My Quiet Return to Comics

This weekend, like many people out there, I went to see The Hunger Games with a few friends. I can’t say I was as excited to see the movie–curious, sure, but I was just happy to get into the theater again. What struck me most was just how mixed the crowed was—yes, there were the requisite teens and tweens, but it is clear that the book has hit the kind of broad appeal that I certainly have not seen in a movie theater since perhaps Harry Potter (which, to be fair, involved far more kids than Games). I must say, it was really intoxicating to be around so many people that were just so into it.  And then I realized, “Hey man–that’s how you used to be with comics!”

So, after more than a few weeks of just “dipping into” my comic book haul, I made a concerted effort to actually do what I used to do, months ago: just stop everything and read as many comics as I had time for on Sunday morning.

It was really interesting “coming back” because it really underscored just how much my taste has changed over the past year. Like, I wrote about it before, but I just struggled to pay attention to the superhero books, while other titles just made me feel stoked on comics, which came as a tremendous relief—I was really worried that I had just lost it, you know? Let’s talk about a few of the titles:

1 – Saga. Yes, everyone is tripping all over themselves hyping this book, I get it. But for me, I found myself struck by just how much I had missed Brian K. Vaughan.  The guys  talked a bit about this in during the recent Pick of the Week Podcast, and I found myself nodding and chiming in as I drove to work. This is not a case of “oh, finally, BKV is back and comics are good again,” it is more a case of, “Oh wow, this comic is good and good comics make my life great.” Sure, it was a first issue and first issues need to be special, need to bring you in, but this issue almost felt like a reward to those comic book readers who, over the past year, have felt frustrated and irritated by comics. It was just nice to see a pro at work, doing something completely new, doing something very unexpected, in a world that looks to be nothing but fun to explore.

Quick interruption: One of the aspects of The Hunger Games that I enjoyed the most, both in the book and in the film, is the world the characters inhabit, where elements of the familiar collide with the unfamiliar, making the protagonists of the story both hero and guide through the new physical and emotional landscapes. Obviously, the more fully-formed the universe of the story is, the more committed the audience will be to the characters, giving the story more freedom and space. I found myself just relaxing into Saga, because I could feel that this place was stable in Vaughn’s mind, that I could just enjoy the story.  Anyway…back to the article.

2 – The Manhattan Projects – I just liked this. I just like the stakes, the “Cain and Abel” – like storyline, I liked, again, the universe, and the narrative construction of the story. At the end of the story, with the “big reveal,” I felt this undercurrent of dread that was just the perfect way to frame up the rest of the series.

3 – The Strange Talent of Luthor Strode #6 – Oddly, even while I was “taking a break,” I still made time for this crazy-ass book.  I don’t know if you are reading it, but this book makes Kick-Ass look like..well, like Kick-Ass, but still–this book sort of takes that kind of hyper stylized violence to a new extreme (which, as far as a I can tell, means if you see some guy’s face thrown across the room–the actual face — then you’re basically there) but, oddly, I really wasn’t distracted by it. I felt slightly ill, but it felt right, somehow. This book takes the “high school student turned reluctant hero” fable to a new extreme, and I found this last issue pretty satisfying.  The art style reminds me of some Chinese comics from my youth, with hyper-stylized character rendering and really frenetic action sequences. This book, even more than Saga and The Manhattan Projects, reminded me that there are some stories that can only be told in comics—it would just look stupid and fake if you tried to film it, and reading it in prose would just not be as visceral.

So, I was doing good, right? I was humming along, reading comics again! I started two new series, ended one that I was enjoying, I was back baby!

Then I started going back to my “normal” books.

Thankfully, I started with Animal Man, which has become one of my favorite books, because it’s less about Buddy and more about Buddy and his family. I think this is a more successful “family” book than Fantastic Four has ever been—maybe that’s not a fair comparison, but the way the family talks and relates with each other just feels more satisfying to me.  Currently, Buddy and his family are on a road trip running from the Rot, and even though there are action sequences in the most recent issue, it’s the smaller character moments that really ground the action in an emotional place.

I then went to my old standby comics, and, slowly, I felt that gnawing feeling, that nagging voice in my brain, going, “this again?” when I read Batwoman, which suffered from a different artist trying, at times, desperately to mimic JH Williams’ intricate layouts. I had to go back to previous issues to remember what was going on, and then remembered, “Oh yeah, this plot is confusing even when I know what is going on.”  I started in on Justice League and was confronted, again, with a different artist, which was not so bad…but it just wasn’t…well, it was not fun.  Same thing happened with Catwoman and the different art there.

All of these books, welcoming me back with sub-par art.

Not a good feeling.

But then, I look back at that sentence…”all of these books.”

