Book: The Comic

Last week I had to fly out to Chicago to speak to a conference (it sounds very adult and grown up, but really, it was mellow) and I spotted Neal Stephenson’s latest novel Anathem, for sale at the airport bookstore. I didn’t buy it then, but after I landed and made it to the airport, I went right to the local bookstore (well, it was a chain, but, you know, it was cheaper than buying it in the airport) and bought it and dove right in.

Of course, I had about 40 comics waiting for me in my hotel room, which I did eventually get to, but I had to get this book — I am a big fan of Stephenson, and, before I lost control of my comic book appetite, I was always reading some kind of book, not a magazine, not a trade, a straight up book with little tiny words and no pictures. And, for most of my visit last week, I lugged this 960 page beast with me… and it was great. Fantastic.

Reading is a real time event. I mean, I guess you can learn how to speed read and that might help it takes less time, but really, you gotta be with a book for awhile, settle in, and have some time to get in the book’s groove to really enjoy it. Like many of you out there, I am rapidly realizing that, in general, just as result of having the gall to go to sleep and wake up in the morning and breathe in-between, I seem to have less time than ever, and it is getting mighty challenging to find the time to really enjoy a book from cover to cover. That’s the trick, right? I’ve started quite a few books recently, but I keep falling off the wagon… mostly because of comics. It’s just hard to put off reading comics, at least if you are trying to keep up with what’s going on, when you know that a week later there will be even more that you “have” to read. Comics are a steady stream — a waterfall, sometimes — of media, and it takes some work to stay afloat!

I know, poor me. I can hear you muttering, “Well, stop reading all those comics!” well, I am — I actually did not buy nine comics this past week because I was drawing the line. (I still bought 12, though.) If anything, this is a good problem to have, you know? We have a lot to choose from, etc, etc. But it has been sobering, to the say the least, to realize that I am reading a lot fewer books than I used to, and I really can point to my more active interest in comics that is taking that “normal” reading time away.

It’s more than time, of course. It’s a question of story and character, too. While comics are awesome and tell all kinds of stories, they don’t hold a candle to the lowly book. It’s just no contest. So, what to do?

1) Read fewer comics, read more books. Pretty much the easiest way to go, especially if you are okay with missing events and all that kind of stuff. Just wait until the trade comes out, check the comic book store every once in awhile for the full on “must pick up in floppy” and pick up that scary looking Vernor Vinge book your buddy leant you last November.  

2) Pick up a book or two, just to keep yourself sane, but enjoy the good comic book adaptations of some books that are already out there. While the Hedge Knight comics by George R.R. Martin are not perfect and do not cover the main characters in his awesome “A Song of Ice and Fire” series, they are great for a GRRM fix, especially if you are a fan of the series. You’ve probably heard that Marvel is going to publish an adaptation of Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, too — this could be really interesting, Pasqual Ferry’s art is well suited to the story, I think, so that’s something look forward to.

Although we are seeing a trend towards producing more adaptations, I never really felt like they were nearly as good, quality-wise, as the original books. Perhaps this is because I am trying to compare the images of the comics to the images that I made up in my head, but I think, for whatever reason, the art tends to be just lacking, like obviously just not as good when compared to other comics. I don’t know why this is — you would think it would be a great opportunity to introduce people to a new author or a different world. One notable exception to this is the work that is being to done to adapt Steven King’s Dark Tower books — I have bought a good many of them and have marveled at the art, but I admit, they still languish on my holding shelf, in a paper bag (for easy transport), unread. No idea why, really.

Of course, it’s a debate in and of itself if comic book adaptations are worthwhile or not. Like,”books are books, comics are comics, and they serve different audiences,” or something like that. However, I can’t but think there are a few books out there that would make some very good comic books. Keeping with Neal Stephenson, I would say that Snow Crash, The Diamond Age and even Cryptonomicon would be fantastic comic books, especially if you took your time and gave them 10 or 12 issues to tell the story (these are thick books). Snow Crash is, for me, the prototypical cyberpunk novel and goes into the whole concepts of avatars and living in the machine way before The Matrix and other books. Cryptonomicon has several fantastic characters and sequences that I think a good artist could really make sing, and The Diamond Age mixes different cultures and technologies that would be really compelling for new readers to check out.

