When Comics Get Away From You, How Quickly Do You Come Running Back?

I’m traveling right now. I actually brought some non-digital comics with me, which is rare. I’ve written about my distaste for flying with comics, but I’d bought these ones over a month ago and still hadn’t had or made the time to crack them open. I ended up reading the Underwater Welder on the flight; easily my most anticipated book of the year and it took me until the end of December to read it. I don’t even remember the last graphic novel I finished. I have a few with bookmarks in them back home on the nightstand because I can’t stand bringing partially finished books with me on a trip. There’s something about carrying around the weight of already read content with me that just gets under my skin. “I’ve already consumed your information, pages! Now I have to carry you around?”

The sad thing is that traveling is one of the few times where I tell myself it’s actually OK to take a break and read for pleasure. When I’m home I can stay relatively on top of single issues, I use them as treats in between tasks; 10-minute diversions throughout a long day. And that works well enough, but at some point I lost the ability or maybe the desire, to complete all of the larger collections that just keep piling up around the house.

This is something I’ve noticed for a while. Novelty is a huge deal. People, and I suspect comic’s fans to an even greater extent, really like the new and the shiny. Invariably, I want to read the comics’ I’ve just bought rather than the one I already haven’t read for the past week, or month, or year. It makes sense, I was excited to buy the new book, so that is the book that has my greatest attention. If I remember my programming days correctly this is call FIFO, or “first in, first out,” as opposed to FILO (first in last out). So the book I’ve just purchased goes to the top of my metaphorical stack, and is therefore the first one I pick up when I want something to read.

Which I think has helped me realize the root of the issue. I didn’t say “problem” because even for a comic site this doesn’t even qualify as a “first-world problem.” Most of the books I have that I’ve yet to read are books I bought in bulk. A big sale happened, I was at a convention, something like that where multiple books are being sold at a huge discount so stocking up on things you’re only sort of interested in is easy. I have found some real gems this way, and relatively few turds. So I may wind up with a dozen books but only really wanted three of them. I read those three and the remaining nine wind up in the stack. Let this process repeat a few times and suddenly you have 30 some books that are unopened since the day they became yours.

At a certain point, depending on your financial situation and how much space you have available on your bookshelves, nightstand, coffee table, etc. the purchase of new books becomes a guilty luxury. You really want a copy of Wednesday Comics, just to name a random example of a book I want but have yet to buy, but you know you really ought to read your other books first. Sure, it would take you a few hours to tear through the Fear Agent Library, but you already have the trades and that Alec: The Years Have Pants collection won’t stop silently judging you. Now you’re in a situation where reading books you already own becomes a chore, and buying new books you actually want is a guilt-trip. This is not the optimal situation to find one’s self in.

This is basically was has happened to me so I’ve drifted. Not away from my weekly dose, but away from the more literate and heady tomes that line my shelves. I have a similar problem with prose books but the guilt isn’t there. I think because with a prose book I can just toss it in a bag and go. It may get dinged up a bit but I don’t mind because it’s not an art piece, so I can have it with me, get through a few pages here and there, and assuage some of that guilt. Plus prose books are supposed to take a while to read, so there’s less internal pressure to stay on top of it.

Dali knows what I'm talking about.

The final factor in my drift I think comes from time management. I’m a reasonably busy guy, trying hard to get a lot done every day, and as the evening winds down and my girlfriend wants to watch an episode of West Wing I’m far more inclined to say yes than I am to say, “No, I really need to catch up on all the those Top Shelf comics I book during the $3 sale two years ago.” I may flip through a few pages on the throne or before passing out in bed, but neither of those present a substantial amount of time or progress through my stack. I rarely have time during a given week to plop down on the couch to read for a long-ish period of time. And what I’m realizing is that I no longer make time. If I arranged my schedule a bit differently I could probably set aside some time, but I don’t. I can’t tell if I’m not interested right now, or if I’ve lost interest altogether. I’m hoping it’s a combo of winter malaise, and anticipation of a New Year’s lust for life, but I just don’t know.

