The Shackles of Taste

I’ve been noticing something happening to me over the past few months and it’s really come to a breaking point ever since Saga and the Before Watchmen books have come out.

It was subtle at first. I looked a book I had been reading for a few months and thought, “Maybe I will just read this in trade,” or “you know, I don’t think this book is going to be around for many more issues, maybe I’ll just cut my losses here.”  Then, after reading Saga and re-reading Parker: The Outfit, I was like, “Oh…right — this is what I like…and this is all I want.”

As I write this, just a week and a half before San Diego Comic-Con, I feel, truly, like my taste in comics has either stabilized or just reached some kind of plateau and what’s truly bothersome about it? I don’t really care.

This is troublesome because much of what I love about comics is just how many different creators and publishers are out there, doing all kinds of different stories. Compared to movies and TV, comics is an impossibly varied medium, and it’s that variety that keeps many a fan coming back for more. I took DC’s New 52 offering as a way to dive headlong into a whole new era of comics, giving me a really great opportunity to (re)discover characters and creators. My thinking was that as I read these new stories, it would encourage me to reach out and check out my titles from companies like Image and IDW, that this was just the shot in the arm that I desperately needed to get me out of my comic book malaise.

Well…it worked for a while, at least. But as I fell off of Resurrection Man and other titles, I was also scrapping pretty much all of my Marvel books as well.  I liked my Batman books, I hung in there with Action Comics, The Flash and Justice League, but that was about it, and much of that was really kind of out of habit. I really felt, gentle reader, that I was falling out of love with comics, just a little bit.

Then Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ Saga happened. Now, I know that this is not a book for everyone and I am sure there are problems with the book, but, issue after issue, I know that I have not fallen out of love with comics — I am just loathe to put up with comics that are not fantastic.  I had a similar experience reading Darwyn Cooke’s Before Watchmen: Minutemen and Cooke and Amanda Conner’s Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre. These were the kinds of comics I wanted to read, created by artists and writers who I trust, who have been amazing in the past and continue to be amazing in that particular way that my heart and brain react to with happiness and joy.

This is a good thing yet also not a good thing, I realize. It makes no sense to limit my exposure to new creators and titles — I might miss out on future Cookes and Conners and Vaughan.  I don’t want to be stodgy and be one of those old guys who only talks about the great stories and characters of the past, but here I am, basically wrapping up my legs in a blanket after taking two minutes to settle down into a rocking chair, ready to yell at the kids playing near my lawn.

I am hoping that SDCC has a bunch of cool announcements that makes me excited to dive back into books like Spider-Man and (dareIsayit) Superman. But even then, what will make me keep coming back? I mean, even now (and this is basically iFanboy heresy), I feel like I am getting bored with The Flash, which, like, is my book.  I love the art, I love the character…but I’ve had the most recent issue sitting in my iPad for what seems like weeks.  I am just not inspired, not even to followup on books that I know to be good, like Daredevil and Wolverine and the X-Men. It’s depressing to me even as I write this.

What is it about Saga in particular that has captured the imagination of myself and the iFanboys?  For me, it is the incredible balancing act that BKV is able to maintain between plot, emotional stakes, and really well done cliffhangers. When I reach the end of an issue of Saga I am totally bummed — I need to know what is happening next!  This is mostly to do with the creative team, but I think also that we’re in a totally new and different universe, with characters that continue to get more and more intriguing.

But, like I said, it’s mostly the creative team. And like Cooke and Conner, Staples and Vaughan are creators whose work I have enjoyed over the years, whose skill with comics is such that I can read a single issue in a month and get every comic book itch scratched, just like that.

Is this stagnation or is this taste?  Is It the cool comfort of being able to consummate professionals or the tyranny of habit? Probably a combination of both, but one thing is for sure: once you get comfy, it’s really hard to get out of that rocking chair, and with comic book prices as high as they are, it seems almost reasonable to go back to the old days, where buying 2-3 comics a month, 2-3 comics that you really liked, was the perfect amount.

Like I said, I hope that hanging out at Comic-Con will get me excited about comics and get me off of my butt, but I must admit, I’m not holding my breath.


