Can You Spare a Dragon Book?

I took the loneliest journey that a comic book fan can experience. It led me up and down the famous hills of Worcester, past blasting caps, and cops directing traffic. It led me around car loads of angry Massachusetts teenagers. The path went though the heat and the humidity. It was the journey to pick up books that I had forgotten. It was a march of panic.

In my former home of Chicago there was a plethora of comic book stores. My store of choice was Darktower Comics. It wasn’t even the closest store to me. There were at a minimum four stores that were closer to my apartment. That was okay. The store had always treated me well so I kept going. If they were out of a book, I could always stop at another store and pick up the item. I had a pull list, but I always quick to drop things or to pick up new books. Wednesday was a both a bloodbath and a rejuvenation for my comic buying. The pull list feared me like I was barbarian overlord.  Books would be cut for the smallest of reasons. My favor could fall on any independent title that caught my fancy. Emotions ran high.

With my move to the friendly northeast and the change in my employment status, my buying habits had to change. I made the switch to an online comic book service. The Katers’ comic book budget had to be slashed. The target was around ninety dollars a month. With the aggressive discounts of an online service it was really easy for me to reach my target. The books I truly loved I would continue to buy, everything else would have to take a back seat. I already had hundreds of old comic books I haven’t even read yet. A tremendous sense of liberation flooded my brain as I cut my budget.

The first month was fun. I would get my books every couple weeks. It was just my absolute favorite titles, or titles that I was excited to start. It was a box of pure quality. The hardest thing for a comic book fan to do is to be honest with themselves on what it is they like. Some of us feel obligated to follow our favorite characters, whether or not we actually enjoy the book. I have a few stray issues of the Flash from the last couple years to prove my membership in that club. Others feel an obligation to treat their pull list like a set of quotas. They can only buy one war book, or the same amount of Marvel and DC, or a set number of indies. Rules that are set to fight the urge to get everything, or to feed the need to feel well rounded. Cutting my budget really exposed my own internal arbitrary rules. My fandom had entered a new and happier phase.

Then the panic set in. Over the last couple years I had always heard the lamentations about late books. The complaints always seemed a bit over the top. Who cares how long it takes for a book to come out? As long as it was good, It didn’t matter to me. In hindsight that should have been…As long as it was good, and I could get a copy, it didn’t matter to me. Now that I order my books months ahead of time and don’t visit a shop regularly, I understand the complaints.

It started Monday while I was filing my recent purchases. Inside the G box I got to the Godland section. This lead me to start flipping through a few issues. Then I thought, “Huh, it’s been a while since this came out.  I wonder when issue #31 comes out?” The computer quickly revealed, much to my horror, that issue #31 has been out for at least a month. I screamed and tore the room apart. The partially completed papier-mâché bust of Barry Allen was thrown into the atrium. The chandelier collection was smashed. I set fire to the still. Godland is one of my favorite books. How could I miss an issue?

Simple, it takes awhile to come out and I wasn’t ordering items online when it was solicited. Since I don’t go into the store, it didn’t occur to me to look for it. It was out there and not in my possession. There were Freidrich Nicklehead scenes that had not been injected into my brain. When I love a comic, I really want to support it. I have to support it.

This revelation really opened up a can of worms. What else was I missing? How would I know I was missing it? What if I just read the next issue of a title and I didn’t realize I was missing an issue? WHAT IF MY WHOLE IDENTITY WAS A LIE?

You can see the problem. I thought I had broken away from the weird anxieties of fandom. No, they had simply mutated. A plan was hatched to review all of my books to see if I was missing anything. I would go back through the release lists on iFanboy to see if I had skipped over any of my beloved small books. I noticed that Four Eyes #4 was coming out this week. That was not going to be in my box. BAM! Another title that I had to get.  Just when I thought I had escaped the weekly grind, a bear trap of indie comics gnarled my astral leg.