Which leads me to my final question: Has anyone else experienced this? Where your unread stack becomes a Malthusian catastrophe and while your enjoyment of the weekly deluge remains constant your ability to handle the hefty has waned? How do I fix this? Is it even fixable? These therapy sessions columns are what I come to you every week for, and you rarely disappoint, so lay it out for me in the comments.




Ryan Haupt caught his girlfriend using an unread trade as a coaster for a drink with a lot of condensation. Hear him drink things requiring coasters on the podcast Science… sort of.


  1. I have the exact opposite problem, although in spirit it shares a lot with what you’re experiencing. I’m ignoring single issues and moving to trades only recently. Price and storage are both factors – with my retailer choices, trades are just much cheaper for me. I’d much prefer to have a lovely hardcover of something on a nice bookshelf rather than a cardboard longbox of single issues. I’m saving money and space. I also don’t get sucked into the appeal of a #1 issue that falls flat midway through the first arc, so generally I don’t end up buying as much junk as I’ve seen enough reviews, etc to know what’s good. I still have a stack but at least I operate a FILO system and with my new habits I know that what I’ve bought is gonna be good.

    • When I got back into comics a few years ago I started with trades to get up to speed on what I missed during the previous decade. But before long I hit on the same major benefits you described. I stuck with the trades and wouldn’t think of going back to issues. There is no upside, unless you are terrified of spoilers during the trade-wait.

  2. I think nearly everyone has this problem. I also find, when I make purchases on Amazon, I’m not always as interested to read them right away as I was when I ordered.

    • I have that problem as well. I have 5 or 10 books I ordered online that I haven’t read once yet, tho I still desire to. One of them is the “Batman: Knightfall:Knightquest” collection that I bought because of Dark Knight Rises coming out and wanting to round out my Knightfall collection. My guess is you wait so long for your books the excitement just wears off.

  3. I travel a lot for work, and find myself away from new and old comics for months at a time. The digital options will change that next time around, but as for the obligation of reading, to be honest I think it’s an indication of something.

    In October I got back from a 3 month trip to find various stacks mounting – I re-read compulsively, buying and reading single issues, then collating them for a “trade” experience a year or so later – and while there are series that require persistence, I ditched a lot of ongoings that I was actively avoiding.

    In terms of your bulk-buy dillemmas, I think that it probably indicates that this is not the way for you to buy comics. I’m the same – I avoid book box-sets (“The Complete Game of Thrones”, say) because that amount of material frightens me away from starting.

    But finally, I would suggest that you’re right, there IS an obligation which you’re not fulfilling. You bought “The Years Have Pants”? Then you ought to read it. If you don’t enjoy it, you should absolutely stop, but it’s a tacit admission that, for whatever reason, you don’t like that book enough to justify the purchase, and should be more careful in purchases in future.

    Put it this way: if this was food, perishable or otherwise, that was mounting up in your house, you would be considered crazy. “There was a sale on Gunga Beans” is not a good enough excuse. Eat the beans, or shut it down. 🙂

  4. Yes, I have this issue. I actually have 2 stacks, the unread stack, and the read stack that I want to read again just before I get the next issue to freshen up on the story. I save this second stack for my favorite titles, Saga, Punk Rock Jesus, Revival, Manhattan Projects. I am trying to solve this issue by limiting my monthly titles to 10. However, a friend of mine is having me pick up every single Beyond Watchman for him. I can read them. He pays me for them and keeps them. This has led to too many comics to keep up with. And yes, I often read new comics before I finish my unread stack.

    • I’m with you Chazman….I keep my collecting down to around 10, and 3 that I collect as trades to assuage my love of books on a bookshelf (and to save a few xtra $$$’s).

      To answer your original point Ryan…..I collected for a few years, then started tapering off as you say your experiencing. I then went about 15 years before I became interested again. This time I’ve been collecting since 2003 and wouldn’t look back!