Mike Romo auditions and writes in Los Angeles. You can reach him through email, visit his Facebook page, and follow him tweets on Twitter. He’s “mikeromo” on Instagram, too.


  1. So you want to read good comics? Good for you, that’s what you should be doing. More people need to learn how to cut books they’re not really enjoying, and find the ones that they truly love, that are really worth their money. Saga is definitely one of the best books out there too, so any chance to talk about it is a good one.

  2. Pretty depressing. I love Saga as much as you do, but come on, there are lots of good books out there! Are you just sick of Super Hero stuff? Maybe its just comics overload for you.

  3. Avatar photo filippod (@filippodee) says:

    There are far more than 2-3 comics that I really (like in “really really really”) like per month. Then there are comics which are a guilty pleasure I don’t want to do without. I’ve been reading comics for 35+ years and there’s no sign of “stagnation” (as you expressed it) in my enjoyment of comics.

  4. There’s this temporal thing that goes on with comics with the weekly floppy releases – this need to read everything the night it comes out. Guess what? You don’t need to do that. Don’t feel like reading something – that’s fine – chill out and don’t read it. Trade wait. Omnibus wait. Compendium wait. I’ve broken out of the weekly cycle and you can too!

    If its a good story – you won’t miss it and you won’t be less of a man/woman/person for not having read it FIRST.

    • you are absolutely right in that everything need not be read wednesday night, or even thursday night, etc. but Trade Waiting is the death of comics. You do that? Support a series by letting the publisher know it’s being read each month, do that by buying the issues.

    • @JokersNuts: Anyone who has talked to anyone from the major companies in the comics publishing business about their publishing business knows that “trade waiting is the death of comics” is so patently false as to be ridiculous.

    • Trade waiting is not the death of comics, but writing your monthly comics for the trade will kill my enthusiasm in a heartbeat!

    • @Conor – respectfully, please explain to me how not buying comics doesn’t effect sales.

    • I absolutely believe that monthly floppies actively contribute to “the death of comics.” I would much rather semi-annual releases of 120-160 page volumes instead of 20 pages a month. There is no more difficult way to attract new readers than to try sell them 20 pages a month through a specialty retailer.

    • @JokersNuts: Trade waiting isn’t “not buying comics”. It is buying comics, just in a different format. Trade sales will effect single issues sales of particular series, but that’s not “the death of comics.”

      Trades are an overall growth sector of the industry whereas single issues sales are trending down. I’ve had three different people in high positions at the three top companies tell me some variation of “we all know that issues are going to die and that trades are the future of comics.”

      Granted, no one is yet sure how digital single issues are going to change the game.

    • Grandturk – sorry, but I LOVE comics and I want to read new ones every week and every month.

    • @Conor – “Trade sales will effect single issues sales of particular series, but that’s not “the death of comics.” – – so, ok, its not the death of comics as a medium but its the death of that series you love that doesn’t sell as well as Batman does.

    • @JokersNuts: Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Depends on the book and depends on the publisher.

    • @Conor – I realize that trade waiting for Wonder Woman is not going to get the series cancelled. (although if literally every person did it, maybe?) …. but smaller titles, and creator owned properties like “Morning Glories”? I don’t see sales figures so maybe that’s not the best example, but it seems to be that if sales are low a book will get cancelled. and sales will be low if the people who normally buy it are waiting for a collected edition.
      I propose this for the Trade Waiters. Buy the issues, and then don’t read them for six months.

    • a good example might be “Mind MGMT” — waiting for the trade will totally kill that book dead

    • there is nothing more discouraging to a comic book fan and customer than being told that your purchases “don’t count”. Why bother spending that money if it isn’t appreciated? If trades or digital don’t work business wise, then don’t offer them for sale…its just so off-putting to get a guilt trip about wanting to purchase a trade or getting a digital issue instead of pre-ordering a print floppy, which does still happen on social media and in interviews.

    • @JokersNuts: There are really too many factors involved in a book’s cancellation or not cancellation to make generalizations. Cost to produce the book, issue sales, trade sales, other factors–they all come into play.