Wednesday I awoke with a purpose. I would make the walk to the nearest comic book store. It is a brisk 2.1 miles, up hills, and through a rotary. A small price to pay to get my hands on my beloved books. It was humid. Only recently have I begun to move around freely. My body is not used to walking, especially in humidity. Within minutes I was soaked and looking poor. The confirmation of my sickly appearance came from a passing car of teenagers, “Hey Dad, you need an ambulance?”

I wouldn’t have turned down the ambulance if it was headed towards the comic shop. Boot straps were pulled and the journey continued. Have you have been on the same block as a construction crew that is using dynamite to break up cement? Try to avoid it, unless you enjoy deafening noises. By that point I was over halfway there, so I kept going.

I arrived, tired and sweating. My hearing wasn’t exactly up to par. That didn’t matter. In a few moments I was going to have Godland #31 and Four Eyes #4 in my hands. Went over to the Gs, and grabbed the last copy of Godland. I looked to my left and saw a suspicious looking gap in the Fs. Right after Fables. It was right where Four Eyes should have been.  It would have been easier to handle if that gap wasn’t there. I could have just been satisfied with the knowledge that store didn’t order any shelf copies. No, I knew they had some. Somebody had beaten me to the shelf copy. Somebody that drove there. Somebody who had arrived in a car with air conditioning. Somebody safe from the taunts of teenagers.

The lesson I learned is the second hardest thing for a comic book fan to realize. I am addict. I was giddy to get Godland, and crushed to have missed Four Eyes. My methodical approach to ordering books had only set up me for a harder fall. I got cold cocked by a late indie book. Now I am on the defensive, staring at my longboxes and wondering what else I have missed.


Tom Katers will take any sort of dragon book you have. He needs the dragon.


  1. Time to man up, Tom.  And being a man means going to your local comics store every Wednesday night.  Do you think General Patton got his comic books online?  No sir, he marched straight to the nearest LCBS in Berlin.

  2. One of my buddies complains about this all the time with ordering online.  Problem being he doesn’t have a shop any closer than an hour away to pick stuff up.

    I’m trying a combo of the two.  Ordering a bulk of stuff through Mail Order while getting some other things at a local shop in case I forget something.  I know it’ll be tough having to fill my fix each week getting less stuff, but in the long run money wise it’s worth it.

  3. If the comic book store lets you have a pull list doesnt that completely solve the problem?

  4. I’m so spolied by living in cities with amazing comic shops.  It might be the only thing that keeps me in them.

  5. @incredibledave: It doesn’t match the deep discount/convienent home delivery aspect.

  6. I’ve been lucky to either live in cities with many comics shops (most of them not being well run, but with few chances to getting screwed on books) or living in a place with one ridiculously excellent comic store that gets what I need. And yeah. I’m totally an addict, just by the share of discretional income I spend on the "hobby."

  7. Excellent article. To comment, though, I rarely buy single issues anymore so I will wait for a trade and then worry about completion if they don’t print a run I like in trade.

  8. Making the transition to all online ordering right now has got me feeling similar anxiety. Luckily, I can still travel to my LCS (also Dark Tower — hi, Tom!), so I’ll be there every Wednesday until they start shipping from the August Previews. Sorry to rub it in…

  9. Before I left for the Middle East I got my good friend at First Aid Comics in Hyde Park to keep my pull list going.  We communicate by email, he bills me once a month via credit card and ships my books to my parents house every three months.  Thus, when I return in one year I will have missed nothing.

    Incidentally, Dark Tower is responsible for me filling out my Claremont Uncanny run and my Simonson Thor run.  They give great discounts at conventions (yes so does everyone but rarely great discounts on great books) and I got most of the issues I was missing from both runs for between $1-$2.

  10. So you could say Tom is…chasing…the dragon? Hehehehe!

  11. @Katers – you have just made me feel slightly more confident in my choice of not commiting to online, 2-month in-advance, ordering.  The frustration you speak of is exactly what keeps me from going that route.