There are other authors, too — Iain M. Banks, the aforementioned George R.R. Martin, even comic adaptations of David Sedaris’s short stories could be interesting.

Even as I write this, I am torn — would publishing these stories in comic book form encourage or discourage readers from picking up the original book? When I was a kid, I read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, both as a “real” book and then, later, as a comic. I must say, I remember the original book much more clearly than the comic! I would hope that if one chose to make a comic adaptation of, say, Player of Games by Banks, that it would highlight aspects of the book in ways that only a comic could — really pump up the story with fantastic art, really, that’s what it really boils down to, right? — that would just encourage the readers to pick up the original novel. Perhaps include a discount for purchasing the novel? Or have I not walked off my day job long enough before writing this essay? 

(Then there’s the flip side of the flip side — if all of a sudden I have all the comic book adaptations of normal books, then I might be stuck complaining about how I am reading so many comic book adaptations that I am not reading as many “regular” comics and “regular” books! Highly unlikely, but worth a parenthetical.)

How about you? Do you miss reading other kinds of books? Do you have any cool books that would be awesome comics? Who would do the adaptation? How about the art? I would love to see someone like Grant Morrison and Ryan Bodenheium take on Snow Crash or Player of Games… how about Hyperion by Dan Simmons with art by Doug Mahnke adapted by Geoff Johns… or Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark do a series of Raymond Carver stories? The mind reels… of course then they couldn’t do their other books. Sigh…


Unrelated postscript:

I can’t wait for the next issue of Final Crisis to come out so I can revisit the SecretFinalInvasionCrisis series — is it me or is Secret Invasion basically boiling down to two big fights with 6 months of flashbacks, the whole actual invasion happening really in just a day or so in real time? Could it be most hyped and most frustrating event in recent memory? And are we at all surprised that for the most part of the Final Crisis tie-in books are actually pretty good, but one wonders why they are actually tie-ins, really? I’m just so tired of flashbacks that I fear I might have one in real life and fall down the stairs or something…

Mike Romo is an actor in LA. He likes books. Fun Trivia note: his uncle Tobias Woff, is a well known short story writer. Mike can be reached at



  1. I love books as well, and find myself having very little time for them. I currently have a pile of books that comes to about my knees that are patiently waiting for me to read them. I am reading a book currently though, which I’m enjoying immensely, The Book of Fate by Brad Meltzer. I’d never read a Meltzer novel before, and I was surprised at how quickly I was sucked in. Now I understand why he’s a novelist first and a comic scribe second.

    I also have his newest novel, The Book of Lies, in said knee-high pile. I’ll get to it eventually… *sigh*

  2. I have a "real book" pile about 10-15 books high, and most of it is stuff I could knock out in a day and a half if I just sat the hell down. Stephen Colbert, John Hodgman et al. But ohhh no, I had to decide "I’m going to read every GI Joe comic ever." That will make me a scintillating raconteur at the next cocktail party.

    I’ve said this before, but my reading tastes are extremes. With me, it’s either straight nonfiction or wildly out there four-color fiction about men who shoot laser beams from their eyes. I am not into the novels, typically. Crytonomicon is on my pile, where it has been for four and a half years. Will I ever read it? Will it get to Goodwill before it gets in my backpack? What about poor Anansi Boys?

    Needless to say, few of my books would make good comics. Ooh! "American Brutus" would be great, though!

    Also: I will give you twenty American dollars not to revisit the Crisis v. Invasion horse race. These are partisan times, my brother.

  3. One of the few perks of taking public transportation (on top of cost) is that you find time to reading waiting at the bus/train stop, on the bus/train, and then the way back. I’ve finished many a books that way.

     I just finished reading Hammer of God by Aruthr C. Clark, it’s very much Clark, big ideas, interesting info, not much in the characters, but the idea is what keeps you reading. And just started the "Foundation" series from Asimov, I keep hearing good things, and I love Asimov, so we’ll see how this goes.

    Yay for books

  4. Tobias Wolff has an awesome moustache.

    Nice Article Mike.  I’m saddened by the growing stack of unread novels by the side of my bed.  I used to read so much when I was on tour, this life of living in the city has cut down on that.  Walking to work is nice though.

    I actually had a similar experience with Podcasts recently, I found that I was listening to too many and listening to music less and less.  It felt like an artistic void so I’ve cut back.