      But there are plenty of books out there with low issue orders that continue on because they do well in trade. For instance, we’re getting a new series of PHONOGRAM because the trade sales justified it, not the issue sales.

    • @Conor – thanks for clarifying for me then. trade waiters aren’t totally evil. but I still believe if you want to support a book you should buy it. to each their own, i guess.

    • @Jokenuts – Unless you are stealing the trade – you are BUYING it! Just because the industry has a completely F’d up business model and distribution scheme does not mean the end consumer – the CUSTOMER – needs to suffer. Fix it at the source. Don’t blame the CUSTOMER because you (PUBLISHER) can’t make money because you’ve trapped yourself in bad business model.

    • @jokersnuts–technically speaking a floppy comic is not really a “book”. Anything under 48 thats saddle stitched, and has a self or paper cover, is technically regarded as a “pamphlet”.

      So rest assured, trade waiters are the only ones actually buying “books”. =)

    • I’m with Jokersnuts as far as my love for the monthlies. It bums me out to think they could go away. Walking into that comic shop each week to pick up your new books is the heart and soul of comic culture. When that goes away, we lose something.

    • if trades are the future, how come nobody seems to have takin’ the initiative to spearhead that revolution? why still bother with a dying format? what are they waiting for if it’s such a sure thing? makes it sound like me and a few others are still buying vhs tapes when everyone else is already getting dvds.
      how would they even undertake that?
      am i going to have to wait 4 months to get my batman fix in one chunk and then have to wait an additional 4 for the next? assuming of course that i only read one bat title(which i do). just seems like a lota time for me to loose sight of it and become interested in different things.
      so how do they test the waters? am i going to have to roll the dice and drop 20+bucks on a trade and risk being pissed off at having lost that chunk of change all at once if i don’t like it? or go to amazon and get it for half price? which seems like it would hurt the business if they’re not getting full price.
      and what about the people who are convinced digital is the future?
      just seems like a lot of loose ends and unanswered questions at present to be so sure of a destined direction. however, i’m not in that business so what do i know? judging from all the question marks in my post, not a lot.

    • @sitara119: I’m also not fully convinced that trades are the future, but the idea of hard copy monthly floppies being the norm for comics consumption ten or even five years from now seems unlikely. Will monthlies survive but be only digital? Very possible. Will monthlies disappear and everything will be in trade, either hard copy or digital? Seems less likely to me. However, the increasing power trades have over a book’s cancellation or continuation and the steady, albeit slow, growth of digital comics can’t be ignored.

      In regard to a lot of the points you raised in your post I would look at it like this. The music industry has changed dramatically over the past ten years. These days most people consume music in a purely digital fashion, iTunes, Pandora, Spotify, but you can still walk into Best Buy and purchase a CD. Many small independent record stores have closed and most large chain stores have significantly reduced their CD selection but they still exist. The transition from one distribution and consumption style to another is far along but not yet fully complete.To keep with the analogy, trades and digital comics can be viewed as the itunes and pandoras, while monthly print floppies can be seen as CDs.

      I am not making a digital vs. print argument here so please don’t misunderstand. I just find the music industry to be an analogy that works in this situation regarding people’s consumption patterns. There are going to be growing pains as any industry changes and as a result there will be a transition period between the old model of distribution and consumption and the new one. Are trades and digital the future? I’m not sure, but it certainly seems to me that a decade or less from now monthly hard copy floppies will play a much less important role in the comics market.

  5. Fatale is very impressive. The team of Brubaker and Phillips is outstanding. If those two are doing something together you can pretty much bet I’ll be reading it.

  6. “treatment is simple. great clown pagliacci is in town tonight. go and see him. that should pick you up.”

  7. There’s nothing wrong with that, you just wanna read the GOOD comics. Keep on doing you, **COMMENT MODERATED**

  8. I recently decided to cut down my books to 10 per month from around 40 per month and the overwhelming majority of those cuts were DC/Marvel books. It’s not that those characters don’t interest me anymore…it’s just that there’s these other books (like Saga) that seem so much more significant when I read them and in comparison, my regular superhero books feel so redundant and irrelevant. I’m craving new/big ideas right now and when I do want a regular superhero story, I feel like there are books like Invincible which do it better anyway.

