Reading Comics in Public

This past Saturday was Read Comics in Public Day. Comic book fans from across the globe were encouraged to read their "funny pages" out in the open for all to see. The goal of Read Comics in Public Day was to proudly show off your comic-reading habits and hopefully pick up some new readers along the way.

I'm a commuter. There's an hour and 30 minutes that separate me and my Manhattan cubicle. I take a car, two trains, and a subway to get to work (it's the modern day equivalent to "I walked 5 miles to school! In the snow! Up hill! Both ways!). So to keep myself occupied on this daily trek, I read comics. Lots of comics.

On any given day, in my work bag you will find : one prose book, one or two trades, at least two weeks worth of comics, and all of the Lantern Corps rings. The bag weighs about as much as I do.

Obviously, I have no problem reading comics in public.

That's not to say I've never been embarrassed by reading my comics before. When I first started buying issues I'd wait until I was at home, safe from judgmental eyes, before I cracked them open. But after seeing dozens of people reading a Harlequin romance novel on the subway, I figured no one really cares about what you're reading on the train. So I may as well read what I love.

For the most part, I just go about my business, reading my various issues and trades to pass the time. But I have had my fair share of awkward moments with my comics. I've gotten eyerolls and an audible scoff or two. Nothing too bad, still beats getting caught people watching (talk about awkward).

I've also had a few tense moments with books I like to call NSFPT – not safe for public transportation. You turn a page and — eep! — there's something you don't want the person sitting next to you seeing. Buffy the Vampire Slayer #34 comes to mind as particularly blush-worthy. Then there was Preacher. After three separate cases of people (or kids) catching glimpses of particularly gruesome scenes I had to stop reading those trades on the train. I still feel bad for that poor old lady who got an eyeful of Herr Star.

Then there are books that stir up some strong emotional reactions. I've audibly gasped, cheered, and even squeed while reading comics. So far none of the other commuters have noticed this… well, at least I think no one's noticed, they could just be politely ignoring me. But sometimes you'll be reading a book and you turn into a sobbing, blubbering mess. Yes I'm looking at you, Essex County. So after that incident I had the foresight to put books that are particularly poignant on the NSFPT list.

On the other end of the spectrum, I've had some really positive interactions with other commuters because of comics. There are the friendly nods when you glance up from your comic and see someone else reading a trade. The knowing glances when you find a fellow comic book reader out in the wild. A few weeks ago, I was reading Batgirl on the train home and the passanger sitting next to me asked "Is that a comic book?" We had a great 30-minute conversation about Batman comics.

It's because of interactions like these that I decided, even though every day is Read Comics in Public Day for me, I still wanted to participate. Unfortunately, I had a weekend packed with activities for a wedding I was in, and I wasn't able to do any other the sanctioned Read Comics in Public events. So while I was getting a pedicure with a couple other bridesmaids Saturday afternoon, I decided to break out my copy of The Losers and start reading. I think most of the women in the nail salon thought I was just flipping through a magazine. When the first of my friends actually noticed what I was doing she teasingly said, "Ali, are you reading a comic?" There was some freindly razzing, but I ended up handing the Power Girl trade to one of my friends for her to look through while we were sitting in the chairs. And when it come up again at the rehearsal dinner, it ended up sparking a fun conversation about superheros among a good portion of the bridal party.

And, for me, that was the point of Read Comics in Public Day. To take this typically solitary activity and make it social. To spread the love and get someone who wouldn't normally even think about a comic book to pick it up and read it. To celebrate comics and bond with the people who love them as much as I do.


Ali Colluccio spends way too much of her time on trains reading comics. She spends even more time on Twitter.


  1. I was at fanexpo in toronto this weekend, so i was surrounded by comics, comic characters and just plain ol crazy characters. I got to wear comic shirts in public, though it is something i do now and again. I can’t remeber if i read anything out side the convention; i did actually grab Essex County after talking to Jeff Lemaire for a few minutes, he essentially sold me on buying it, so i may have read that outside. I know on Sundai did read my new essential Aquaman 1 away from the convention while i ate a dog. that was fun cause it ws old school, and it was orange.

  2. awesome article!! I use to read comics in my college classes before lecture started. People are like the "wtf are you reading?" So i decided to stop…

  3. I wouldn’t mind reading in public but I have to be in total silence when I read…

  4. I was at Baltimore con for the weekend, so while I was surrounded by fellow comics fans and others reading, I never had time to slow down. Finding time to sit down and take a breather was a challenge sometimes. I made up for it this morning by reading Jersey Gods on the commute in. But I do know what Ali means about NSFPT reading materials. I don’t know about comics, but I know there are a few manga that I’ve left at home for precisely that reason.