  5. I’ve been trying to read books since I started reading comics, but I find it hard to get excited about these things. Mostly it’s event books (like Harry Potter and Brad Meltzer’s The Book of Lies) that get me reading again. I’ve been trying to get back into it, but my choice of prose is insanely limited. I’m rather picky about it. I don’t want the sparseness of Meltzer, nor do I want the intense purple flowers of prose from fantasy authors (like that douche bag who wrote Eragon); It’s hard to find something that ties it together for me.

    That said, I’ve been contemplating reading some Dickens (namely, Tale of Two Cities…) because I’m a crazy person….

  6. I’m in the middle of Anathem and the book is freaking great.  I love it to no end.  I know thats not the point of this article but sorry I saw the cover and couldn’t pass up the chance to say how much I love it.

  7. I got Anathem as well.  I haven’t gotten too far yet, but I’m enjoying it so far.  Just need a good day or two of solid reading to really take a crack at it.  

    @GungaDin – To ease into Dickens, try Hard Times first.  It’s laugh-out-loud funny.   

    Great post, Mike! 

  8. I always have one prose book going and one trade/collection, with the rotating stack of monthly issues sprinkled in. On a daily basis I manage my reading time with a level of self-discipline that the rest of my life doesn’t get.

  9. @PaulMontgomery Right-o, sir! I’ve been wondering how best to gnaw away at that giant brick house…

  10. I am reading the Hedge Knight trades right now (my library just got their copies) and I am really enjoying them.  I picked them up on the suggestion of one of our librarians and did not have high hopes.  Now I can’t put them down.  I can’t explain why, but they have me hooked.

  11. @PV – I am exactly the same way. Unfortunately, my prose reading (currently on Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policeman’s Union) has suffered lately as I’ve been busy catching up with the last 2 weeks’ worth of single issues (I was on vacation last week). Which is too bad, because I’m nearing the end of the Chabon book and it’s really good…I feel like I’m losing touch with it. Tonight will be especially hard because I’ll have this week’s comics to read, as well! I’ll have to make a point of making enough time to read at least 10 pages of the novel then maybe 2 or 3 comics before going to bed.

  12. @CAM – I have become the exact same way with music vs. podcasts. I just don’t understand how some people apparently find the time to listen to 5-10 podcasts a WEEK…do these people just not listen to music at all? Part of the problem is that I can’t listen to podcasts and be productive at work at the same time. My job entails a lot of writing and I find it difficult to craft thoughtful and efficient sentences while listening to talking heads in the background.

  13. @Paradiddle, I have about 25-30 podcasts on my iPod on any given day, and the answer is yes: I go weeks at a time without hearing a single song. Occasionally, as has happened this week, I look down and see 8 hours of This American Life have piled up and have a breakdown, but other than that it can be a lot of jibber-jabber.

  14. I’ve been reading a lot of Stephen King books lately, mostly books I havent read of his. Duma Key has been pretty good, supernatural is what he’s best at; not just straight up horror. Although Bag of Bones and Lisey’s Story hasnt been the best I’ve read, mainly cause I dont care for his stories that dont have supernatural elements to them.

    I can listen to this podcast and other stuff without getting distracted with my work or homework. I did a 5 page paper for History last year and got an A on it, all the while listening Ifanboy at the same time. I guess it depends on how good you can block out noises in order to do work. The podcast is usually on for homework because I can be entertained while writing a boring paper.

  15. I have about 40 books in a pile next to my bed waiting to get read but some of them won’t be that good so I don’t want to bother.

    Currently I try to get through short books and TPs. 

    A song of ice and fire is great so far but it won’t make a great comics – maybe a good comics if the creators will have a few yearsto complete it.

    It would be like Sandman – alot of absolutes…

    Anyway, a great book which is overlooked by most people is a book by Eoin Colfer (i bought the comicbook adaptation to artemis fowl and it looks lousy) – The Wish List.

    It’s a great story that is about a girl that tried with a friend to rob an old mans’ apartment, and she dies in a weird accident and since they can’t decide where to put her (heaven or hell) they send her back to earth and they’ll check up on her again in a few days and decide – something like that.

    She goes to that old man they tried to rob and from that it’s brilliant, and if they choose the right art which should be light hearted mostly like Invincible, it would be great.

    It’s sad nobody knows about this book – I live in Israel and the book chain stores we have here are mostly crap who promote a crappy Israely book by some publication that payed them to.

