Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

In praise of Panini Pocketbooks

As a sort of follow-up to my last post about Marvel-by-way-of-Archie-Comics digests and, I suppose, to underscore the initial point made here not too long ago by frasersherman about the present-day easy access to so much older comic material in a number of formats, I wanted to give a little shout-out to some books that have been a real boon to me in since I got back into comics in a big way in the mid-‘00s: the Panini digests, or pocketbooks as they’re called on their covers. (Also, since it’s still the holiday season – Orthodox Christmas is on Jan. 7 – there might be some gift ideas in here.)

Readers in the North America are probably less familiar with these, as they’re published by Panini UK, which otherwise prints a lot of Marvel trade collections for the British – and wider European – market.

These books aren’t as exhaustive or systematic as the Essentials or the more recent Epic collections, but they still collect big chunks of continuity and/or major story-lines of some of Marvel’s main characters, mostly from the ‘60s through the ‘80s. Here’s a really helpful list of all of the ones that have been released. As you can see by that list, Spider-man got the most extensive treatment, basically everything from the beginning of John Romita’s tenure as artist to the end of Len Wein’s run.

I stumbled onto these sometime in 2007 or 2008, when I found an eBay seller in the UK offering the Silver Surfer book for really cheap (like about $5 total, i.e., with free postage). I figured what the heck and bought it…

…and was pleasantly surprised when it arrived in the mail about a week and a half later. It collects the first five issues of the Silver Surfer series from the late ‘60s – in full color, unlike the Essentials phonebooks. I started looking for more of these and at this point I have a pretty big stack of them.

I was actually a bit shocked at the size of that stack, as I normally don’t have them shelved in the same place.

Anyway, the best thing for me was that I was able to acquire pretty much the entire run of X-men from Giant-size #1 through the end of the Byrne/Austin tenure as the art team without breaking my bank. There’s also a significant (for me) run of Avengers and, as mentioned, the entire Len Wein run on Amazing Spider-man.

Another crucial aspect for me: they’re cheap. I’ve never paid more than about $9 (total) for one of these, and on average I think I paid around $7 for most of them.

Also, the format is slightly larger than the Archie-type digests:

Some of the individual, one-off, volumes are really nice as well; I like the Daredevil book that collects the initial run of issues after Frank Miller took over the art chores.  The only thing that makes me a bit irate is that Roger McKenzie, who wrote all but one of the stories in the book, is not given a credit on the cover.

The Ant Man volume – released a few months before the movie came out if memory serves – is also nice. It not only contains Scott Lang’s debut in Marvel Premiere, but also a bunch of his later appearances in Avengers, Marvel Team-up and Iron Man.

And speaking of Iron Man, I have two nice collections featuring key storylines, i.e., Demon in a Bottle and Armor Wars.

But this is where I’d make my only criticism of the Panini pocketbook line; I would have loved some more books collecting material from the original Michelinie/Layton run. It’s kind of the same situation with the Avengers books. These three collect most of my personal sweet-spot for that title:

Everything from issue #158 through #187 – it’s so frustrating that at least one more wasn’t released to collect the issues up to #200 (at least the Ant Man book mentioned above has #s 195-196, the Taskmaster story).

However, though, this is the cheapest way to get the entire run of Byrne’s X-men: The Hidden Years – if that’s something you want.

Unfortunately, though, it looks like this line has ended; as far I can tell, there’ve been no new releases for well over a year now. But while it lasted, a lot of good stuff was collected at affordable prices. A lot of online sellers still have some of the new copies in stock, and the rest can often be found used (at even lower cost) pretty easily.

And that’s why I didn’t put any links to the individual titles mentioned herein. Instead, if anyone’s interested, I’d recommend that they first check with Amazon and also Amazon UK, but also the Book Depository (free worldwide shipping!). For any that are harder to find, there’s always Book Finder, which has been an indispensable resource to me for years now.


    1. Edo Bosnar

      Well, if you don’t mind the format, these are the way to go. Since you’re in Australia, I would check the Book Depository as they’re still available new – that’s how I bought them, and if I recall correctly, I think I paid a little over $20 (US) total.

    2. luismarroc@gmail.com

      Sorry to bother you. Which ones have glossy paper and which ones newsprint paper? I know that X-men the hidden years and Avengers nights of wundagore have glossy/deluxe paper (the type of paper I prefer) but as far as I know, the early books from uncanny X-men (for example the book that contains giant size X-men) have a sort of matte/newsprint type of paper. When does the breaking point in terms of paper quality takes place? My Main concern is un connection with the X-men books. Thanks

      1. Le Messor

        I’m not 100% sure what you’re asking about, but I’ve just trolled through my collection. As far as I can tell – Uncanny #404 has a dullish paper (I wouldn’t go as far as calling it newprint), and #405 is glossy. Others will probably correct me.

        In terms of reprints, you’d have to ask about a specific one; it’s not like all trades printed before 2004 (for example) was on newsprint and everything after was glossy. They’ve been printing both at the same time for many years.

      2. Edo Bosnar

        If I’m understanding your question correctly, you want to know the type of paper stock in the individual Panini digests.
        In the X-men line specifically, I have the volumes reprinting everything from Giant-size X-men #1 through X-men #143 and Annual #4 (five books in all), plus the one entitled “God Loves, Man Kills,” which collects the eponymous graphic novel, plus Annual #5 and X-men #s 151-153. All except the last one have the type of matte paper you mentioned. So the switch to the glossier paper stock started either with that volume or the one immediately preceding it (“Rogue Storm”, which I don’t have).
        You should also be aware though, that many of these Panini digests had more than one printing. In the case of the X-men books in particular, later printings of specific volumes (like “Days of Future Past”) even had different covers, so I’m assuming the paper stock was also ‘upgraded’ as it was in the rest of the line.

        As to the question of quality, it’s all the same to me: I don’t mind the “matte” type at all – in fact, I think I slightly prefer it.

        1. luismarroc@gmail.com

          Yup, You hit the nail. That was my question all about. I know there are lots of different types of paper quality depending on the collection and edition. Nonetheless, my question was mainly regarding THIS collection and only THESE pocketbooks by Panini. I was confused because I purchased nights of wundagore and the trial of Magneto (the one contaning issue 200) and both have a beautiful glossy paper, not extremely reflective but with a deluxe feel on it which I really love. However, after that I purchased the volume contaning issues 111-113 (Magneto triumphant story arc) and to be honest I didn’t like the paper at all. I’m sorry, I know I’m nitpicky, but I always prefer glossy to matter no matter how old the reprinted material is. And I wanted to know where I should start buying this trades. So I should probably start collecting these beautiful books after the From the ashes story arc which is the last thing I’ve got collected in other editions. Thank you for your answer because it really helped me a lot (Rogue Storm was a key issue to mention)

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