I recently received an email message from a good friend that indicated he had just powered his way through the entire run of Y: The Last Man over the course of a weekend. He told me that the story had “hit him in the bones.” A comic book had affected him that much. He loved it and was craving more. Now this wouldn’t be such a big event, but the friend in question wasn’t nor had he ever been a big comic book fan. He was of course well aware of my love of comics and apparently he wanted to share with me this the fact that he had partaken of the art form in all its glory. Simply put, he wanted me to know that he now “got it” and was now seeking out the next series of books in which to completely immerse himself. I’d never pushed comics on the guy, but I like to think I had a little something to do with his openness to the medium, if only because I’d always been so outspoken about my own adoration of comics. A new fan was born. A convert. And I liked that.
This exchange reminded me how much I like exposing people to comics, especially those people who never thought they’d be reading comics in the first place. Every Christmas I enjoy the task of finding just the right graphic novel or comic to give to the people on my list who I see as fans who just don’t know it yet. There’s something special about that moment when you realize that someone who wasn’t previously a fan is now one. So many people judge comics for what they think they are as opposed to what they really are. And many people judge comics without ever having read one in the first place.
That email message of newly found comic book appreciation from my pal also reminded me of an episode some years back, a moment in my life that can best be described as my own peculiar and perhaps misguided effort to turn on complete strangers to the wonders of comics. It was some time around 2008 and I was going through one of those phases where I was feeling compelled to get rid of some of my comics. Every so often I get the urge to purge, to lighten the comic collection load. I find myself looking at my collection and can’t help but see issues that I know I’ll never read again. But the question of what to do with “unwanted” books is always there. You can’t sell them. Be nice if they were worth something on EBay, but that’s just not the case. Do you donate them? That’s always an option. Recycle? Maybe. But as I was looking at the stacks of soon-to-be-discarded books, I realized that I wanted to find a way to get them in the hands of people who wouldn’t otherwise read them. I wanted my castoff comics in the hands of non-fans who I imagined would read them and in effect become new comic fans. I wanted to spread the love.
Thus began a process, a scheme if you will, to scatter my comics around the greater Los Angeles area like some sort of comic book Johnny Appleseed. It’s a little bit insane, I know. I have a theory and it goes something like this: You can look back at almost any moment in your life and the question “What was I thinking?” will almost always be appropriate. This definitely falls into the category of confusing retrospection. I don’t know why I was so compelled, to be perfectly honest, but I was on a mission of sorts, crazy as it was. Nevertheless, here’s what I was thinking at the time: I would simply place random comics in a series locations where people congregate i.e. coffee shops, Laundromats, fast food restaurants, etc. It wasn’t rocket science. The idea was that people would pick up a free comic, be so enthralled by what they read and then seek out more of these beloved books. It was basically a “free sample” model that 2008 me thought would serve to both lighten my comic book load and at the same time exponentially increase comics fandom. I guess I believed that the world could love comics the way I loved comics; they just needed to be exposed to them. Why couldn’t every day be Free Comic Book Day?
In the days that followed, I did actually manage to scatter more than a few comics at no less than four Starbucks coffee shops, all within a mere miles of one another. In one particular instance, I sat and watched to see if anyone took interest in a stray copy of Justice Society of America. Unfortunately, the comic just sort of sat there, as people seemed more drawn to the New York Times than to the fine work of Geoff Johns and Dale Eaglesham. I’ll never understand that. I eventually left. No way to tell what happened those comics. Hopefully people picked them up. Hopefully someone picked one up, read it and had their heart and mind changed a bit with regard to comics. Or maybe they just got scooped up along with the day’s spent newspapers and tossed out by a surly barista. Again, there’s no way to know.
What was I thinking? I guess I just wanted to make the disposal of some of my comics into more than just…well…disposal. Admittedly, I may have been reaching a bit in my plan. But I think at the root of it was an honest desire to turn people on to comics. That’s not such a bad thing, is it? In the end, my efforts to sow the seeds of comic book fandom in the masses may have fallen short. But there’s part of me that still believes that if you put the right book in the right pair of hands, the magic of the art form called comics will do its thing.
Gabe Roth is a TV writer trapped in the suburbs of Los Angeles. He is constantly craving burritos. He also has a dog named Stanley. @gaberoth on Twitter.