Three Pilote hardcover collected editions from the 1960s and 1970s

The Surprising Way They Collected “Pilote” Magazine Issues

It surprised me to learn that they sold collections of “Pilote” magazine.

I mean, wasn’t it enough that the magazine served as the launching pad for the albums? The Asterix albums, for example, got off to a bit of a slow start, but by the fifth or sixth album, it was a massive best seller.

In 1966, “Asterix and the Normans” sold a million copies.

It wasn’t the only series getting regular collections, either. “Lucky Luke”, for example, was well into its collected history. 30 albums saw print before “Lucky Luke” shifted publishing houses from “Spirou” magazine to “Pilote.”

Size comparison between magazine and hardcover of Pilote

But those albums make sense to us, as North American readers. They collect parts of a story into a bigger, complete whole. That’s the entire set-up for the North American industry today: take a six issue story in one format and and collect it under one cover in another.

That collected edition takes all the story pages, slams them together, and maybe puts the cover images as a gallery in the back, or perhaps as title pages just before each issue.

That’s not what happened with “Pilote.”

Wait ’til you get a load of this one.

France vs. Belgium

Something that confused me initially about this that I should point out up front: Different collected editions of Spirou were published in France and Belgium.

The books I’m reviewing here are the French collections. They collect 10 issues at a time, while the Belgian editions collect 13.

This is what the Belgian editions look like, taken from a completed Catawiki auction listing:

The Belgian edition of Pilote Journal HC

Honestly, I like the cover and book design of the Belgian editions, from what I’ve seen of them. I hope to eventually pick up a Belgian edition for comparison’s sake.

Printing One, Getting Both

But first, another parallel.

It’s a common enough thing with Kickstarters, for example, where the publisher/creator will offer either softcover or hardcover editions with their books. They do that by publishing the interior for all of them, and then gluing/sewing/stitching that set of interior pages into either the paperback covers or the hard covers.

That keeps the costs lower by making one larger print run for the interior, and then adding the covers after the fact.

That’s not exactly what Pilote did, but it’s kind of close.

How Pilote Collections Worked

The binding of a Pilote HC collected edition

Pilote is collected by gluing 10 issues of the magazine into a new hardcover.

It’s almost a slipcase situation, except the magazines are glued into the slip case, and you can open that up like a book.

It’s a weird thing when you get to the glossy heavier weight paper for the cover stock at the beginning of a new issue. It’s like each magazine is a signature, and each signature is wrapped in a cover.

Pilote HC #53 inside front cover
There’s a blank page buffering the front cover from the first issue, seen here.

I bet the issues weren’t even reprinted. I’m guessing they overprinted each issue and set enough copies aside to fulfill the need for these hardcover collections. They just glued a bunch of issues into a hardcover.

Ten issues might have made for a good price point, or maybe it was all they wanted to keep in the warehouse at a time.

The Years Aren’t Always So Kind

50 years later, that glue holding these books together isn’t perfect.

I’ve picked up three of these collections through eBay so far. One of them is falling apart. The issues are coming unglued and are falling out of the hardcover. It’s truly a slipcase for the issues, as this point.

The issues fall out of the Pilote HC collected edition

It doesn’t bother me at all, though. I just wanted the original magazines. Having them in these hardcovers is a nice way to help shelve them, but I’m OK with keeping them together inside the original hardcover and taking each issue out for a look through when I want to. I don’t need the collectability or purity of the original presentation.

The other two collections I’ve picked up are straining a bit. When you lay the book flat and flip through pages at either end, you can often feel the stress put upon the glue. I can’t believe that this wasn’t a problem 50 years ago or more, either.

These are big magazines that add up to a lot of weight for glue and a binding to hold together. Anytime you flip a page, you risk upsetting the balance of the book and having things pull apart.

Pilote v53 back cover shows where it looks cleaner as the plastic peels off

My copy of volume 53 also has the plastic laminate peeling off the cover. On the bright side, all of the dirt on the cover is on that plastic. As it peels off the cover, the book actually looks cleaner.

Pictured above is the back cover. That whiter area along the lower right edge is where the plastic has already peeled. The cover is already beaten up along the edges, too. I don’t care. The magazines on the inside are in pristine shape.

It’s a Standard Format

“Pilote” was not alone in this, by the way. “Spirou” did the same thing. Those are harder to find on eBay. When you do, they usually cost twice as much. You can pick up “Pilote” for $25, give or take. Finding a Spirou book, especially an older one from the 60s or earlier, is going to run you at least $40, but most likely $50 to $60.

You can find more in Europe, but that often comes with a heavy shipping price ($15, more often than not) and an exchange rate that means you’ll be paying about 1.2x the Euros price in dollars.

This all explains why I don’t have a Spirou hardcover to demonstrate with for this article.

