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Cover to Iron Man #165, collected in Iron Man Epic Collection: The Enemy Within TPB.

Thanks for joining us on what will be a semi-regular column devoted to the publishers, editors and creators from around the industry responsible for the collected editions we covet. This week's CE Spotlight is on a new line of books by Marvel called Epic Collections. Joining us is Marvel's Senior Vice President of Sales, David Gabriel, no stranger to the folks who gather at the Marvel boards of the Collection Editions Discussion Forums. David's job is to guide Marvel's sales strategy, whether it's monthly comics or collected editions, so whenever he pops in at our board forums, folks line up to throw questions at him because they know he's the guy with the answers! We're going to do things a little less chaotically this time around, so be sure to tune in for future Q+As in this spot with David.

The inspiration for this column came about after our most recent Amazon Fish deluge. A couple dozen new Marvel collections showed up overnight on Amazon and were almost instantaneously reported on our board forums; among the new Masterworks, Omnibus, and Essentials were the obscurely-titled "Epic Collections". I thought for sure those words would set off a conversation, but the moniker passed without comment. Well, Epic Collections are actually a new line of books hiding in plain sight, and there's no better person to get details from than David, so let's get to it.

CE SPOTLIGHT: Every few months the eagle-eyed book aficionados at our Collected Editions forums alert everyone to what are now called "Amazon Fish": previously unofficially announced books that mysteriously pop up for pre-order on Amazon. We're used to getting a steady diet of news and information about upcoming books through Diamond Previews and monthly solicits, but "Amazon Fish" have a lot of mystery surrounding them. Can you give a little background on this phenomenon from your point-of-view, help demystify it a little?

DAVID GABRIEL: It's not really a mystery. The book market accounts get information on a different time schedule than our direct market retailers. Their ordering cycles are MUCH further out than the standard three months that we work with through Diamond. As we're preparing our next catalog for the book market we need to prepare the information to go live to all the systems used by various vendors in the book market universe. So we have to start releasing that information at a certain time and sometimes we're in good shape with our catalog schedule and we release all four months of information (our book catalogs contain four months of titles) but sometimes we're a little tight on time and buyers need to start putting in their orders for the first month of that catalog and we need to get the information to them without benefit of that printed catalog. That's pretty much the long-winded way of saying "No real mystery here...next!"

CE SPOTLIGHT: It's a parlor game at our forums to try to figure out exactly what some of these books are, because Amazon Fish are often released with only the slightest of information, like page counts and creators and little more. Two books in the most recent Amazon deluge stand out: they reprint classic Thor and Iron Man material, but they carry an intriguing subtitle: "Epic Collection". Can you describe specifically what that term will mean to Marvel and its classic reprints going forward?

DAVID: Sure. An Epic Collection in the simplest of terms is a big fat color collection at the best price we can maintain! Here's more of the language that we are using in our sales materials:

"This fall, Marvel launches the Epic Collections – a new way for fans to collect their favorite series!

Each super-sized volume in the Epic line presents a heaping helping of Marvel's greatest heroics in one handy, affordable and self-contained package. What's more, each Epic Collection TPB is also a piece of a grand puzzle: When all is said and done, the Epic volumes will fit seamlessly next to one another on readers' bookshelves, presenting a complete and unbroken run of each title!

So be sure to get in on the ground floor! Marvel's most storied titles — including Amazing Spider-Man, Avengers, Captain America, Fantastic Four, Iron Man and Thor — are going Epic, and there's no turning back!"

Cover to Thor #394, collected in Thor Epic Collection: War Of The Pantheons TPB.
CE SPOTLIGHT: The Iron Man Epic Collection, titled The Enemy Within, collects Iron Man #158-177 and Iron Man Annual #5, and clocks in at 450+ pages. The Thor Epic Collection, titled War of the Pantheons, collects Thor #383-400, and clocks in at about the same. These have similar page counts to Essentials, but will be in full-color. Can you discuss the kind of restoration that's going to be put into them, and what the list price will be?

DAVID: List price will range on these from $34.99 to $39.99 depending on a variety of things. The normal top of the line restoration that folks have come to enjoy from Marvel will be a part of this line — as seen in recent oversized TPBs like Avengers: The Trial of Yellowjacket or Incredible Hulk: Pardoned.