This is how I got into this mess before—I was trying to read too many books all at once.  When I just hang out with a few, I really get a chance to enjoy the stories on their own; I don’t have this stack of other comics waiting for me at the wings, impatient for me to start back in on their intricate plots and escapades. So, I took a bit of break and, a day later, picked up the latest issue of The Shade. And it was great! Javier Pulido was a great followup to Darwyn Cooke, who, in turn, was a great pivot from Cully Hamner. I ate a burrito and read The Shade, and that feeling of enjoying comics came back to me, fully formed.

When I went to see The Hunger Games, I was accompanying my wife Whitney and her all-girls sci-fi book club (this was a “partners-welcome” event), and I got a chance to meet a couple of new friends. When we talked about what we do, what we’ve been up to, I always mention that I write a weekly column for iFanboy, a column about comics and the culture of comics. One person I explained this to thought I was talking about stand-up comics; the other admitted that he hadn’t read comics in a long time. This happens a lot, and usually we talk about how how there are just so many comics out there and how expensive they are, and, you know, I usually end up recommending trades and that kind of thing, just to keep the conversation going.

But that’s not what most comic book fans do, right? The stalwart comic fan with a healthy habit tends to collect 10+ books a week, depending on the week, at least that’s what I was doing. Over the years, you’ve seen me pare down my books pretty significantly. For me, it was a losing proposition, in more than one way. Not only was I frustrated I had to read so many books, I was literally just spending money after bad, trying to keep the fire of fandom alive. It is fun to be on top of comics, and I do hope that I will get more involved later, but I gotta tell you, just reading 4-5 books?  It was great.

I had thought that I was getting bored of comics.  This was not true in the least. I was getting bored of fighting to stay current.  I was fighting to maintain reading 10-15 issues a week—and I was losing. I was frustrated and that frustration was poisoning my love of the medium.

Will I go back to my old ways? Maybe. I doubt it. Do I worry that there are going to be a lot of people like me who feel the same way, meaning even worse prospects for the industry? Yes, I do. But when I think about the majority of people who read comics? They are people like me. They aren’t kids, we know that. So, the industry will have to adapt—and that will be okay.

In the meantime, I must say, it’s nice to be back. It is nice that comics welcomed me back, in the best way possible–telling stories that only comics can tell, a few issues at a time.

 


Mike Romo acts…well, these days, auditions, in Los Angeles. You can reach him through email, visit his Facebook page,  and he’s on Twitter, too.

Comments

  1. Well, reading Image books like the ones you mentioned will definitely help you with your problem. You mentioned some great ones, and they are really blowing me away with all of the amazing books they have been putting out.

    • player1 player1 says:

      I’m looking for a big pile of recommendations to read later this year.

      Best twenty independent/creator-owned titles of the last ten years?

      Need to do some catching up.

      ;)

    • ryanwhodat ryanwhodat says:

      Criminal by Ed Brubaker and Y: the Last Man are my favorite independents of the last 10 years

    • Wow, here I go:

      Invincible
      Walking Dead
      Chew
      Skullkickers
      Ex Machina
      Y: The Last Man
      The Strange Talent of Luther Strode
      Blacksad
      Powers
      Criminal
      Astro City
      Preacher
      Hellboy
      Sixth Gun
      Scalped

      Those should get you started nicely, and there are plenty of new series like Manhattan Projects and Saga that you definitely read.

    • player1 player1 says:

      Thanks, dudes.

      I’m almost caught up on Criminal, and independent Brubaker in general.

      I’m buying the independent Hickman stuff as it comes out, and I read most of the stuff I missed in trades.

      I read like the first 50 issues of Invincible. Need to get back to that eventually.

      I’ll definitely put all of these other recs on my To-Read list for my Next Independent Cycle.

      These are all titles I know of, but haven’t gotten around to yet.

      Feel free to add any more that you think of.

      Cheers.

    • ryanwhodat ryanwhodat says:

      Also, a lot of people like Locke & Key. Not really my thing, but a lot of people rave about it.

    • Yes! Locke & Key! Definitely! That too! Glad I could steer you towards these great series.

  2. interesting article and think its great you can be so honest with us. I have to say i’ve had a similar reckoning of recent. I started to realize that so many of my books were basically the same thing, with different costumes and window dressing. A large strength of comics is the familiarity with storytelling conventions, structure, pacing, art styles and character tropes, but that can also turn into a weakness when it starts to become repetitive for the reader.

    I also feel the need to stay current to be a weight at times. I’m not always in the mood to read comics every week, and thats perfectly ok.

    I’ve started to adopt my art director’s credo. “Show me something interesting and different” when looking at books to read and buy. I’d rather have 3 different things, than 15 of the same. I’m getting more interested in image stuff, and some older back catalog things that i’ve been meaning to get to. Whats interesting is even reading books from 5 and 10 years ago, they feel different in tone and storytelling techniques, so in a way, they feel fresh and new.