    FWIW, these are 10 books I chose:
    Batman Inc
    Walking Dead
    Rachel Rising
    Manhattan Projects
    Danger Club

  9. I’ve become more excited with creator owned books lately, because for the most part i don’t know what to expect from them. Sure they use some storytelling devices of mainstream comics, but there is a surprise that comes with getting to know these new characters and worlds, that i’m not really getting anymore from Big 2 stuff. The Big superhero stuff is more about the details and how you get to the expected resolution (good guy defeats bad guy) and some soap opera with character relationships, whereas stuff like Saga, Manhattan Projects etc…its about giving me lots of unexpected twists and turns and world building…and for where i am right now, thats really fun stuff.

    Also i’ve found myself getting frustrated and then bored with comics that become to formulaic in their presentation. Art, coloring, lettering even story beats…i’m always hunting for new and exciting stuff that i haven’t seen before, but all to often i see the same creative choices over and over again, which starts to wear on my excitement.

  10. I also cut way back there was alot of comics i was reading and getting no satisfaction from them i won”t say which ones though. What seems to work for me is the writers that i enjoy the most Brain Wood, Jeff Lemire, Scott Snyder, Kirkman and some others i can”t think of right now. My favorite writers even though a series might end for them i always check out there new stuff and it usually works for me. So i say stick with the writers you might like or if there is something different that has not been written about which is nearly impossible these days try it out.

  11. I dropped Av.X at issue 4 and I haven’t looked back. I won’t suffer inner turmoil about letting go of comics that don’t hold my interest anymore. I’ll enjoy the stories I read where I’m not sure what’ll happen next and not think twice if Jean Grey will rise from the ashes. Again.

  12. Exposure to any medium, whether it’s movies, TV or comics, leads to cultivating “likes” and “dislikes”. (I hesitate to call it “taste” because it seems to imply your likes are better than those of someone else. Different strokes, after all.) These likes and dislikes are going to filter out a lot content quickly. Most books, you won’t even pick up because there is no draw there. For the books you do pick up, it usually only takes a single issue to decide if it is one you’ll continue reading.

    At the same time, this exposure leads to certain “high water marks”. In comics, this might be things like “The Dark Knight Returns”, “Watchmen”, “Strangers In Paradise”, etc. Everybody’s list is different, but we have all experienced REALLY GOOD comics in the past. These are not your run-of-the-mill comics. These are the truly great ones, which left us feeling a sense of excitement (or joy, or sadness, or anger). These books changed us and are ones we carry with us. That feeling of elation / euphoria that comes from reading a really good book is the proverbial dragon / high that we’re all chasing when we pick up our comics each week. This is where “Saga fits in.

    Saga has all the markings of a REALLY GOOD comic: great writing, great art, fresh/different perspective, etc. And, so far, it has lived up to the expectations. Consequently, it’s reached the point of being “appointment comics”. For a lot of people, it is the book the anticipate the most each month. And, because it is so good, people are talking about it, which creates that shared sense of experience, which we all crave. What’s the point of reading a really good comic if you can’t talk about it! Snyder’s Batman, Lemire’s Animal Man, Hickman’s Manhattan Projects and other really good books also fall into this category.

    Then there is everything else. There are books that may good in one aspect, or in several aspects, but are average in others. “The Flash” is beautiful book to look at, but the writing is only okay. Then there are books that started with the promise of Saga but seemingly lost the spark somewhere: “Action Comics”, “Wonder Woman”, “Daredevil”. The question with these books is how long will we stay on them. I think the answer is, “As long as you’re still getting something out of it.”