The Back Covers

Pilote Journal v43 collected HC back cover
Pilote v53 back cover shows where it looks cleaner as the plastic peels off

The back covers all pointed you towards the other collections from Pilote which were available. There were a bunch of them: Asterix, Achille Talon, Iznogoud, Lucky Luke, Michel Tanguy, Fort Navajo, Barb Rouge, and Bob Morane.

These “earlier” volumes listed out all the individual titles, too.

Pilote Journal v62 collected HC back cover

By the time of volume 62 in the 1970s, they gave up listing them all. The series names were mentioned alongside their creators. Imagine that — in 1972, creators names were listed as selling points of the series. Marvel and DC wouldn’t even put their creators’ names on the cover for another 25 years or so, and legally worked hard to pretend their creators didn’t create anything. Ah, Work for Hire…

Specific Valerian and Asterix Notes

Valerian The Land Without Stars cover

This is from volume 53. That’s the back cover to issue #569 on the left, teasing the start of a new Valerian storyline for the next issue, “La Pays Sans Etoile.” That’s “The Land Without Stars.”

That story got the cover of issue #570, seen glued right next to it on the right there. Here are the opening pages:

The first pages of Valerian's "The Land Without Stars" from Pilote #570

A quick Asterix touchstone for the three books I have here:

Asterix in Switzerland” was the story running alongside that Valerian tale.

Volume 62 included magazines with segments from “Asterix and the Soothsayer” segments That’s a big part of the reason I picked that volume up. I love that story.

Volume 43 had the start of “Asterix and the Cauldron.”

But, Wait! There’s More!

Next time I’ll take a look at the other kind of collection they did with “Pilote” in the 1960s. It only lasted 9 books, but it lead to some new material and some very interesting ways of representing material.

If you thought gluing 10 issues together into a hardcover was weird, wait till you see what they had to do to make a smaller collection! (Preview: A little of everything.)

What do YOU think? (First time commenters' posts may be held for moderation.)

7 Comments

  1. Yeah, I’m not sure why you would find this so surprising, really, because this is how most, if not all, BD periodicals had a second life in european publishing (including Le Journal de Mickey, which is a treasure trove of Disney classics but also legendary KFS strips).
    The cycle would go like this:
    1/ regular printing, weekly/montly sent out to kiosks (newsstands) and news stores everywhere
    2/ unsold copies are returned to the publisher (or more likely some kind of second hand proxy market wholesaler, at a massive discount)
    3/ the bound volumes come out at the beginning of the following year (some were quarterly), through mostly newsstores but also some specialized bookstores, for barely half the price of indiviual issues put together.
    When I started collecting BD seriously, some 35-odd years ago, the first impulse was naturally to get a magazine subscription for new material and track down older individual issues, one by one, with a little checklist in hand (very soon a whole notebook lol). It was easy, because in France every local saturday or sunday morning market in your area had at least one stand selling cheap second hand books and magazines, so while my mom was filling up the groceries shopping list, guess what I was doing… But very soon a problem arose, namely keeping those (presumably disposable) mags in storage while maintaining a decent condition was extremely hard. Especially with a pair of wild siblings in the house, and parents who would prefer I spent my time reading “real” books rather than kid stuff. So it’s no wonder that discovering those bound volumes was a godsend, for safekeeping, safe reading, and obviously looking very spiffy on a shelf.
    At some point in time, early eighties I think,I had a subscription to Tintin magazine, the french edition, and they were also offering, at a premium, some solid plastic binders, available along with a yearly subscription, in which you could keep individual issues together, held by individual metal rods inside the spine of each issue. I probably still have a couple of those in a box in storage, if I can someday uncover them I’ll send you some pics.
    But obviously bound volumes were a better option, the main problems were that:
    1/ you have to wait one year for the next volume and
    2/ this process entirely depends on overprinting, meaning that you are never sure how many of those are going to be available. Not all returned books remained pristine up to that point, obviously.
    3/ as you point out, the quality of production was very uncertain, since that secondary market was an afterthought, so you were never sure that the one copy showing up at your local book and news store would be in decent condition in the first place. I would buy it anyway, sure, but you can understand my frustration sometimes.
    4/ consequence being that getting a full run of those bound mags, complete with zero missing bits (it was very frequent to get a volume of which a random stapled issue had fallen out during this long circle of life, with only the issue cover remaining, with nothing but shreds inside) would be nigh impossible. Talk about frustration, again. which explains why current BD auctions see those reaching crazy prices.
    5/ last but not least, as you said, the franco-belgian market is two-fold. Most belgian mags like Tintin or Spirou had two different editions, simultaneously, sometimes with different contents, but not for the whole life of the mag, that practice stopped ages ago, which made tracking way harder. So much so that at some point, even albums from Dargaud, Lombard and Dupuis had different first printings, depending where they came from… Mind-blowing, I know.
    I believe that the double printing comes from the fact that the belgian market had to cater for a bilingual population, a different currency (until 2001) and that belgian french and french french, while mostly the same, have some differences. You guys have Canada over there, you know what I’m talking about. So, there you go.
    Now I’m guessing from your final clue that next time you’re going to talk about the annuals. That’s a really fascinating story, so I definitely encourage all readers of this to stick around.

