We often discuss comics in terms of value. We debate whether it’s OK to download something for free if we intend to buy it later, we revel in events like Free Comic Book Day, and we’re constantly being inundated with our favorite stories in a new or different format and being forced to decide if a few extra pages of back matter and a different binding or paper stock is worth our time. These all center around the value we place on comics, be in it value in monetary worth or value in terms of how much the object, or digital file, means to us.
Let’s start with the modern: digital. I have a fair number of files in my digital comics’ library, and as much as I hate to say it, very few of them have any value. As a person who “works” in this industry as a reviewer and commentator I am privy to a fair number of digital review copies every week and rarely do I have much time for them in the moment (hence the lack of reviews). However, I don’t like throwing things away, even files, so I keep a large percentage of everything sent my way, and there are definitely times it has paid off when I need to dig through my catalog and find a few issues to catch up on the latest story arc (can you tell I was just on the Pick of the Week podcast?). But at the same time, if my hard-drive crashed right now, you wouldn’t be reading this, but I also wouldn’t be that upset about the loss of those comics. I keep all my really important stuff pretty well backed up, but the sheer number of comics and their relatively low value, in that I didn’t pay for them and that they don’t mean a whole lot emotionally. This isn’t to say I don’t appreciate the access to review copies, far from it, it’s an amazing gift, but it’s also just some 1s and 0s, any one of which easily replaceable or bought as a collection down the road. And then there’s Private Eye which is theoretically free yet has immeasurable value because BKV is a sorcerer or something.
Then there’s Free Comic Book Day, which from what I can see on the internet seems to be a HUGE deal and I honestly can’t force myself to care. I get the impetus, it’s a good day for retailers to get new bodies in the door, and I hope my friends who are retailers are able to accomplish just that. People promote it as a great time to introduce your friends or kids to comics. Well I don’t have any friends kids so me trying to bring kids to the comic shop the first Saturday of May would likely get me banned from the park. Unless by kids we’ve all been talking about baby goats this whole time, in which case I wouldn’t bring them either because they’d probably eat all the free comics.
And as someone without human children, I wouldn’t want to bring another adult friend to the shop on the Free Comic Book Day because I can’t imagine them wanting to return to a place with that many children running all over, especially when such a state isn’t representative of a normal day in the local comics shop. I think I’d be much better off taking someone to Isotope on a lazy day and kicking back on the couch, or to one of their parties and just blow their mind. I’ve done both, and they’re both fun in different ways neither of which got that friend into reading comics even though I like to think they had a good time.
Thus I don’t value the comics from Free Comic Book Day because I, at my current stage in life, don’t value the event and thus the comics from the event aren’t worth the effort of obtaining them. Even for something free there is a cost associated with things like time, convenience, interest, etc.
All this is making me sound like I don’t value comics at all, which is far from the truth. I have a pretty sizeable collection that I’ve moved across the country twice without ever seriously considering downsizing. And if my house were to go up in flames losing my collection would be very sad. But I think part of it is that the older I get the more I have begun to value comics as an idea. I cherish the idea of stories told with words and pictures. Of so many different genres and styles, mixing and matching writers, artists, colorists, etc. ad infinitum to create endless possibilities for stories in a way few other media can. With prose you’re getting one person’s voice, with movies you’re getting the collaboration of a small army, but comics seem to be in that goldilocks zone of really pure craft and collaboration. And I like the people involved in and around comics, my friends here at iFanboy, my friends in other parts of the industry, I put a lot of value into my relationships with them, which are intimately tied into comics. So I guess it all comes down to circumstances, the right mood, the right memory, and the right people can take something that was once free and borderline worthless, and make it priceless.
Ryan Haupt has been on the iFanboy podcasts a lot lately, but he also has his own show called Science… sort of. So there’s that.