    Great books are usually scarce and have at most one copy of them and that was the case with the wish list 0 its sort of a Neverending Story experience – running to a book store and finding something that catches your eye.

    That is how I discovered the three detectives – three books translated to hebrew in a hardcover edition.

    I like those findings – my local book store was thirty minutes drive from where I live, but it was great but nowadays the people that work there changed. It used to be a nice lady and some guy that helped sometimes, and she brought her  daughter to babysit in the shop and she let me hang around for 30 minutes just browsing and she knew I would probably only buy a few books – she once offered to give me a chair and letting me read the books in the store withoug buying them. I didn’t take the offer – there is a saying in Israel which isn’t common but it’s nice and it’s about the bedouin – when they see you and offer you to rest and drink and eat with them, refuse. if they ask again refuse again. if they ask for the third time – accept. I refused more than three times.

    Its a nice phrase since it finds a way to not insult people that invited you but not burdening them either –  a first time is just a courtesy

    the second time they allow you to accept with dignity – not be rude and jump at the first invite, but still  allowing themselves to take a dignified route and not taking a first refusal as a No – maybe the guest didn’t want to burden.

    The third time is the best time – the inviters make it clear to the guest he’s no burden and the guest can accept without taking advantage of a courtesy – something that was said to be polite but half heartedly.

    Where was I?  discoveries – I discovered Harry Potter! I discovered the hebrew translation of the first book of the series, and that doesn’t sound like much but nobody knew about it back then and even at about the fifth book in the series, there were no guys dressed as witches and wizards haunting book stores, and no running to bookstores and waiting for them to open.

    There was merchandise but it was expensive and scarce and hidden at shops you woulnd’t expect to find it in, and I visited said shops a few times over a period of one or two years and they were still there. 

    I found a derelict chocolate frog in a supermarket near the cash registers and it was expensive as well and my dad with his usual answers said he can get it in the market (guys with stands next to small shops, selling fish, meat fruits and vegetables and cheap candy – it wasn’t there and that frog was never found again.

    It looked like someone lost it in the supermarket and some worker thought they sell it and just put it there but I didn’t care – finders keepers. 

    Anyway, so The Wish List by Eoin Colfer as long as they keep the guys that made the Artemis Fowl comicbook far away from this project.

    I need to read the fourth Song Of Ice And Fire book but I read the third so long ago I don’t want to get hyped again and wait forever for three more books, and I waited forever for the fourth one and that’s after you consider I read the hebrew editions of the first three books which were out a few monthes after the english edition I think, and consider that I started reading the first book when the third book was already transleted to hebrew  so if it was eternity waiting for the next book for me, it must have been hell for the english readers.

    Also harry potter – i found it ina leaflet thrown away in a bus station after school. I liked the series but never looked for it until those last books – i remember walking with my family when we were visiting relatives in a different town, and seeing a glimpes of a stack of books of the second or third book in the series with the hebrew translation and I had to chase after my parents and convince them it’s not rubbish so they will buy me a copy which I finished far too fast…

    around the time of the fifth or sixth book i looked for them when I found out they were going to be sold  (I stopped reading the hebrew edition by then, and started reading just the english edition starting with the fifth book – until then since I was waiting a long time for the next book I began reading the english edition – some british some us – just bought what was in stock) and hitched a ride with my dad from school or from home when he went to run errands, and I just told him where to drive and asked there how much the harry potter book is for and paying in cash – one time a shop keeper didn’t want to sell me the books since they were books for people that payed ahead so we just drove a few minutes to another shop where the shopkeeper was too busy talking on the phone and didn’t care about pre paid copies and that was it – no pre order, no hoards of people rushing to book stores, no pointy hat in a five mile radius.

    The Wish List – Eoin Colfer. read it, enjoy it, and maybe get the writer to do a decent comicbook based on it since the Artemis Fowl one looks like cheap manga. I thing the wish list was published by Penguin if you intend to look for it.

    Nowadays after I read my stack of books I’ll probably just buy dirt cheap used books (1.50 USD – about that) and read books from my library since I have about 300 TPs that I want to read and books are overpriced here….hopefully I will be able to  fix a couple of computers I have here which shouldn’t be hard, but I can’t be bothered since I’m busy in the next month or two, and bundle it with other stuff and sell it and get hopefully at least 60 TPs and at the most 100 but it’s not plausible.

    yeah… i’ll go back to my pile of TPs and books

  16. I love reading but I am a slow reader and have an attention span problem (self-diagnosed) so comics are prefect for me.  A TPB is like War and Peace to me.

