Quality of Graphic Novel Trade Paperbacks

Library material budgets require the cost of purchasing, replacing, and mending ordered materials to remain low as possible. Binding and mending of materials is an integral part of the life cycle of library collections. Books get worn down and broken, usually a sign of a well-loved book, author, title or series. Many times, high quality binding can extend the circulating life of a library book to over 100 circs (with some mending), before it is eventually discarded. However, comics and graphic novels seem to get more withdrawn worthy damage quicker than the average novel.

We know that graphic novels are being purchased and circulated in libraries at a higher rates than before. According to It’s No Joke: Comics and Collection Development from Public Libraries Online, library graphic novel sales made up 14% of the graphic novel book market in 2009. It is unfortunate, but often the cost of constantly replacing poorly bound comic books makes them difficult to keep in the collection. I have had some graphic novels circ as little as three times before it is deemed unmendable. Plus, not many small to mid-sized libraries have in-house menders on staff to repair books and keep them in working order for as long as possible.

Bookbinding tied block
By Simon Eugster – Simon / ?! 18:08, 10 May 2008 (UTC) (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
There are four primary types of binding for comics and graphic novels; the saddle stitch, sewn, perfect binding, and, least available, library binding.

Saddle Stitch
Saddle Stitch binding is when one wide printed sheet makes up four pages of the book, are folded within each other (called a signature) and stapled through the center of the spine. This type of binding is often used for single issue comic books and extremely short original graphic novels. Saddle stitch is easy to reinforce by sewing through the staples and easy to mend with more staples or hinge tape. Plus there are many products out there to protect saddle stitch items like magazine protectors and mending materials which tape over the top of the item, such as Kapco’s Easy Hold Reinforcements. Unless you are circulating single issue comic books, it is very unlikely anything in your GN collection will use saddle stitch alone.

Sewn Binding
Sewn binding is when signatures are sewn together to make one longer book and are often hardcover. You can tell if you have a sewn book because you will see the stitches in several chunks of the book and when you open the book flat it will open to the sewn sections. Every once in awhile, you’ll find a sewn book which has been glued together, but it is fairly rare. Mending a sewn book can be difficult because the stitches are hidden beneath the spine.

Perfect Binding
Perfect binding is when all the pages are lined up against a flat edge, cut, and glued on the spot. Honestly I have no clue why this is called perfect binding because, in my experience, it is the worst binding for libraries. Because all the pages are cut and glued at the spine, pages fall out in chunks plus the gutter can be so narrow that you can’t get tattle tape or hinge tape in there without obscuring text or illustrations. I have had books circulate as few as three times with perfect binding and needing to be withdrawn because the damage was so extensive. It is also really difficult because over 80% of GN trade paperbacks are bound using perfect binding.

Library Binding
Similar to sewn binding, library binding increases the shelf life of a book by reinforcing the spine with extra stitches and the spine and covers are held together with heavy linen spine tape. The reinforced spine helps the book lay flat preventing spine cracking and pages falling out. The covers are often more durable than traditional hard covers to prevent the edges from fraying. It is still pretty rare to find GNs which are sold with library bindings and they are more expensive.

While it can be difficult to know which type of binding you’ll be getting when you order a book, it is important to keep the type of binding in mind when processing and mending graphic novels. The small gutter and colorful images makes mending and processing without impacting the reading experience incredibly difficult. I was recently at a convention and spoke with a comic book publisher who was expanding their trade paperback production and wanted input specifically from libraries and I am eager to see what type of binding they come up with.

I do have a few recommendations to expand the life of you graphic novel and comics collections.

1) Make sure the ends of your shelf are sturdy and tall. Having soft cover graphic novels flop over the top of a book end or under a shelf stopper is terrible for the binding and warps the pages.
2) Also, if you are shelving your graphic novels in groups (all Wonder Woman together for example) look into large size periodical holders. This will group the books together to aid patron browsing and give the books extra support.
3) Invest in hard protective covers for the soft cover trade paperbacks. This stiffens the front and back covers and the spine and prevents the spine from cracking and the signatures from falling out
4) Take a book mending course. There are many different techniques you can use to extend the life of your books and mending workshops are the best place to learn new techniques from the experts. Often, these are taught by specific companies, so be prepared for a sales pitch or two.