In my day (and believe me when I tell you that today is not mine), the act of keeping up with my favorite characters was a full-time job.
When I was a lolly-licking lad in short pants, my shop of choice was a used bookstore a little more than two miles away. When I was all of eleven, with no parental supervision of any kind, I was allowed– nay, expected– to hop on my ten speed and ride down the shoulder of a highway to this store whenever I wanted to see what the X-Men were up to. Off I would trudge with my bare skull (when I was a kid, there was no injury you could get on a bike that was worse than what would happen to you if other kids saw you wearing a damn helmet; even now, I see padded six year olds on scooters and have to consciously stop myself from thinking, “wuss”) braving the elements until the shopping plaza appeared on the horizon. Then, all I had to do was cross six lanes of highway, park my bike out front with no lock of any kind, and walk past the guys hovering around the porno shelves to go back issue diving.
(In addition to the comics they kept in the back like an embarrassing old auntie, the used bookstore’s other main source of revenue was an expansive, diverse selection of erotic periodicals which were shelved right by the front door so the old lady who owned the place could keep an eye on the pervs. If there wasn’t already some kind of nerd stigma associated with reading comics back then, the fact that we had to skulk to the comics tucked in the back past the proudly displayed front-and-center Grannies and Trannies Magazine would have driven home our place in the pecking order pretty completely. Anyway, if you think the digital era has revolutionized your access to comics, imagine how those guys who used to stand in public in front of Myrtle the Turtle to get a glimpse of Playboy feel about the Internet. But perhaps I digress. What were we talking about? Oh! Comic book site. Righto.)
It blows my mind when I think about what I would do in 1987 to read every chapter of a story. I hopped on Uncanny X-Men with issue #223, but when it piqued my interest I discovered that #222 was nowhere to be found. The back issue bins seemed voluminous, but that was mostly because they were filled with unsold reams of Obnoxio the Clown. I could get my hands on #200, 201, and 210. That was it for the next year or so. I would eventually get to read all the chapters I was missing fifteen years later, after the nineties crash when comic shops would shovel back issues into your open trunk for a dollar and a handshake.
I mention all of this to you little punks with your “smartphones” and your “electric can openers” as a long-winded preamble to pointing out that the age of digital comics is good for more than just getting the latest Wednesday books before USA Today runs the publisher’s press release and ruins the entire arc before you would have even been physically capable of legally entering a comic book store. If you browse just some of what’s available out there now, poring through the infinite back issue bin of the Internet, it will only be a matter of minutes before you find yourself at the bottom of the world’s most expensive rabbit hole. That run of JLA by Chris Claremont and John Byrne is out there. Defenders issues from 1975 are out there. You could read the original run of New Mutants this afternoon and wash it down with Ultimate Marvel Team-Up, the Ultimate book that time forgot. I opened up comiXology and started poking around for examples half an hour ago, and now I owe them $11,000.
I had heard for years about how transformative people found The Infinity Gauntlet, but I only got around to checking it out for myself when I noticed it on Graphicly decades later. (Having finally read it after years of build-up, I… am glad you enjoyed it. More power to you.) Tonight, I think I will find out why comiXology is randomly selling some kind of “Daredevil/Deadpool Annual” from 1997. (Was Daredevil/Deadpool a book? These things need to come with liner notes.)
Whenever we discuss digital comics for more than ten minutes, someone always raises the specter of brick-and-mortar obsolescence. “If everyone starts downloading their books, the trusty shopkeeper who has kept me in bags and boards all these years will be living in his car before you know it.” If you find yourself grappling with this kind of buy-local guilt complex, I would humbly suggest that you have it both ways: a good comic shop can introduce you to new books and new authors that you would otherwise miss, and the digital gateway is the perfect resource for going back in time. Not many shops have a substantial back issue bin anymore, but there is a bottomless one sitting in your house.
Jim Mroczkowski thinks back to his childhood and wonders if maybe his parents should be in jail.