    • player1 player1 says:

      I went totally Only New and Different about ten years ago.

      That phase, which I’d been through a couple of times before, lasted about three to five years, more and less.

      I only went to the store with about ten bucks, and I only bought stuff off the “TCJ-approved” shelf.

      You know what I mean, the three inches between the Chiclets and the giant novelty comb.

      I bought a lot of great, wonderful and weird stuff.

      Just about the time I was ready for a Break From My Break, I read an interview in The Comics Journal with Kurt Busiek, cover-headlined “Mining the Mainstream”. In the interview, Kurt pointed out that since there are certain truisms in what constitutes good storytelling, well-written tales can be told in any genre. And that all genres were basically variations on a basic structure anyway. or something to that effect.

      Right around then I became aware of all the dudes who were “independent” who were also “mainstream”, or rapidly becoming so. This was right around the time Marvel relaunched Thunderbolts. I jumped back on around Civil War. Then I went to the public library, went as far back as Disassembled and read forward to now.

      It was an exhausting journey, but I once again feel like a SHIELD recruit or Man on the Street in the MU-616, and not completely lost in Retconland. It feels familiar again, like an old friend I hadn’t seen since we went our separate ways back in ’96. We’d also grown apart around ’77, but that’s a different story.

      Which is a really long way of saying, I can see myself going back to three or four comics a week again.

      And the art-comix basket, full of stuff that would be otherwise really weird to store.

      8)

  3. ryanwhodat ryanwhodat says:

    I recently made the decision to drop all of the current books that I was no longer excited about and only buying out of habit, and redirect that money into collected editions of old stuff that I thought I might enjoy. It has been a much better experience. Sure, I’m no longer up to date on the current events in Cap and some other titles, but I’d much rather buy something I really enjoy and get excited about. I refuse to be that slave to continuity.

  4. player1 player1 says:

    I’m about to have My Return to Independence happen soon.

    My comic book reading is pretty cyclical.

    This is my third major bout of Marvel Zombification.

    I always go independent-but-not-too-arty right afterwards.

    So I’ll have about a decade-and-a-half of good comics piled up by then.

    And be looking for recommendations.

    My Recent Return was to Reading In The Short Box and attempting to be Semi-Day-and-Date, or at least No More Than a Week to Ten Days Behind on a select few Marvel titles, like I did way back in the day.

    That’s been pretty fun. I’m up-to-date on ASM, Avenging, Scarlet Spider, Venom (almost), new Cap, Winter Soldier, DD, Defenders, FF & F4. So, I’m halfway through the New “New” Box and having fun. Enjoying comics and sharing my love of the MU-616 with like-minded folks. And why not? It’s my hobby, and it makes me happy.

    It’s good to be back, (no matter which temporary perch we choose to call Home) isn’t it?

  5. Great article. I’m reading about 5 – 7 books a week and find that a nice amount of reading.

  6. filippod filippod (@filippodee) says:

    My break from superheroes (not comics altogether) lasted more than 10 years. Maybe even 15, I honestly don’t remember. I jumped back in 2010 with Marvel’s reboot (Heroic Age or something like that) and had a blast for two years. Now I’m starting to get a bit tired again and I’m expanding again into more indie territories even if Marvel still has the lion’s share. I only picked a handful of the new 52. My pull list here only represents what I read in English. I’m Italian and I also read Italian stuff plus translated Japanese & French stuff (Italy is pretty good for manga translations). And I sure need to cut some stuff. As Mike wrote staying on top of things is great, but taking the time to savor comics is way better.

  7. markavo markavo says:

    I’ve just recently come back into comics over the last year and in the last two months (8 issues in) I’m finding I’m dropping titles I just don’t care about because of the “continuity” reason but also because they’re just not strong enough stories for me to care.

    I’d rather drop the titles and have a positive feeling about all my comics over all than a poor feeling about the industry. On the plus side, the stories I wasn’t happy about I’m giving away to my nephews. They know the characters but haven’t ever read comics and were very excited about stories I didn’t care for. I’ve also pulled in my wife with books like Saga and Locke & Key. That to me signals a strength in the industry right now. There seems to be something out there for everyone – even those that haven’t ever read a comic and/or those that believe they’re all just “little kid stuff”.

  8. kennyg kennyg says:

    I’ve overwhelmed and drowning in comics. I don’t have time to read all that I buy, and I’m not excited about maybe half of them. I think it’s time to make some cuts.

  9. mofo63 mofo63 says:

    Great article…. I myself have become a dig through the box of decades old books and look for something interesting for 50 cents junkie. In the past few weeks I have come out with several great arcs that date back to the 90′s and early 2000′s…

    It’s a fun way to keep the “to read” stack full without spending a fortune….