CE SPOTLIGHT: The Thor and Iron Man books don't start from "the beginning", i.e. the first issues and appearances of each character. The Iron Man book collects almost all of Ol' Shellhead's comics from 1982-1983, while the Thor volume picks up where Walter Simonson left off, the very beginning of the Tom DeFalco/Ron Frenz run in 1987-1988. So what's the philosophy of Epic Collection going forward? Are you going to go chronologically from those points forward, or try to bounce around eras?

DAVID: Interesting right? This is where people will at first act frustrated, then, when they catch on I think they'll be as enthusiastic as we are. We'll be bouncing around in different eras getting out stories that we want to see in print and haven't necessarily been in print yet (because that would just be repetitive), or long runs that have never been collected together in one volume. This will be like starting a giant puzzle on your shelves (for those that like this sort of thing). So for example Iron Man Epic Collection "Vol. 10" appears one month telling the stories from 1982, the next volume might be "Vol. 5" presenting the stories from Iron Man #47-67, and so on across our biggest character lines. (Reminds me of collecting the old Marvel Value Stamps as a kid when they didn't come out in numerical order.)

CE SPOTLIGHT: So Thor and Iron Man are the first characters in the Epic Collection series, and the press release info indicated FF, Spidey, Avengers and Captain America. Can you highlight other characters and teams that will get the Epic Collection treatment?

DAVID: All our biggest and best for now – Amazing Spider-Man, Avengers, Fantastic Four, Captain America. Eventually we'll get into the X-Universe but most of that material is already out there in one form or another. There will also be a big push for these volumes around our 75th anniversary in 2014. (Hint: Fans will be able to get the first volumes on their shelves!)

CE SPOTLIGHT: How many Epic Collection trades will be solicited in a given month? One a month? Two? Or will it vary?

DAVID: For now we're looking at one per month. If that proves to be too much we'll cut back a bit, but we have been having great success with these larger collections so we'll see what happens after the launch.

One thing to make sure buyers know is that we've mapped out about 20 volumes for each of these lines, so we're putting a lot of forethought into how the content will be organized. The goal would be to collect everything in a run and transfer all those long boxes to book shelves! We do have ideas of where "classic material" ends and "modern" begins, but that's always changing.

CE SPOTLIGHT: The titles of the Amazon listings don't indicate they will be sorted by "Volume" identifiers. How are you handling that?

DAVID: Volume numbers will definitely appear on the back cover and we're currently considering if and how we would use them on the spine design. One the one hand, we want that collector's mentality of having a long run of numbers, but on the other hand there are still many people who won't want to see a "Volume 18" all alone on their shelf. We're leaning towards using a section of the back as the "racking", or organizing, tool. We certainly wouldn't mind fan input on this subject, though, so we can see if we there is early support for one way or another.

CE SPOTLIGHT: Probably the main question collected editions fans are wondering beyond simply "What are Epic Collections?" is, "How will these affect my favorite lines of books?" I'm thinking Omnibus, Masterworks (both hardcover and softcover) and Classic trades?

DAVID: In the simplest sense, these will enhance your collections. None of the other lines will be adversely affected by these new volumes! So for example, we won't get rid of titles like Iron Man: Demon in a Bottle or Spider-Man: Kraven's Last Hunt once those runs are within one of these Epic Collections.

I just wanted to add that this tweaking of one of our more popular formats comes out of talking about some of our classic lines with many retailers and fans. One of the largest issues folks have is that they don't know how to shelve or sell many of these volumes. We're trying to clarify that for everyone so that those fans who just like one big great epic can read Thor: War of the Pantheons, and those who want to seriously collect all the issues of the Thor series from the first appearance will have that option, too. It will be clear to all what the contents are within the issues and where all these volumes appear as part of the overall puzzle of the Marvel Universe. Remember a few years back when we introduced the Omnibus? Look how well that caught on! •

I'd like to thank David for taking some time to join us here, and also look forward to a return visit for more background on Marvel's collected editions strategies. Meanwhile, the original Amazon links in question can be found here (THOR EPIC COLLECTION: WAR OF THE PANTHEONS TPB) and here (IRON MAN EPIC COLLECTION: THE ENEMY WITHIN TPB.)

And Tales of Wonder has both Epic Collections available at a really nice discount for pre-orders, a lot cheaper than Amazon, even:

• Iron Man Epic Collection: The Enemy Within TPB

• Thor Epic Collection: War of the Pantheons TPB

We'll be checking back in with David in the forthcoming weeks about other areas of Marvel's collected editions initiative. Until then, discuss Epic Collection trades at CollectedEditions.com's Marvel Forums!

House ad for Marvel's Epic Collection trade paperbacks. Click to enlarge image.