    I am currently watching the show “Eureka” on Netflix. It is not a perfect show by any means, but there are some redeeming qualities: it’s geeky, it’s pretty funny and it plays with the established Sci-Fi tropes. I am only about 5 episodes in, and I can tell you I am really enjoying it despite it’s flaws. But, because of it’s flaws, it’s continually on “death watch”. At any moment, the ratio of good-to-bad can shit away from its favor, and I would stop watching it. There is no loyalty any more. There are just too many things to watch / do / read / etc.

    So, why do we like Con announcements? It’s because of the promise of new things. Somewhere in the near future, there might be another Saga (or DKR or Watchmen…) This is what excites us. But, going back to what I said earlier, we all have our own filters. Most announcements won’t matter to you, but there may be a few that will. We’re all just hoping that there will be something new to look forward to. So, on that note, I hope everyone this Con season gets some BIG!, NEW!!, EXCITING!!! information that keeps them looking forward and anticipating the great things to come!

  13. Nail on the head MIke. This is exactly where I’m at with em, I narrowed it down to just the books I really look forward to and enjoy and have been dropping titles left n right cause I was mostly keeping up with them outta habit too, at the same time, I do enjoy some of them and didn’t really wanna drop as many as I have but I don’t need a stack of homework either. I’d rather have a small pile of pure enjoyment. Only difference in your article and where I’m at with comics is I don’t feel like i’ve been falling outta love with comics but just that I don’t need to keep up with so many a week then not remember some of em by the time the next issue comes out, which to me means the story wasn’t as good as the ones I look forward to more. There’s the budget factor too, while affording em isn’t so much the case as just not needing to spend $ on titles that aren’t filling the void. I really love the new DD run but it will make a nice omnibus later & thats how I feel about a lot of titles I decided to not keep up with….they’re not going anywhere and can always get them in trade later, whether its digital,tpb,HC,Absolute or omnibus. On top of these basic feelings towards my pull it really boiled down to “the shackles of taste”…and why buy more when I’m getting what I want outta a select few. Theres plenty of stuff I plan to read in trade that I missed when it came out or isn’t collected yet and the current titles I’m dropping are going into that category as well, and its a feeling of relief more than that task to keep up with em all feeling. But back to the point, getting what I want outta a few fresh new titles (and you mentioned two of what propelled this pov for me as well) like Saga and Before Watchmen…..I look forward to fresh new titles that I’m really enjoying like Saga, Hell Yeah!, Danger Club,Mind The Gap, Extermination, Earth-2 and The Shade…..really enjoy BPRD and Lobster Johnson’s latest….Snyder’s Batman and still like Batwoman. For Marvel I’m really digging Secret Avengers and look forward to Captain Marvel and that new Thanos mini. So in the end, thats not that many to keep up with as a few of em are minis and will end and make room for new.Why have a big stack of stuff that doesn’t always resonate instead of a small one that I anticipate. To sum it up less is more….sometimes.

  14. I truly believe the future of comics is changing. Creator owned comics are hands down the most interesting books out there at the moment and Image should be given a billion gold stars for their push in the industry. Look at all the superstars getting excited about working for Image, Millar, Morrison, Quitely, Brubaker, Hickman. Even they seem to be growing a little tedious writing for the big 2. The future of comics has never been so exciting, in my lifetime anyway.

  15. Conor,

    I specifically remember a podcast where Ron was urging people to go into their local shops and have their retailers order the books they supported. The urging came as a result of Thor: The Mighty Avenger being quickly cancelled despite the positive reviews and the small, but devoted, following that the book garnered. I don’t recall if trade waiting was discussed, but i’d like to see more support of single-issue buying instead of favoring the digital trend.

    It is amazing that Mike specifically mentioned that his issue of The Flash was on his iPad; it appeared obvious to me that he went out of his way to mention that fact.

  16. Personally, I would love to see comics shift to the Hellboy model. No more numbering of issues, no more unwieldy continuity-requirements just to enjoy Spider-Man or X-Men. Come up with a story, finish the damn thing first, then release it as “Spider-Man: End of the Earth” numbers 1-6 and then move on to the next mini even if it is more than a month away. I think that would keep things fresh and help new readers tremendously. The month-in month-out slog of most superhero comics is what makes them so much less appalling to me and can make me feel stagnant. This won’t happen of course because the Big Two need lots of product available on the shelves as often as possible. And I get it, there’s nothing wrong with that and there are plenty of good stories that seem to come from it, but if you’re asking me what it is about these comics that makes me less enthusiastic about them, this is it.

