Ode to My Bag of Unread Comics

When I was a kid, usually after a haircut, my dad would take me to the comic book shop and I would be allowed to buy exactly one comic book. I remember agonizing over the rows and rows of covers, wondering which one would be worthy of my earnest commitment. It didn’t matter if it was new, it made no difference to me if it was the beginning of an arc, I just picked the one with the character I liked and that had a particularly bad-ass cover. Then I would take it home (no bag, certainly no board) and read the damn thing over and over again.

Today, things are very different: I go to my store and the owner, Kat, hands me the 15-24 books (if I was able to make it last week) from my saver box, and I run out. Now, sure, I usually grab lunch and read a few. I’ll go and check iFanboy.com and make sure I read the Pick of the Week and any other “big” books so I can listen to the podcast spoiler-free. That night, I’ll get through 2-5 books that I know I really like and get them read. Good, right? Simple.

But then, then, life starts happening and lack of time forces me to put off reading the remaining books. Then, out of nowhere, I’m stuck with multiple unread issues of the same title! The Spirit. Good book, I haven’t read the past two issues. Northlanders. I really like this book and I’m still back three issues. X-Factor. I remember liking this title, seriously, but then it stacked up to five issues, including some special Quicksilver thing and now I’m just intimidated. I have the entire first collection of that The Dark Tower series by Stephen King – and I still haven’t read beyond #1.

(Awhile back I complained about buying too many books to Josh and he just told to stop buying so many books — he’s sharp like that. My response? “But if I stopped, then I wouldn’t know what’s going on!”)

Now, I do cut books. After, like, a year of Wonder Woman I realized that a) I never actually liked Wonder Woman, I always felt kinda odd buying it (I know that sounds sexist or lame but really, I’m not sexist — I could buy She-Hulk no problem. I could very well be lame, though.) and b) it just never got any good and c) I was just giving it chance after chance after chance because I didn’t want to miss out because I kept hearing that it was gonna get good. Well, I didn’t miss out. I do miss the $40, though.

Let’s back up a bit and discuss my comics life cycle:

1 – New Bag – Fresh from the store, you, new comic, are a member of the elite. This “fresh bag” stage will last about a week, maybe two. Oh the places we’ll go! Let’s just hope I get to you soon. Otherwise… well, let’s just say it’s not pretty.

 

2 – On my nightstand – Ready to spend the night? I hope so–you are officially cued up and primed for late night reading. This is a very good place to be if you are a comic book. The closer to the top, the more likely you’re gonna get read. The only downside is significant – late night fumbling may result in spilled water ruining you and your compadres.

 

3 – Backpack – Not a good sign, but at least you know that I want to read you. See, you are a comic book that has not been read for several days and are now stuffed in the weekend backpack, carried around from café to restaurant to beach and, sometimes, to the bar (it’s like Luke and Yoda, I swear). You may be crammed in here through Monday morning and then, if still not read, relegated to:

 

4 – In my nightstand – A very bad sign. It could be weeks before you see the light of day. You may want to catch up with the The Dark Tower series and marvel that the entire collection is in a paper bag within the nightstand. You may bounce through stages 3 to 4 to 2 to 4 several times, depending on, well, your cover. You may also find yourself sharing space with an old issue of Home Theatre magazine or Men’s Health. I’m sorry, I never meant this to happen, it’s me–really.

 

5 – Shelf – Was it good for you?  It was fun, right? We’ve spent some together, we shared some laughs, swapped stories, and now you get put it into the small bookshelf in my bedroom (if I was really on it at the time, bagged, boarded and taped you–you’re welcome). Once this staging shelf is full, you and the rest of your neighbors are transferred to…

 

6 – Box –  The comics box Tetris stack at the bottom of my closet. You’ve made it. You are being stored upright, out of the sun and face a pretty consistent, if dark, future.

Getting books into stage 6 is its own trial, of course. We’ll discuss the challenge of storing boxes when you live in an apartment with someone who finds it hard to believe you need all those comics at a later date.

 

We all know that the past few years have been a pretty good time to be into comics. I, for one, am reading more books than ever, but there are more books than ever to read, so even if I drop a book, not unlike the hydra of lore, more pop in to replace it. The unread stack embodies this dilemma, this odd reality of being overwhelmed with what you love but having no time to actually enjoy it.

