I Can’t Give These Comics Away

I recently received an email message from a good friend that indicated he had just powered his way through the entire run of Y: The Last Man over the course of a weekend. He told me that the story had “hit him in the bones.” A comic book had affected him that much. He loved it and was craving more. Now this wouldn’t be such a big event, but the friend in question wasn’t nor had he ever been a big comic book fan. He was of course well aware of my love of comics and apparently he wanted to share with me this the fact that he had partaken of the art form in all its glory. Simply put, he wanted me to know that he now “got it” and was now seeking out the next series of books in which to completely immerse himself. I’d never pushed comics on the guy, but I like to think I had a little something to do with his openness to the medium, if only because I’d always been so outspoken about my own adoration of comics. A new fan was born. A convert. And I liked that.

This exchange reminded me how much I like exposing people to comics, especially those people who never thought they’d be reading comics in the first place. Every Christmas I enjoy the task of finding just the right graphic novel or comic to give to the people on my list who I see as fans who just don’t know it yet. There’s something special about that moment when you realize that someone who wasn’t previously a fan is now one. So many people judge comics for what they think they are as opposed to what they really are. And many people judge comics without ever having read one in the first place.

That email message of newly found comic book appreciation from my pal also reminded me of an episode some years back, a moment in my life that can best be described as my own peculiar and perhaps misguided effort to turn on complete strangers to the wonders of comics. It was some time around 2008 and I was going through one of those phases where I was feeling compelled to get rid of some of my comics. Every so often I get the urge to purge, to lighten the comic collection load. I find myself looking at my collection and can’t help but see issues that I know I’ll never read again. But the question of what to do with “unwanted” books is always there. You can’t sell them. Be nice if they were worth something on EBay, but that’s just not the case. Do you donate them? That’s always an option. Recycle? Maybe. But as I was looking at the stacks of soon-to-be-discarded books, I realized that I wanted to find a way to get them in the hands of people who wouldn’t otherwise read them. I wanted my castoff comics in the hands of non-fans who I imagined would read them and in effect become new comic fans. I wanted to spread the love.

Thus began a process, a scheme if you will, to scatter my comics around the greater Los Angeles area like some sort of comic book Johnny Appleseed. It’s a little bit insane, I know. I have a theory and it goes something like this: You can look back at almost any moment in your life and the question “What was I thinking?” will almost always be appropriate. This definitely falls into the category of confusing retrospection. I don’t know why I was so compelled, to be perfectly honest, but I was on a mission of sorts, crazy as it was. Nevertheless, here’s what I was thinking at the time: I would simply place random comics in a series locations where people congregate i.e. coffee shops, Laundromats, fast food restaurants, etc. It wasn’t rocket science. The idea was that people would pick up a free comic, be so enthralled by what they read and then seek out more of these beloved books. It was basically a “free sample” model that 2008 me thought would serve to both lighten my comic book load and at the same time exponentially increase comics fandom.  I guess I believed that the world could love comics the way I loved comics; they just needed to be exposed to them. Why couldn’t every day be Free Comic Book Day?

In the days that followed, I did actually manage to scatter more than a few comics at no less than four Starbucks coffee shops, all within a mere miles of one another. In one particular instance, I sat and watched to see if anyone took interest in a stray copy of Justice Society of America.  Unfortunately, the comic just sort of sat there, as people seemed more drawn to the New York Times than to the fine work of Geoff Johns and Dale Eaglesham. I’ll never understand that. I eventually left. No way to tell what happened those comics. Hopefully people picked them up. Hopefully someone picked one up, read it and had their heart and mind changed a bit with regard to comics. Or maybe they just got scooped up along with the day’s spent newspapers and tossed out by a surly barista. Again, there’s no way to know.

What was I thinking? I guess I just wanted to make the disposal of some of my comics into more than just…well…disposal. Admittedly, I may have been reaching a bit in my plan. But I think at the root of it was an honest desire to turn people on to comics. That’s not such a bad thing, is it? In the end, my efforts to sow the seeds of comic book fandom in the masses may have fallen short. But there’s part of me that still believes that if you put the right book in the right pair of hands, the magic of the art form called comics will do its thing.

Gabe Roth is a TV writer trapped in the suburbs of Los Angeles. He is constantly craving burritos. He also has a dog named Stanley. @gaberoth on Twitter.


  1. If they did pick up that JSA #1 – as I did – they might have been completely confused by the plethora of characters contained therein – certainly more than should be included in any team book. They may even have asked, “Where’s Batman? Or Superman?” And even if they liked it and bought subsequent issues – they would have eventually ran into the “Lightning War Saga” (or whatever it was called) and been bombarded by dozens and dozens of Legion members – that nobody knows who they are. And then they would have dropped the whole series and gone back to Marvel books where everything was safe and comfortable.