    Also, I commend you on your 2 mile walk to the LCS!  I love going on walks in general, but unfortunately my LCS is much too far away to walk there.

    @conor – based on your comment here and past mentioning of some stores operating like a clubhouse(which I agree is frustrating).  Do you even enjoy going to the LCS for current issues anymore?  (I do mean that somewhat sarcasticly and I’m exagerating, but still, I am curious)


  12. Tom you should maybe you should check out a more flexible web site for comic. There is no comic book store within 200 miles of my house I do all of my ordering form I’ve been with them for years now and they have been great.

  13. @jwaesch: Do I enjoy it? No. Do I have to? Yes. Do I like my shop? Yes. Is it a dungeon-like clubhouse store like the one that used to be in my neighborhood? No. Is it a progressive store that leans heavily toward trades rather than issues? Yes. Do I like my comic shop guy? Yes. Do I enjoy talking to my comic shop guy after I shop? Yes. Do I enjoy his frequent in-store parties and hanging out with him and our mutual friends at bars? Yes. Would I rather just download my single issues every Wednesday? Yes.

  14. @conor that shop is gorgeous! That would be really nice to walk into a shop that looks like that.

    @tom I had to go to 4 local stores to get my copy of Four Eyes.  I’m still transitioning over to DCBS, so my pull list is a work in progress.  I don’t think it would’ve mattered specifically to Four Eyes because I believe it was originally solicited several months ago.

  15. I use a crazy mix of retailers. Mostly DCBS for trades, mostly my LCS for issues. I’m big into the Con half off bins. I also use Amazon, Instocktrades, FearlessReadersOnline, Half-Price Books, HeavyInk, and eBay to fill out my needs.

    What can I say, I pretty much mastered this shit.

  16. I have switched DCBS a few months ago, and I miss several titles filling out the excel form as they are advance solicits.    But DCBS even states oh their site that "late orders are welcome."  I saw a GN at Borders that I missed, and emailed DCBS.  They happily added it onto my next shipment, at the discounted price.

    And I’ve mentioned many times: if you order a GN from the advance solicits from DCBS, it can be considerably cheaper (50%) than if ordering it from their sister site, In Stock Trades.  (I ordered Abs All Star Superman for $50, Abs Planetary for $35…..and I ordered them late)

  17. really? I didn’t know that.  Thanks

  18. Also to piggyback off of @nawid’s post, fearlessreadersonline just got a huge ass shipment of marvel trades and hc’s in.  They’re all $5.

  19. i am also chasing the dragon…fricka-fraka….

  20. I don’t think he’s talking about opium

  21. Personally, going into the store and being an absolutely gigantic nerd for 15-20 minutes a week is a huge part of the comic book experience for me. For example, I honestly don’t think "Sinestro Corps War" would have been nearly as awesome if I didn’t have people to talk to about how awesome it was. I mean, yeah, it would have absolutely still kicked an immeasurable amount of ass, but I would have read it, put it away, and been done with it – never to think of it again (until the next issue of Green Lantern came out.) Now, if you’ve got a bunch of friends who also read comics, that pretty much serves that purpose for you and you wouldn’t really need to go to the store for that. (I only have one, and he lives in a different state now… so sad.) If I were to go the online route for whatever reason (move somewhere without an LCS, wanting the discount/convenience, not having the time to make a weekly trip, etc.), I have a feeling I’d become a "trades only" kind of guy. Reading tiny increments of a story and having to wait at least a month for more of it just doesn’t seem worth it when you don’t have anyone to discuss how good/bad the story/art is, where you think the story’s going, having things pointed out that you might have missed or not thought of, etc. I can’t speak to anyone else’s experiences/reasoning, obviously, but that’s why I love going to my LCS.

  22. I relate to this story due to the fact that i got completely lost in philly while seaching for a shop once I hit citizens bank park i realized i had gone too far.