My bag of unread books is a bag of hope. It’s a bag of dedication. It’s a bag of optimism, +3 against rainy days, +4 against delayed flights. As I write this, I realize I need these books around. I believe in them. I trust that I will enjoy them, eventually. In a way, they are more important than the hot new Pick of the Week — they will be with me after all the excitement of Final Crisis and Secret Invasion fade. They wait, patiently, to surprise me and remind me that they are still fun and exciting, and, like all great art, only get better with time.

I am going to head off to breakfast right now, before I go to my shop. I am going to sit at the counter and I am going read The Spirit, Zorro and Northlanders, and I bet I am going to wonder why I didn’t read them earlier.

I hope.

 



Postscript:

I wrote this before going to my shop and I can prove to you now, in real time, just what the problem is. Check out this picture:

 



The bag on the left? The really ratty yellow one? That’s the unread stack. The bag on the right — last week’s new books. I am writing this on Monday morning, and I have read exactly two issues in the new stack. I have a class tonight and may read one book and another 3-4 by Wednesday. Then these “new” books go to the unread stack. Just as Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time keeps spinning, the damn bag keeps expanding.

 


Mike Romo is a long time iFanboy fanboy living in Los Angeles, CA where he looks for acting work and decent BBQ. You can find him online at mikeromo.com or email him at mike@ifanboy.com. His goal for 2008 is to not buy all of the Secret Invasion tie-ins and to post articles with fewer small pictures.

Comments

  1. Josh maaaay have a point. When you have a shelf of unread books, you have a problem. And a nightstand. And a backpack.

  2. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    Haha, I think we all have some weird semi-defined system for storing our unread books, but to see the process examined in this way is really funny and even a little scary.  Great column idea, Mike.

    And now the circle is complete! 

  3. Great first article Mike.

     

    Ugh.  The unread stack it the bane of my exisitence but it’s nice to know I’m not the only one that suffers with it.  My stacks tends to start at my computer area, move into the bedroom, back to the living room and then collect dust until I get the urge.  Right now it’s got about 7 trades and the last issue of Project: Superpowers sitting in it.  Hopefully someday soon I’ll tear into it and clean it out.

     

     

  4. Great article. Nice to see I’m not the only one who’s obsessive-compulsive disorder is creating havoc in his home.

    I’m usually pretty good about finishing off the new books every week, maybe only carrying over an issue or two on occasion. If I ever fell too far behind on that stack, forget it – it’d never get read, then I’d feel guilt about ‘wasting money’, then I’d stop reading comic and go back to my former bad habits — drugs and whores — which I don’t think the Mrs. would appreciate too much.

    However, my problem tends to be a little more expensive – trades and back issues. For example, I knew when I picked up Black Dossier the week it came out I wasn’t going to read it anytime soon, but I still bought it with a slight glimmer of hope in the back of my addled brain that I’d get to it that week. It still sits in the massive (no, seriously, it’d be about 6 feet high if consolidated and stacked top to bottom) pile of trades and back issue arcs waiting for attention, and I’ve got some real gems in there that I want to read so badly, too.

  5. Thanks Mike! This was a chuckle to read. Love the pictures. Post more so I know how to move around the place in the dark. 😉

    I had the same problem too. Well, I still have it, but no where to the degree that I did before. There is a way to fix this. Forget the bags and the boards. No, you can still bag and board them (if you must) when you have a stack that you’ve read already. With the amount of time spent bagging and boarding, you could of been more than half way through that next issue on that unread stack instead. I have always been perplexed by bagging and boarding the issue before it is read. An unbagged, unboarded comic gets read quicker. A) it sits there ready to be grabbed. B) the longer it sits unprotected, the more nuts you become about it. Therefore, you must read it to bag it. C) an issue that meets the very next issue of the series is a sign that you’re really not all that interested or that you should of trade waited. Bagging, boarding, and taping is a process best left to the very end. If you you travel a lot with issues, use a laptop bag. These a perfect because the good ones have a nice foamy like compartment to protect your unbagged comics. Well, this works for me.

  6. This is scarily similar to the system I’ve got set up.  I will say, though, that I pulled a similar Dark Tower move with The Umbrella Academy, and it worked out fine.  I eventually read all of The Umbrella Academy in one night, and man, did it read well that way! 

    I’m anxiously awaiting the follow-up article about fanboy/significant other cohabitation.  I’m getting married this summer, and sometimes I think my fiancee has a point when she complains about me never going back and reading from my longboxes.

  7. I feel like someone snuck into my house and documented the way I live. (Love the visual aids!) The only difference is that I have a stage 7 – trash can. I looked in my closet one day and said, "This is as many long boxes as I am ever going to own, by God," so a couple of times a year there is a great culling. Last time, the Spider-Clones fell. Who will be next? Don’t get comfortable, early-2000s X-Men.