    Anyway – I’ve got a bunch of comics I need to ditch – I was thinking Salvation Army – do they take those? Otherwise, sometimes I dish them off on homeless people. I gave one guy the Essentials X-Men – 1-5

    • My local shop closed a few years back, and the owner gave a stack of boxes (about 40 in total to me), I went through them and made up HUGE packs for local schools and the hospitals in the area. My son now attends one of the schools and his kindergarten mates love that their library has 2 boxes of comics for them to flip through. Giving comics away is awesome! My collection is frequently loaned to students I teach (ranging from 5th graders to 10th), they love to read em and its great to see them get excited about reading.

  2. Never tried to convert anyone, but I thought it was kind of interesting when my fiancee read Li’l Depressed Boy vol. 1 the other day. She’s been with me since before I read comics and never expressed the slightest interest. I thought she might like it, but in the end, she didn’t care for the depressing ending.

    • I think your fiancée missed the point of that title. I’ve never read that series; but I did read the entire “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events”. If those stories hadn’t been a little twisted and depressing I would have been disappointed.

  3. i remember hearing somewhere that Quesada (I think it was him) just leaves books wherever he finishes them for someone else to pick up.

  4. I don’t agree with the “What was I thinking?” aspect of this article. The act of giving, even if there’s something in it for you, has the potential for good and shouldn’t be look at with the least tinge of shame or regret.

    As long as I can remember I’ve been a pessimist, but a few things happened to me within the last three years, changing my view to what I guess is optimism. Maybe, therein lies my take on what you did. Kind of rambling here…

    What I’m trying to say is: Giving away comics that have brought entertainment and joy to you, as fleeting as the moment may be, is a good thing. I just don’t see how it couldn’t be. A great idea and if you tried it again, you’d get a high-five from me. Cheers!

  5. Gabe, occasionally I find myself doing the same thing in NYC, so if you’re crazy for leaving comics around for people, at least you’re not alone in your craziness. I tend to leave mine on subway station benches, figuring that someone might read say Bloodshot #1 while they’re waiting for their train. I wonder if I should tuck in a business card for a nearby LCS in case they find themsves wanting to read the next part of the story.

  6. I’ve taken big boxes to Goodwill before, but those were runs that I’d never get anything for at the shop or eBay. (I still don’t see how so many people on eBay are still selling many of those books, especially single issues.) Leaving books out is a good idea – not knocking it – but I also think of it this way: In terms of anyone picking up books just left somewhere, what are the non-comic fans’ expectations of a comic if they see it? It might look cool, but as GrandTurk said, today’s books have little or no way for people to pick one up and not be lost in continuity or a massive story arc.

    I have a short box of oldies but goodies, things like Astonishing Tales (first Deathloks) waiting for me to take to my shop for credit (Deathlok in particular because I recently got the Marvel Masterworks edition). Of course I don’t want to leave a 25-cent book at Starbucks or the airport. However, at the shop I’ve noticed no one ever goes to the pre-1980 good stuff boxes. I peruse from time to time, but I’ve never seen anyone there. Can I even get rid of my oldies-but-goodies now? I better get in the car and go before the shop decides they aren’t worth it.

    Worth it. Do old comics even need to be worth something anymore? Yes, they’re still valuable by their limited supply, and people still go for back issues with favorite writers and stories. But are they “collectible?” I can’t find certain Snyder Detective Comics issues, but is anyone buying Byrne’s Iron Fist run or Kirby’s Kamandi issues? Is the idea of having those individual, first edition books a passion for anyone except the people who were around when they originally came out (and usually earlier than 1990)? In this case, does it really matter -if the shop doesn’t want my oldies – if I leave these out?

    To get back on the subject, here’s the question: if all that applies, is it a big deal if I do leave some oldies around? And what do you think, would people be more inclined to read an old Astonishing Tales, pre80s Superman or a Wolverine #11 that they find in an airport or Starbucks than an All-Star Western #1? Is THIS one solution to leaving books in public in an effort to generate non-comic readers’ interest?

    • All good points. From a “worth it” perspective to me – I charge at least $40 an hour for my time. That means the effort it takes me sell or trade books has to net me at least $40 per hour of effort. A typical eBay listing might take me an hour’s worth of time to set up, monitor, answer questions, solicit payment, handle and ship – so if I don’t make that much money off each sale – I’d rather do something else with my time. So no – its not worth it for me to sell comic books – or carry a load of books to the LCS for pennies on the dollar. At least by donating – I know its going to help some one out.