      I read in intervals, but don’t really “schedule” time unless it’s something AWESOME…..like Saga #1, or TWD #100, etc. The rest of the time, I just read an issue here and there when I have time or am just bored. To save space, I give away comics I’ve already read and am not interested in anymore to Parents I work with who give them to their children (“passing the torch” through convenience….so to speak). There are stretches that X-Box, or some movie or TV series keeps my attention for days at a time….but I don’t feel guilty, because I know I’ll get to them eventually.

  5. I’ve gotten a little bit of trade fatigue after buying a bunch of omnibus collections on Amazon, but I have this single issues vs. trades dilemma in my head every time I add another long box. I ask myself, “How long will I actually keep this (ie: buying single issues) up for?”

    I honestly don’t have an answer to that question right now, but if I follow the pattern of my own buying habits, I’d say that I tend to buy things in trades or hardcover that I want to be displayed on a shelf (Locke and Key, for example), whereas the single issues I buy are more disposable comics that I enjoy collecting but would never pay the money to buy in trades (most Marvel/DC comics).

    I’ve often thought about cutting out the single issues entirely and just buying a trade a week (roughly what I’m already spending on single issues: $20-25).

  6. I am constantly behind. It’s been a busy few months, and I got behind and can’t seem to catch up. Hasn’t slowed down my buying, but maybe it should. I am sure there are titles I could drop and would not miss.

    As far as reading, I have a long box divided into two parts – read and unread. I put things in there alphabetically and by issue number, and trades go at the back of the section. Then, when I get time, I can read several issues together in a row. This has made for a much better reading experience, actually, since I don’t forget things from month to month like I used to.

    I do pick up trades, but usually it’s just things I missed or ones that strike my fancy. The only thing I am trade-waiting at the moment is Rachel Rising, because it’s cheaper that way.

  7. I’m the same way in terms of not wanting to take half-read books on a trip. I’ve been tempted, and actually have, discarded finished paperbacks in the airport just to get rid of “excess baggage.”

    I started buying trades/omnibi of stuff I wanted to re-read, treasure, etc. a few years back. Then all of a sudden I had several trades/omnibi sitting on my shelf that I haven’t finished or gotten to. Part of it is time. It does take time to consume an entire trade – let’s not even get into the John Byrne FF omnibus – and I’m so trained to finishing a comic book in one sitting that i subconscously apply that philosophy to a 6-20-issue trade collection. Don’t get me wrong – I CAN read a trade a little at a time, but most of the time, no. I bought the thing so I CAN consume it all together instead of messing with individual issues. I think many people are the same way? So yes, I love the books, love the stories, but yeesh. That’s a lot of time. So now that I have them, I’m not worried about them disappearing from the shops or online, and I’m in no hurry to get to them. I can read them anytime, right? So why did I buy them if I’m going to ‘finish them later?’ Can’t answer that one.

    At least they look pretty on my bookshelf. They aren’t a security blanket, but they’ll do in a pinch.

  8. I’ve had a similar problem lately with library movies mostly, and to an extent a stack of tpbs of FF also from the library starting at Mark Waid’s run. It started with Fall and a number of my favorite shows taking a break and I wanted something to watch while doing homework or to pass time. Most of library the DVDs have gone unwatched, and I’ve mostly finished my FF stack, but I’ve hit the wall at the start of Mark Miller’s run. I really want to get through it to catch up to Hickman’s run (I’m so behind on my FF). The key is to set time side and determine what it is you want ; to watch a bunch of DVDs you picked up to stave off boredom, or read through one of your favorite comic series to catch up to what’s happening now. Anyone else, replace “watch DVDs” with whatever it is thats taking away your comic reading time. I’m on break now from school, so I’m sure I can time for my comics, friends, chores, and those damn DVDs. Winter break is about relaxing, I’ve earned a break, and I do love my comics so I’m going to make time for them.