    There’s one real problem with the delayed reading: you could be buying issue after issue of a crappy book and not know it until $30 is gone. Caveat emptor! 

  8. Maybe I need to rethink how I’m planing to read my comics.  At this point I’m starting to feel overwelmed by my mounting unread comic’s stack.  I thought organizing them in boxes would motivate me to start reading.  Looks like keeping them handy by the nightstand may be my best option.

  9. Poor Wheel of time books, why is it that I am constantly reminded that Robert Jordan has passed?

  10. It is as though Mike has revealed the shameful way I live.

    In my defense I only have 4 stages; 1) desktop 2) drawer 3) shelf 4) box. I feel this is a good system. Backpack enters into this process but that doesn’t count.

  11. Wow great post!  Although if you aren’t reading them one should look at not buying some of them!  But of course thats rational thinking and I’m all too aware that doesn’t enter into it when buying comics!!!!  I try never to get more than 10 titles a week, because reading comics shouldn’t be a chore.  If you get too many it can become that way.

    My pull list on here shows more than 10 titles but those extras are ones I know my brother is buying. Also I use the pull list on here to not only keep track of what I’m buying or WILL read, but also what I want to read.  The pull list feature is great for the "Oh I didn’t know that was coming out!" type suprises.

    Wow is this comment all over the map.  All I wanted to say was great post!

  12. I feel your pain, Mike. Tosave on gas I go to the store once a month. It’s not pretty when I get back. I can go splunking inmy comis closet.

  13. Except for the backpack stage, this is my comic reading situation exactly.  When my son was born I ended up getting 9 months behind on reading books and it became a complete disaster.  While I am now caught up, and have been for much of this calendar year, I won’t mention how far back I am on the bagging and boxing stage.

  14. Huh.  I pretty much only buy new comics if I know I’m going to read them.  If I don’t get to them on the same day, I feel like a failure.  This must be why I buy fewer books than some.

    On the other hand, I have a ton of back issues and trades that I  haven’t gotten yet.  

  15. "We’ll discuss the challenge of storing boxes when you live in an apartment with someone who finds it hard to believe you need all those comics at a later date."

     

    I have the same problem. i had to eventually move my comic to mom basement. then i had to explain to her why i needed all the comic saved in her basement. 

  16.  I don’t know Mike.. Last week was the first time I surpassed ten books in one week and I’ve still got two left to read. It doesn’t thrill me because I’d like to finish GTAIV and Iron Man some time soon so I can get on to Ninja Gaiden 2. Chase that down with some NASCAR ’09 and Hulk, some time with my girlfriend and partyin on my buddies boat over the weekend. Don’t forget school, real world responsibilities and family time either.

    At some point you’ve got to know when to say when. This is going to become increasingly harder for you now that you’ve become part of the IFanboy elite. Every silver lining has a touch of grey, eh?

    @bigyanks – so what was your explanation? These were the last comics ever to be printed? Some day they would be worth money? Compulsive hoarding is good for your health? 

  17. hey guys-

     

    thanks for the feedback! I am glad, well, relieved that there are other people that can identify with this situation. Thisisegan, I totally hear ya on the Robert Jordan thing, though I will admit, I did drop out after a particularly bad book (Crossroads of the Twilight) – it was 704 pages of talking about what the characters were thinking about doing but never did, I never did finish it.  (Check out the reviews -2,415 and the book has a 1.5 star rating!) You probably already know about it, but I highly, highly recommend George R.R. Martin’s "Song of Ice and Fire series" — so damn good and, in my humble, humble opinion, so much better than Jordan’s work (though I do like some of those books).

     Anyway, thanks for the feedback, you guys have given me some good stuff to write about..muhahaha…

     

    talk to you soon,

    mike 

  18. I’m only a 4-stager: new bag, to-read pile, read pile, boxed.

  19. Gotta admit, I can’t relate. I look forward to reading my books too much to let them sit. Now trades, onthe other hand, are a problem. I keep "saving" them for some dark, distant future where I have nothing to read and I’m desperate. The problem is that whenever this issue arises, I just listen to podcasts on my iPod, so the trades just hang about. The other problem is that I’ve bought certain trades out of order and refuse to read them until I read what came before.