    • @stevetwo – yeah, I feel your pain. I also had a big box of nice Bronze Age comics that my comic shop had zero interest in (some were even 100 page Super Spectaculars) I sold some on ebay, but like Grandturk said, the time and effort really ate into the money I got into ebay, so I ended up taking them to the Epworth’s Children’s Home.

      With modern comics, taking them to the Children’s home is trickier. Back when the comics code was enforced, it was a no brainer, but now, you have to flip through each and every comic to make sure there is nothing that’s gonna get you in trouble with the people that run the home. I, personally, don’t think much of anything in modern comics from the big two would be any different than what kids see in movies and video games, but still, you don’t want to open yourself up to getting a knock on the door from the authorities because you gave a kid a issue of Spider-man that had something a bit risque.

      As to the original posters comment about the John’s JSA – yeah, I sort of feel that was just a bit too jammed with unrecognizable spandexed clad characters to appeal to people at a Starbucks. You would have been better with Fear Agent or Hellboy.

  7. All my superhero comics go to the (apparently popular) comic book lending library that my girlfriend runs out of her classroom. Everything to mature for that–indies, Vertigo, etc.– I send to a charity that ships them overseas to military bases and/or puts them in VA centers.

    • Can you identify any charities around NYC/NY Metro area?

    • @Grandturk: I can’t; I’ve only been doing this since moving to Los Angeles.

    • During the height of the Iraq war, I had a bunch of stuff I decided could go to the military overseas. Found one shop that had a program soliciting for books to do just that. (the shop just happened to be the one down the street from my wife’s house in Massachussetts!). But when I contacted them they said, “thanks, we’ve got enough.” I wonder if any nearby bases need any. Oh yeah, the military CLOSED THEM.

  8. We’ve been doing some things around the office to help blow off steam or help encourage “work/life balance.” I’ve brought a ton of old comics and created some “bins” for folks to dip into. Already had a few co-workers let me know what ones they’ve read and liked!

  9. Those I can’t sell either go to Goodwill or Salvation Army. The problem with comics today are the storylines are so damn complicated. Some take 4 to 6 issues to resolve or even years like Hickman’s run on FF. It’s hard to find one issue storylines anymore that you can simply leave at the dentist office.

  10. I got rid of about three long boxes worth of comics last month. That’s a solid portion of my collection as I make a point to not let it get too big. Gave several to a co-worker who picked some out he was interesting in. Two full long boxes plus another box went to Goodwill. Hopefully they get into someone’s hands.

    I actually like the idea of leaving comics laying around for people to find. Might just try that. As people have mentioned, most modern comics are barely worth selling. Even if they get trashed at least there’s a chance someone else will read them.

  11. See if your local library has a free bin. That way at least some kid can grab them. It’s much easier to appeal a comic book to a little kid more than a new york times reading adult.

    Besides, when I was a kid, I would read any comic book. If it was free, I would own and adore any comic book. That’s why I still have old ‘Team 7’ stuff because I thought guns were neato back then.

  12. There is no consensus on this issue.

  13. I’ve never understood why people think paper comics have no value. I sell comics on eBay all the time. Sometimes it’s break even and sometimes it’s at a loss. At other times I’ve sold recent comics for way above cover price after the bidding dust settled. It takes 5 minutes to list and 5 minutes to pack for shipping. And my local Post is on the way to work.

    • I have had the same experience as you on eBay. I also buy on eBay and get excited when I get a good deal or find something I’ve been looking for. I almost rely on it to help fund my back issue collections, and yeah Paypal and eBay get a big cut, but its worth it for me. I’m actually clearing out boxes right now and if Its not junk and I can’t give it to my kids, I sell it. This article did give me the urge to leave a wrinkled stack of X-Factor on a park bench though 🙂

  14. I found a copy of Prime #5 (Malibu title – remember them) on the subway once. It was terrible. I am convinced the person left it there hates comics and wanted me to hate them too.

    I tried to convert an ex-girlfriend by giving her Kabuki and then Watchmen. Didn’t work out. In fact it may have been partially responsible for ending out relationship.

    Finally while I certainly appreciate the give away mentality I don’t understand why people constantly say they can’t sell their comics because they aren’t worth anything. 95% of the books I get rid of I sell. Its just a matter of finding a way to bundle them and accepting that you may not make a profit or even all your money back on a given sale. For example, selling Frankenstein Agent of Shade #5 for $2.99 plus shipping probably won’t work. Bundling it with a bunch of other DC New 52 books or older versions of New 52 titles and starting the auction at $.99 plus shipping will. You’re not going to get rich unless the book is especially rare but it’s nice to get some of your money back and I am sure the buyer appreciates finding some sought after issues for a reasonable price.