I’d like to give a big shout out to my Secret Santa, even though doing so is going to reveal the truth that I opened my present well before the big day. I couldn’t wait. The size and shape of the package were too familiar. I knew what was beneath that Frosty the Snowman wrapping paper the minute I saw it and like…well…a kid at Christmas, I just decided to open this one particular present a bit early. And to put it simply, my Secret Santa just hit it out of the park, gifting me the John Byrne Fantastic Four Omnibus, something I’ve desperately been pining for since it was released a little over a year ago. Merry Christmas to me.
At over a thousand pages, the thing is an absolute beast size-wise and I couldn’t be happier to have received such a thoughtful gift. And at a cost of a hundred and twenty-five clams (suggested retail price), it’s one of those comic book compendiums that I just could never really justify buying for myself. I often have to remind myself: mortgage comes first, comics come second. It’s not an easy thing to accept, but such is the life of a comics fan with a house payment. That being said, the Byrne FF omnibus really is perfect in many ways. But now that I’ve got this wonderful collection of comics in “convenient” and beautifully reprinted book form, it’s also shining a light on the fact that I’m personally trapped somewhere between the analog and digital when it comes to my own comics collecting. To put it simply, this gift has made it abundantly clear that, for a number of reasons, I stubbornly refuse to accept that I have to makes a decision when it comes to what format I choose to consume comics.
My first thought upon receiving this magnificent omnibus edition was that having this collection was going to allow me the opportunity to finally get rid of the original Fantastic Four comics that I’d purchased over the years. I put a lot of work into amassing the majority of John Byrne’s work on Fantastic Four, but this was going to fill in the few remaining blanks and also allow me the opportunity to cull the collection a bit and pass on the originals to the comic book universe. Why would I ever need to look at the originals again? I now had the premium version, ad-free and brightly printed for my enjoyment. I would ditch the old floppies and move on with my life. I imagined that this is what the future would be like as a “mature” collector: get a collected edition or trade and summarily ditch those silly old originals. Soon I’d just haver books on my shelf. Real books. This is what I thought would happen. This is what I thought having a collected edition of a legendary run would do for me. Life was going to be simpler now. So I thought. Apparently, I was wrong.
As I thumbed through pages of my new omnibus, pages I’d only experienced previously as badly printed pulp images with hard to read lettering, I was struck by a decidedly modern thought. I thought to myself that it would really be nice if this massive tome came with a digital copy that I could access via my “tablet device” of choice. I was packing to go on vacation and the idea of having the contents of this brick of a book with me was really enticing. But there was no way I was going to lug this hefty piece of reading material with me. Let’s face it, it’s just too damn heavy. I needed both the analog and digital versions to satisfy my needs. This is where it all begins, the realization that if I like a book, I want it in all of its incarnations. I need help. I’m hip. But I can’t change who I am. The simply truth is this: if there’s a comic book I like and can see myself reading and re-reading in the future, I want it as a comic, an actual book and as a digital file. That’s my confession. That’s my reality. Don’t judge me. It’s just who I am.
Some people love the idea of having all their comics with them on one simple little device. A comic store in the palm of one’s hand. But while I certainly enjoy the convenience of the digital experience and the way it allows me to focus on story, the digital without the existence of a hard paper copy somewhere feels empty to me. I of course have different reasons for wanting different incarnations of the same book. As a consummate nostalgist, the actual comic books afford me the opportunity to travel back in time because they are such a specific piece of memorabilia; even the ads hold a special place in my heart. Yes, I like ads. Generally speaking the collected versions omit the ads, thus allowing for a more focused, story-based experience, so I want those versions, as well. And finally, the digital versions allows for a sort of uber-focus on the art and story in a panel-by-panel fashion that my aging eyes really enjoy. In essence, I’m a marketer’s dream in that I want every version that’s available. Is that so wrong?
Am I alone in this multi-pronged collecting style? Are there others out there who buy their favorite books in whatever versions the comic companies dole out? I know it’s irrational, redundant and ultimately an expensive way to collect, but right now it makes sense to me. And when the Fantastic Four Byrne run is released as an interactive hologram that I can read (or have read to me by a robot) while my autonomous car drives me to work, then I’m pretty sure I’ll buy that version as well.
Gabe Roth is a TV writer trapped in the suburbs of Los Angeles. @gaberoth on Twitter.