    But single issues always get read…unless it’s a crap-ton of quarter-bin books. 🙂 I got almost the entire run of Alpha Flight that needs to be read, bagged, and boarded…

  20. I’m solely a night stand kind of guy.  I usually am able to rip through my comics on Wednesday, but if not, they hit the nightstand where they rest for a day or two.  Now, if we’re talking TPBs or prose books, then we’re talking about  moutainous endeavors that would take life times to finish.  But they are there, sitting patiently, on my nightstand.

  21. You see your doing this all wrong. I have 6 long boxes of back issues to ge through and i made the decision to stop reading any new comics untill i get through them. On the one hand it means i’m missing out (depending on your viewpoint) on secret invasion and final crisis, but on the other hand it means i read entire volumes, gotham central 1-40 at the moment, in one fantastic run, then have secret invasion complete run to look forward to in 4-5 months time, complete, without waiting for the next issue due to delays. (current comics in my to read box include daredevil 1-107 roughly 200 x men titles and all invincible and powers trades.

  22. This is the dilemma that keeps me away from buying trades over single issues.  Knowing I’m on a weekly schedule, especially keeping up with the podcast, forces me to make sure I get through my books before the next Wednesday comes around.  When I buy trades, there is no pressure to read them and therefore they languish on my shelf waiting for a slow week.

  23. Sounds like you need more free time or to buy less comics, Mike.

    Your life cycle of comics is pretty similar to mine except mine get read within the first few days of being bought. I’m not rich enough to buy books if I’m not gunna read em’!

    Mine bounce around from my coffee table to my nightstand for about 3 or 4 days after I buy them then when read, they’re added to the growing stacks in random places around my bedroom … I know it’s bad to store comics like this but … I guess I’m a rebel. Then when the piles get outta hand I buy a box to put em’ all in.

    Dude, I’m mad jealous that you get boards & bags with every book you buy. I wish I had that type service at my shop! I’m lucky to get my comics & not get a kick up the ass as I walk out the door.

  24. You guys all need to eat more roughage.  Especially Wednesday through Saturday.

     

     Problem solved. 

  25. I never allow myself to buy more than ten books, and I’m usually pretty annoyed when I get that many.  Invariably, back when I bought more, when I went over ten I had at least three or four that, even if they didn’t suck, I just KNEW I’d never want to go back and read again.

    I’ve got mine stored under the bed, taking up half of that storage space, in plastic bins; there’s no way my wife would let me keep long boxes in the closet.  Also, I have one big old-school cardboard box at my parents that I have to figure out how to smuggle in here.

    Also, at least once every six months, I drag the whole kit and kaboodle out and pull out everything I don’t care about keeping.  To be honest, I collect solely for story value, not for collector value, and if I don’t want to re-read the story, why keep it?  I put everything I don’t want out on the curb in a big box, and everything’s gone within an hour or two.  It was like that article in the Marvel books, asking creators what they did with old comics, and Joe Quesada says he likes to leave stuff behind and "Pay it Forward".  That’s what I choose to do with the stuff I know I don’t really want anymore.

    Back on topic… I finish my books invariable within a day or two of getting them.  I couldn’t even imagine having things stacked everywhere.  I really have to show my wife this article so she can see that things could be worse.

    Oh, and I only bag and board the stuff I love.  (Ultimate Spidey, All Star Superman and Batman, Astonishing X-Men, the Ultimates 1 and 2, New Avengers, etc., etc.)  That saves space, let me tell you.

    Bottom line?   Really great article.  What’s that quote?  I want to say it’s by Oscar Wilde or Jonathan Swift… something along the lines of (and I’m paraphrasing here): "It is easy to be a great writer.  All one has to do is slit one’s wrists and bleed on the page."  That’s what you did here.  Great article.  You could maybe use a grammar checker in places… but great article. 

  26. Holly crap man! Josh is right. (i always thought he was the smartest of the ifanboys) Pretty soon you will need a aprt just for your comics. Maybe you should have comic books rentihg shop in your comic aprt.

  27. i feel your pain. 

  28. great work, i actually enjoyed the pictures in the article. Pictures make reading easier for my comic flooded mind.

  29. Great article! I can relate to the spilling of the water thing.  That happens to me every few months.  My nightstand is actually 4 longboxes of unread back issues. I’m in a similar boat to goaduk as far as the boxes of back issues goes.

    When I got out of grad school, I suddenly found myself with money for the first time in my life and access to the internet – and therefore, ebay.  I discovered that it is a buyers market for back issues as people are willing to take very little money for their comics just to make the extra space available in their house/apartment.  I went crazy picking up full runs of stuff I always wanted to read: Nexus; Thor; Iron Man; Ms. Tree; Firestorm; Blue Devil; etc; etc.  I ended up with over 2000 issues! Four years later and I’ve made a small dent.  It’s pretty crazy. But I will never run out of reading material. Plus I have about 170 comic book or comic related items in my Amazon wish list.