  17. If the take-away message of this piece is how I interpretted it – “cut the crap” – then, too right!

    People say this attitude will kill comics, but at some point you have to think about yourself, and your own enjoyment. Why spend money on something every month if you’re not enjoying it? Or if you would prefer it in a trade?

    Buy what you like, and if you don’t like it drop it quickly before you waste more money on a poor comic!

    • It doesn’t have to kill comics. If these few books are what everyone likes then perhaps writers and publishers need to start listening to the fans and give them more of the same high quality stuff.

  18. MIKE! This is insane. I am going through the exact same feelings right now. I’ve only read the first two paragraphs and you’ve already nailed it.

  19. Until the New 52 launched, I was strictly reading Hellboy, BPRD, and anything else Mignola. He was the one creator that kept me in the game for 10 years. When DC did their relaunch, I thought, “Yeah, this is a good time to check into some stuff I’ve always ignored.” Now I’m on fire for comics again. They’re not all great, but I’m enjoying feeling like a kid again. Eventually I know I’ll trim it down once more, but there are a couple of titles I’ll never quit.

  20. Comic books have become about the Writers and Artists more than the actual stories. It was events like Countdown and Crisis that stopped me from buying monthlies.
    I avoid the PREVIEWS mag, instead buying what I’m still interested in a few months later, which is virtually nothing at that point.
    Vertigo forced me to stop buying their monthlies when they started putting large banners across precious Jock covers. I don’t care about the Marines, I don’t care about Green Lantern. I buy comics for artwork.
    So I buy most of my stuff from in hardcover when available.

  21. Jesus, Saga is good but it isn’t THAT good. It’s my opinion, of course but I am scratching my head at the ifanboy crews obsession with it. The walking dead gives me more thrills and keeps me at the edge of my seat better than any saga book. Perhaps it’s just me since I’m equally confused at Star Wars obsession or those crappy Song of Ice and Fire books people seem to love so much. Give me variety, give me something without romance. Am I the only one who feels Saga is more or less Romeo and Juliet in space? Written by a dude who loves playboy?

    • You are not the only one. It’s very polished and professional with terrific art, but the story seems more and more cliched to me each issue. The last one particularly so. I’ve read or heard that “why didn’t you tell me about” sequence too many times before. I wonder if this was written under a pseudonym if it would be getting the same reaction from the iFanboy community?

  22. Mike= I, too, was ‘falling out of love’, so to speak, with comics. I think, maybe, taking part in all of the New 52 titles last year started to equal Super-Hero/Marvel-DC burnout for me, and it had me worried. Then, I decided to step into Comixology’s digital store and do some browsing. Two things got me excited for comics again=reduced prices and complete runs of series I never thought I’d get the chance to read. Why put down $3-$4 on the newest Avengers/X-Men/Batman spin-off book when I could read the entire run of Matt Wagner’s “Mage:The Hero Discovered” (a book I’ve wanted to read for as long as I could remember) for $1.99 a pop? Don’t get me wrong, superheroes are still near and dear to my heart, and I could never quit them, but right now, I’m more excited for American Flagg than Captain America.

  23. I am in a similar phase. I tried many Image new and established series, from creators that I know (Brubaker and Hickman for example) and creators I didn’t know. I must say I enjoy Manhattan Projects and Secret more that Ultimates and FF (not F4) and Fatale more than Cap (and maybe WS). It’s because the characters belong to them, they can to whatever they want and there is no limit to their imagination.

    Also, most of these comics (not just those I mentioned) are original ideas, with non-established characters or old ideas with new and exciting twists.

    In conclusion: titles in Image, DH etc. are better because there’s no limit in creator’s imagination. I mean, everybody says that F4 has some really cool concepts and is a superb sci-fi series (in comparison to other Marvel titles at least). Imagine if the writer has no editorial control…….