  10. AndrewW says:

    I recently got back into collecting and enjoying comics. However, I used to place too much emphasis on the collecting part of it. Even today I still feel some guilt that I may be losing continuity by dropping some titles I would genuinely like to support but just aren’t being written or drawn (or both) in a way that appeals to me.

    But I have finally decided to put on my big boy pants and allow myself to drop stuff that isn’t an enjoyable read, continuity be damned. By finally doing so, I have really added to my comics experience and the trip to the shop isn’t a battle of attrition anymore, but more of a journey to find the books I enjoy or to see what grabs me.

    I have to admit that the New 52 brought me back to the shop originally, but now I only collect three DC books (which I enjoy immensely) yet I collect 12 titles per month and many of those are a real departure from what I traditionally read for comics.

    I love the freedom.

    • Parri Parri (@pazzatron) says:

      “I used to place too much emphasis on the collecting part of it.”
      That’s got to be the hardest part of dropping a book. Going digital on my weeklies has really helped that. Any thing which is worth owning I’ll then pick up in TPB.

  11. I have to say i’ve also cut down on my books in a big way. I usually only get about 5 books a week now and I am much quicker to drop titles. As my interest in the medium has waned greatly I’ve had to search out the books that still get me excited about comics. It was a hard habit to break in not buying a bunch of books every week but I’m glad I did.

  12. nathematics nathematics says:

    GUYS! I think we’re all getting away from the crucial issue here: team peeta or team gale?

  13. Parri Parri (@pazzatron) says:

    Great article, Mike.

    I think a lot of comic book readers feel they need to being reading a Superman/Cap/Avengers/Spider-man/X-Men etc book because they’ve been the bread and butter of comics for decades. It’s like there’s a worry that if you don’t read them you’ll be left behind. That it’s your damn duty to read those books. Even if you don’t enjoy them.

    iFanboy has been talking a lot recently (especially on this week’s podcast) about how the likes of Image, Boom! et al are putting out some amazing books, while the big two are bogged down in editorial mandate and turning tricks to increase sales.

    The thing I love about comics is there really is something for everyone.

  14. JSAkid JSAkid says:

    Great article and you pretty much hit the nail on the head on how I feel about comics and my love for them right now even narrowed it down to roughly the same issues you praised but agree to disagree on Batwoman, while the art is no J.H.Williams lll with Dave Stewart in colors, I think they’re doing a pretty good job so far in maintaining the aesthetic tone, really hope it goes back to the Hydrology team though. On the other hand I’ve been able to follow the supernatural detective murder love and other ties story just fine and love it. This article conveys what I’ve been trying to relate a fellow reader friend onto that comics should be a passion not an obsession and texted him he should read this article (his response: great article). Thanx Mike.

  15. Paradiddle Paradiddle says:

    Ever since I became a father (October 2010) my comics reading has dwindled to about 5-7 books a MONTH. However, it makes the experience of reading series I love (Scalped, Unwritten) that much more enjoyable. I decided long ago that I just don’t have the time, financial means, or interest to keep up with Marvel and DC anymore. The only superhero book I read regularly now is Invincible, and it’s plenty for me. If I ever get the itch for Batman, Justice League, Daredevil, etc, there’s literally a ton of trades out there I can explore whenever I want. Quality over quantity is definitely more important to me now that I have so little time for any kind of spare time entertainment, whether it be music, television, movies, prose books, or comics.

  16. This article hammers the nail right on the head. For me, I had felt like I was slowly starting to drown in the stacks of unread single issues piling up around my apartment. It had pretty much gotten to the point where I was just buying comics because that’s what I had always done. One day I realized that this sense of “obligation” had completely killed my desire to read comics… not just the superhero stuff I was primarily bored with, but everything! Even books I really loved! So I did the most drastic thing I could see myself doing:

    I switched to trades.

    For me, this fixed almost all my problems. I no longer had weekly purchases to make, plus trades are a little cheaper (especially at the big “A”), so my finances thanked me as well as my floor space. Also, somehow, it seems easier to keep up on the release of trades from companies other than Marvel and DC, so those pesky superhero titles that were weighing me down were automatically cut out of the equation. Also, it’s far more convenient to share a trade with a friend than to hand them a stack of issues.

    Bottom line: I’ll never go back to issues (or read as many titles again). I do have an iPad, so I’ll occasionally download a single issue to checkout a new series, but then I wait for the trade to actually read more if I liked it (aka Saga). I am a far happier comic book reader and I don’t feel stressed about keeping up pace. Comics are fun again! Who knew?

    Now, if only iFanboy could get the comic shipping list to optionally sort/show only trades… :)