    Anyway, great article and how goes the acting?  I’m a NY actor myself but have a bunch of friends out in LA doing the thing, waiting tables or delivering for Pink Dot.

  30. So that’s how the rest of you live! Sorry guys, I just can’t relate to this.  I get about the same amount of books each week (and yes, I do have a very active social/work life), but I refuse to start reading a new week of books unless I’ve finished the previous weeks.  There has been the rare occasion where I miss an issue of something and leave the following issues in their bags until I’m able to read the missing issue in order (it happened most recently with Brian Wood’s Local) and unfortunately that will usually lead to a feeling of apathy towards any given series.

    The nice part of your predicament though is that you have all that unread material that is basically money spent and not enjoyed yet.  If you ever dive into all those issues, it’ll probably be like finding a 100 dollar bill in your jeans before you do the wash. 

    I don’t know how I do it each week, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s somehow related to my insomnia. The real question is, do I finish all my books because I have insomnia, or do I have insomnia because I finish all my books?  I’m about to finish Sandman vol. 10 "The Wake" and its almost 3 AM right now.  You tell me. 

  31. I’ve got a huge stack of Marvel Essentials that I’ve been putting off forever.  I thought mine was bad but looking at your stacks has fueled me with hope.  Thank you kind sir.  

    To read: Claremont X-Men Essentials 2, X-factor Essentials 2, Power Man and Iron First Essentials, Green Lantern Showcase, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Monster (Manga), and finish Cerebus vol. 1. 

  32. I’ve been thinking a lot about what you guys are saying and I am really gonna try to buy fewer books. It really has been driving me to the poorhouse…I mean, the store gives "subscribers" 30% off but still…

     

    I did catch up with Northlander last night and it’s officially going back up to my "must read" list…

     

    gotta go to work!! 

  33. I’m usually able to read all my books by Friday, then they get transferred to the top of my short boxes in my closet where the wait to get bagged, boarded, and filed away. I’ve been pretty good so far about keeping up; the most I’ve had to do at one time is around 20 books. Due to my hard drive crashing I lost my database of comics that I own, however, so at some point I need to devote a few hours to going through my boxes and inventory what I have. I only have about 5 short boxes thus far so am actually pretty lucky.

    My pile of trades, on the other hand, keeps growing and growing…

  34. Your system is eerily similar to mine.  Though usually I manage to get through all the new stuff the unread stack that lies below the new stuff just gets older and older.

  35. OMG! I can totally relate and the problem is getting worse for me. I intern at Image Comics now and I get all their books and some DC books for free now. So, every week for the last semester I’ve come home every Wednesday with not just my usual 5-10 books, but 20-30, plus some OGNs and TPBs. It’s made me appreciate a few things I probably would not have picked up before like Brian Reed’s <b>The Circle</b> and Joe Casey’s writing in general, but I have several stacks of comics laid out on the floor of my studio apartment waiting patiently to be read. I read the event stuff. Secret Invasion, andn now, Final Crisis are at the top of the list always. I went back to the beginning of Grant Morrison’s run on Batman before digging into 675-677. I keep telling myself to read all of Invincible and The Walking Dead before reading issues 50 of each of those. So, I am slowly going through my stacks, just not as quickly as I would like.

    I’m also picking up old comics that I feel I should be reading which I still haven’t read. Like, The Shadow ongoing by Andrew Helfer and Bill Sienkewicz, with Kyle Baker ending that run. Which made me go out and get Howard Chaykin’s mini which preceded it. I also have waiting both of Alan Davis’ JLA minis which I picked up on the recommendation of iFanboy, actually. So thanks guys for giving me just a little more clutter to step over when I get home at night.

  36.  

    The "unread bag" phoenomenon is why I switched to trades for so many of my books. They’d build up until I’d finally sit down and knock out months and months of books. Sometimes, the trade would already be out before I read a run (and would be cheaper and bookshelf-worthy to boot). 

    I now have an unread box, chock full of Seven Soldiers books, the last 3 issues of The Filth, miscellaneous Image titles from the 90s that I picked up in a 5-for-a-dollar box, and some FCBD stuff that looks like they’d be fun but I’ve just never gotten around to. A box.

  37. Hey, I shop at DJ’s as well!  Great article!