  9. i have quite a big to read pile but i never see it as daunting, but more of something to look forward to. a lot of what i read depends on the mood i am in so it’s nice to have a variety of something new to read at any given point. i think the book that’s been in that stack the longest is the Finder Library vol. 1 at just over a year. i’ll get to it one day…

  10. I had this problem for prose books. I eventually sold all of my unread books during a yard sale and started a rule that I had to be completely finished with a book before I bought a new one. It was the same problem: once it sits around on the shelf for a while, it no longer seems exciting and I just never, never read it.

    I don’t have this problem with comics; I am up to date with back issues and trades except for things I got in the last 2 wks or so. I probably don’t buy as much as you or others who have this problem. I’m pretty selective with what I buy, probably because of the high cost of single issues and the fact that most of the “nice” hardcovers that I want are fairly expensive.

    Speaking of nice hardcovers, Morrison’s Animal Man Omnibus (27 issues) and also a Sandman Omnibus (37 issues) recently went on presale on Amazon. I don’t think DC has announced these releases yet, maybe because they are not out until August.

  11. You have your FIFO and FILO mixed up, FIFO is what you do with milk: gotta put the older stuff in front so it sells before it goes bad.

    I definitely have this problem, since I’ve been collecting en masse since I decided to go all-in on building a collection a couple years ago. I’ve got longboxes full of books that I haven’t read yet. It’s easy, since I go to a charity sale where you can pick up hundreds of comics for ridiculously low prices. My direct “to read” pile, next to the bed, is about 10-12 inches tall at any given moment (in floppies, that’s about 30-50 single issues I think). Some books I read right away, some books I like to wait for a couple of issues to read in one sitting.

  12. Whenever my stack starts looking too big i start trying to increase my reading speed to get though the books. If I don’t I labor over each panel and take my time savoring each issue, but that really doesn’t help me get through the stack like speed reading.

  13. When I started reading comics again I bought all of the old Image and Valiant titles I couldn’t afford or just plain missed. Complete runs of up to 60 books, 183 in the case of Spawn. A bunch of 1980s-90’s Uncanny, plus enough to catch me up. I had to limit my monthlies and then be honest with myself. Do I really want to finish this post-Moore run on WildCATS?? Sometimes it was “no” and I just chalked it up, and then its on to eBay for someone to take a crack at. Even on a good run though its like a job. “Well, today I think I’ll burn through 5 issues of Solar…” and then you finish, and its on to the next. Really fun, but kinda compulsory. Feel like I read some so fast I only remember parts. Some deserve a second read.

  14. Going to bookstores is fun because there are sooo many choices that you get to just wander around and imagine how wonderful all the books are and how great it would be to read them all and then you find the exact one that you are into at that moment.
    That is why a big stack is awesome. So much to choose from! Something for every mood! The bigger the stack, the better! I wish I had to build an addition onto my house to store my stack.

  15. I get my comics in 1 monthly shipment. I keep them in the box they come in until I read them. Once I read an issue I file it away. I usually get through the box in 1 week maybe 2. It’s about 40 comics’/trades. I try and schedule one hour of reading time before bed each night. It helps relax me before I sleep. Just some quiet time. I need less noise/tv/computer time before bed and just quiet time. Once my comic box is empty and I still have 2 weeks before the next shipment I start re-reading. My titles are filed in alphabetical order. So I start with the first title and re-read the last 5 issues or so, whenever the last story arc started. Then it’s fresh in my mind for when I get the new issue. Then I read the last 5 issues of the next title etc. I’m trying to get into buying more trades though. I have no issue at all avoiding spoilers. If an article says ‘spoilers’ or ‘review’ in the title I don’t even go there. That way when I get my copy 1 month late, or a trade months after the issues come out it’s still new to me. Trades are just so much easier, especially when traveling. But yeah, the key to finding the time to read for me is I have to schedule it into my night. Otherwise it will never happen.