    1. Thanks for that breakdown, JC. I find all of this stuff fascinating, from my perspective over here. We never had collected editions of monthly magazines over here, that I could think of. We also didn’t have anything like Pilote/Spirou/Tintin over here. The closest we really had was MAD Magazine, I’d guess. And there, you’d get reprints around particular themes or artists, and they would often be done cheaply in a smaller format. (By the 90s, when sales rates had already fallen through the floor by comparison to the 60s and 70s, magazines like Wizard didn’t have any incentive to collect anything.)

      Also, unsold magazines and comics from the newsstands here would be returned to the distributor by the newsstand agent for a refund — but to save on shipping costs, they’d rip off the covers and send those back as proof of unsold books. They’d throw out the rest. (Some kids had collections of coverless comics that they’d either get out of the dumpster or from local shop owners who just didn’t care and gave them away.)

      Now, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen magazines — particularly in the 80s — that had ads to buy a slipcase to store your last year’s worth of issues in. But that was just the cardboard box, essentially, so store them upright on your bookshelf. That’s as far as things got over here that I know of.

      Thanks for explaining it from your end of things. That makes more sense. And now I understand how limited these editions might be. It’s a bit of a crazy business model, but a great way to reclaim “lost” sales. If you can’t sell them the first time, maybe you can sell them the second inside a hardcover. Pretty smart.

      I did read about the different Belgian and French editions of the magazine at some point, but never thought too much about it until I saw the two competing kinds of hardcovers on eBay and had to figure out what the difference was. BDOubliees.com set me straight on that, I’m happy to say.

      I don’t have any Annuals yet. I haven’t found any. What I have found, though, is the Super Pocket Pilote series…

  2. The annuals are super rare, so you’d better keep saving for that 😉
    Oh yes the super pockets Pilots are a great theme for the next episode of Augie in wonderland 😀
    For a very long time I ignored them thinking they were mere reprints until I found out that some contained new material as well… See why I had to have the notebook!

  3. We had a similar thing with comic books up here in French Canadia (meaning Québec province).
    All comic books were published in French by Les Éditions Héritage, no matter what the company, so Marvel, DC, Archie, Disney or whoever were all translated by Héritage, in black and white for a long time, then they started doing them in color in the 80s, before stopping publication in 87. Occasionally we’d get fancier books in color or even some treasury editions.
    (sidebar: we also got translations from France but those were not usually available in my small town, altho sometimes my dad would buy a box of books or comics at auctions for like a dollar containing these digest editions of like Zembla, Mandrake or whatever war or western comics we’d never heard of before, but that would be another topic entirely haha).

    So Heritage would regularly put out these glue binded collections called Comicorama (google Heritage Comicorama and you’ll see plenty of pics) containing anywhere between four to a dozen issues or so, sometimes of a single series or usually a mix of whatever from one company (so a Marvel bunch, or an Archie, etc) for much cheaper since those were probably just unsold newsstand returns.
    And once glued together they were cropped a bit around so that everything would be nice and even, so it would be maybe half a centimeter smaller than a regular comic.
    (sidebar 2: in the 70s Heritage comics were 32 pages with barely any ads, so we’d have the main title followed by 10ish pages of whatever, so a Spider-Man issue would have his new chapter then a couple of old Kirby/Ditko style monster/sci-fi/western/crime stories. Then they switched to a double size format so 44 pages of just the main hero with a few ads, or when Marvel stories were just 17 pages it would be two issues and a reprint of an older 60s story or maybe a different random comic that didnt have its own series).

    I’m pretty sure you could find some of those for cheap on ebay or whatever, maybe look into it just to see how things were done here.

    1. Heritage did for many years a fantastic job of covering american comic production, I rarely found their books here in Europe but it wwas always a treat. Sure they weren’t perfect, the translation ofetn let a lot to be desired and the lettering would make Augie recoil in terror, but they were always a fun read as a complement to France’s Sagedition/Artima and Belgium’s Interpresse.

      1. Are those the lettering jobs that were done in Times New Roman inside of perfectly oval word balloons? I’ve seen a couple of Dutch translated comics from the 90s of American comics that left me cowering in a corner, crying. They were BAD.

        1. Oh no,nothing so drastic, just some at times really poorly done hand-lettering.
          But at least they never translated the onomatopoeias.