  17. the Real Book i just read was The Book of Lies by Brad Meltzer. it was really good i really enjoyed it

  18. @rayclark:  I’ve been thinking of picking that up.  I’ve never read any books by him before so I didn’t know how he was.

  19. I picked up Book of Lies with the intention of writing a column about the book and the crime which inspired it.  I have ultimately decided not to write that review.  

    Take from that what you will.   


  20. @Paul:  Got it.  I have a huge stack of books to read anyways.  Thanks.

  21. "While comics are awesome and tell all kinds of stories, they don’t hold a candle to the lowly book. It’s just no contest."

    That statement strikes as so wrong that I can’t decide from which angle to argue it.

    Other than that, great article. I’m currently reading "The Beauty Myth" by naomi Wolf.

  22. I’m a sucker for the quarter paperback shelf at my local thrift store, so I have 2 shelves (2 rows deep each) of unread paperbacks.  I like to mix up my reading between scif-fi, popular fiction, non-fiction and classic lit.  I try to read 1 book a week but am way off this schedule and an in between books right now.  I love Stephenson and was planning on holding off untill Anthem came out in paperback, but I may break down and get it this weekend now.  Great article.  Keep reading everyone.

  23. Mike – along the lines of Brubacker and Lark adapting Raymond Carver, I thought I read somewhere that Darwyn Cooke is in the process of adapting Richard Stark’s Parker novels.  That right there is a whole mess of awesome.

    And though I love comics dearly, they’re a more recent love than good old-fahsioned "book" books, and the unread stack stands at a little over 300.  And Anathem is right on the opt of the pile.

    @PaulMontgomery – I bought Book of Lies based on early descriptions and the fact that Identity Crisis was so fantastic.  Then word of mouth started dripping in…I’m taking from your comment that the word of mouth is somewhat accurate.

  24. I think the problem comics have is that it is harder to get under your skin compared to prose. Prose provokes sensations that if written well put you in the middle of the scene, like a virtual reality game. Whereas when you look at comics you have more of a sensation of looking at a picture of a scene rather than being in it. For some reason the artwork can distance you whereas prose goes straight into your imagination.

  25. @lobo – You raise a good point.  In a comic you have one vantage point, the perspective offered by the panels we’re given.  These are windows, and they are fixed.  The best you can do as an artist and a writer is to be as dynamic as possible, choosing the best possible vantage points.  

    Comics are closer to dramatic writing (screenplays, teleplays, stage plays) than straight prose.  The advantage is visual action.  But you sacrifice interior context because, by and large, dramatic action takes place in a realm closer to real-time.  A novel is the ultimate in decompression.  Since the words are really all you have, a novelist has more control over the pace in which you read and take in detail. There’s also more freedom of motion within the scene.   

  26. I don’t think they are mentioned in the column, but Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle are also great reads.  They are my favorite of his works, I’d have a hard time thinking of a better adventure tale in comics or regualar books.  Potential readers:  don’t be scared off by their length, they are well worth the time. 

  27. great comments and suggestions, guys.  Thanks for the feedback, too–I was curious to see where you all would take the discussion.  @lobo, you make a great point–books DO get under your skin, precisely because (I think), as a reader, you are doing much more personal work imagining the locations and how the characters look (with some assistance, of course, by the author), so when you remember the book, it’s a vastly more personal memory. It’s interesting, too, to think about how the different forms cultivate emotional responses from the reader, you know? In books, you often get deeper into the psyche of the characters, but with comics you get to linger on a character’s face…which make a more emotional impact?  or are they just different kinds of impact?

     crazy stuff. Yes, DougP–The Baroque Cycle is awesome, but I must admit, I never finished even the FIRST book! It’s not out of desire–I think it was time. I really wasn’t able to sit and read the book extended reading sessions, which I think that book kind of requires. But I will get back into it after I read Anathem.

     Those would make terrific comics, too, I think.

    happy reading–of course, now I have to run to the store to get more comics for the weekend, but I am really–really–going to focus on Anathem as much as I can.