This past Sunday, I took a deep breath and did something I had been avoiding doing for months and months. I had no excuses left and it was time to face the music and just do it — it was time to finally make a visit my local comic book store.
Oh, I used to go all the time, sure, for years. While it was basically impossible for me to make it on Wednesdays because of work and other commitments, I was really good about getting there during the weekends, sometimes dragging my wife Whitney with me so she could find someone to talk about Buffy with while I listened to the owner rail on how Brian Michael Bendis was overrated and Grant Morrison had long since lost his senses once and for all. Other times I would go off on my own and make an afternoon of it, dropping by In and Out as I tore into my stack, working hard to make sure I could finish the books before the Pick of the Week Podcast came out the next day.
These were good times, echoing similar adventures I had in New York, where my bi-weekly visits were the only consistent things I had going on in my life. Going to the comic book store was, quite honestly, the closest thing I had to going to church as I was going to get — my own set of rituals, rewards for busy weeks, to give me a time to reset and spend time doing what I wanted to do, spending a bit of time by myself and escaping the rigors this mortal coil.
So what happened? Why did I take so long t0 return to something that had given me so much joy, month after month, week after year?
I’ll be honest — digital comics happened. Or, at least, DC’s New 52 happened and, with that, a large proportion of the stories that I liked to read were suddenly available to me, in my hands, on Wednesday afternoon. Every week.
What I find troubling, as I look back on it, was how quickly I dropped comics that were only available in print. Within a few months, I stopped reading comics that I liked, comics that I haves been buying for years — not because they had gotten bad, because I just wasn’t around to get them. I mean, I will be honest: I have no idea whether or not Scalped it still going—I think it’s not—because I totally screwed up and relied on my comic book store to pull the right issues. And, of course, not all of the issues were pulled, and now I am completely at the mercy of the trade to catch up on what I had missed. Title after title, from Uncanny X-Force to Scalped to Daredevil to Wolverine and the X-Men to almost anything that I wasn’t able to get, easily, via Graphicly and my Isotope Comics DC Storefront on Comixology were dropped because I just stopped paying attention.
(Yes, I know some of these titles are available via the Marvel application. But here’s the deal: Marvel is not making it is easy for customers to “catch up” after missing a few books. I don’t care how great a book is—if you are being asked to shell out $3.99 four times to catch up, it gives you pause. The “why don’t’ I wait for the damn trade” kind of pause. Sixteen bucks? It just…it makes me angry, like, here I am realizing, “Oh crap, I am totally behind, I want to catch up, I want to be a fan again,” and Marvel is making me rethink that decision due to sticker shock. If a comic is more than a month or two old, would it kill them to decrease the price a bit as a way of not punishing people for falling behind?)
On Sunday, I went to my shop, and I was saddened to see if it was completely empty, despite the fact that they were having a 50% off all trades (softcover and hardcover) sale. I was talking to the girl behind the counter and I found out that she rarely gets paid for working there — she basically gets paid in comics. Now, I know this is the case with many stores and that’s totally fine, but it just made me feel…sad? Bad? I know it’s not my job to keep this place in business, but, like, yikes, you hear something like that and you just gotta wonder, you know?
I ended up going to another store (thankfully, there were more folks at Meltdown, on Sunset Blvd), looking (in vain) for last week’s Pick of the Week (old habits), and ended up walking out of the store with the first four issues of Fury MAX and The Secret Service. I had heard about Fury MAX and knew that Gibbons and Millar were working on something, but, honestly, the way things have been going in my life, I just am not up to date on this stuff, guys. Most of how I discover books is by the podcast and by looking at all the various books on the shelves. I haven’t done the first in awhile because I have been so behind on my books, and, well, I haven’t done the second because I just haven’t been in a shop in months.
And tonight, as I was driving in the car to a yoga class, I realized something. Digital comics, for all their convenience, come at a price. While it may be true that keeping up with comics is easier than ever now that you can digitally subscribe to the titles, but it is also true that it makes it harder to keep up with COMICS because it does not encourage you to take advantage of what is arguably the most important aspect of comics — to maintain a relationship with them. It sounds silly, even as I write it, but going to the store, hanging out and spending time with physical comics, eyes to paper, customer to customer, is a huge and fundamental aspect of comics.
Of course, of course, I knew this, deep in my heart. But just like when you stop going to the gym regularly, it’s awfully easy to stop going to the shop, especially when you are still getting a chance to the read the stories you enjoy. Sure, you aren’t necessarily reading all the new stuff that people seem to be excited about, but hey, look at the money you are saving! Look at all the driving you are not doing! Gas is expensive!
This is not about “digital comics bad, comic store good.” Digital comics have made it a lot easier to subscribe to your books, but unless you are using a cross-publisher service, it’s hard to discover new books (and even when you are, it can be difficult). Discovery is key in the digital entertainment realm and while there are lots of features that make it easier than before, nothing is as easy as picking up a book and flipping through it based on a Phil Noto cover, you know? On the flip side, as I said before, publishers need to understand that there is an economy out there that is still difficult for folks, and one shouldn’t pay full price when catching up on 2-3 books or testing out a new series. If someone buys 4, 5 or more books, give them a discount–reward the reader for trying something new! That’s something that my favorite comic book shops have done for me in the past and despite how I began my article, I have been very loyal to those shops.
This has been a difficult year for me and comics. With a few exceptions, I have not been enjoying my books and I have certainly not been excited about anything I hear that’s coming up. But then again, I have been stuck in my own rut, and haven’t been around other people reading different titles, I have not had the chance to flip through other titles or had someone thrust an issue into my hands with the words, “Trust me, you’ll love this.” I have avoided going back to my old Marvel titles because of the AvX maelstrom and irritated that there is no affordable way to catch up, unless I decide to go to trades. I haven’t gone to the store because I haven’t wanted to face my shop owner and feel guilty that I haven’t been buying my comics from him.
It’s a vicious cycle and I am going to end it now. I am going to go now at least twice a month and I am going to stop taking everything so seriously and just jump on board comics that I think look good, and not worry about what everyone is reading. I am going to give away two long boxes’ worth of comics and just accept the fact that printed comics are back in my life. I won’t move away from digital, I will just be judicious with my pull list and make a point to, every once in awhile, get in my car, go to the shop, and take a break.