributors over the books because Dave opted to bypass them and sell directly to the end consumer, Dave demonstrated that the high value/low cost model for black and white reprint books would appeal to consumers and be profitable.
Plus, they make terrific colouring books for the kids.
Kudos to DC and Marvel for paying attention and pushing the format.