  5. I love it when a fellow bus rider sees me reading comics and then asks what’s good these days or about the status quo on books they loved back when they were regular readers (the story is always either that the recession or a girlfriend/wife forced them out of comics…).  Sometimes the conversation ends with their taking down a list of books I recommend, especially once I inform them that the Seattle library system has a massive collection of trade paperbacks.

    Sad though that almost never is the conversation with someone who still actively reads comics.

  6. Great article!  I read comics and trades on my way back and forth to work all the time.  While I’ve never had anyone negatively react to it, I have certainly had strangers turn to me and begin squeeing about Scott Pilgrim or Green Lantern, or whatever book it is that I’m reading.  One guy spent the entire duration of my bus trip talking to me about Daredevil until it was time for me to get off the bus.  When he also got off the bus, we discovered we were neighbors, and we started trading trades back and forth.  He is now my roommate, and we have five giant file cabinets of comics plus a (classified) number of bookshelves filled with trades. 


    Our upstairs neighbor saw me reading Scalped on our front porch last month, and was pleasantly shocked to find out that there were non-superhero comics.  He hadn’t known.  Now he’s gone through all my Scalped, DMZ, Ex Machina, Walking Dead, and Preacher trades.  He’s now totally addicted to, and excited about comics.

    As long as you read your comics in public as though reading comics in public was a common occurence (so, you know, don’t be obnoxious about it), it’s a great conversation starter for people who already love comics, or for people who didn’t know they loved comics.

    As for the holiday, I turned it into Make People Cry In Public Day.  I sold three copies of I Kill Giants, two Essex Countys and one copy each of We3 and Pride of Baghdad to customers who said they wanted to buy a trade to celebrate the day.

  7. If I ever left my cave I’d read in public.

  8. Had I known, I would have read in public. I’ll keep an eye out for it next year.

    @gobo, if you left your cave, you could read comics at Wendy’s.

  9. I think reading comics in public is great. I read comics all the time on the train going to work, home or anywhere I am going.

    There are times when you wonder if other people are checking out what you’re seeing. I had the same and somewhat embarrasing experience with Buffy #34 as well. There’s been a few Apollo/Midnighter shock moments and especially if I am reading The Boys, which I now read at home. Just recently I had a woman sitting next to me, while I was reading Invincible (vol 12) when Invincible has that really big fight with Conquest. I heard her go "oh my god that’s bloody" when she sees the huge and largely detailed spreads that were there.

    I also find that I get into conversations with other readers, whom also read the same titles, which is pretty awesome. That I find is the greatest thing about reading comics in public — connecting to other readers of the title.  

    On the flip side, reading them can get dangerous. A little kid took a book right out of my hands while I was reading it. His mother gave it back to me and apologized for it. She tried to give me the money back for it, but when I told her the book was $2.99 her jaw dropped. 

  10. @intergy Damn youse!!! I will get that Wendy’s mayorship back.

  11. I had a nice discussion with a fellow bar fly a couple of weeks ago when I was having dinner.  I was reading The Hunter and he had some Avengers stuff.

  12. Great Article, I wish I had known that there was actually an event revolving around reading comics in public on saturday. It would have been nice given that I was at the DMV…..the hot sweaty DMV….Man my all star superman trades would have made that bearable

  13. The Hardcover Wednesday Comics should also be listed as NSFPT, not because of embaressment but because of actual danger on public transit. 

    I really don’t have a problem reading comics in public, but I do have a tendancy to remove a slip cover if possible.

  14. I can’t get my Wednesday Comics book out the door.

  15. You should just use it AS your door.

  16. Once reading comics on the bus three drunk women got on and one started on me with the "aren’t you a bit old for that" chat.

    I replied aren’t you a bit old for that top?

    Felt a bit bad about it afterwards.

  17. If I have a long car ride or flight, I always bring a couple of trades (or buy a couple if I don’t have any waiting) to read on the trip.  When I was in college, I would walk the two blocks from campus to the comic book store and would read them on the quad.  I’ve never had a problem reading them in public and I have never had any problems with it.

  18. @MiniB – you should have been meaner. Well played.

  19. I read Preacher on the NYC subway about a month ago, and found myself shielding my fellow riders from some of the panels!

    WUK tha SHaff!

  20. @Josh I had to take my door of the hinges, now I use it as a coffee table

  21. I store 3 classic cars under my copy. And a pool.

  22. This one time I was reading "Lost Girls" in church…

  23. Not long ago I busted out a Transmetropolitan trade at a garage waiting room while having my car worked on.  I will never forget the look of this sweet old ladies face when she looked over and saw some  definite NSFP panels.

  24. I heard one time Ali was on the train in New Jersey and this guy came up to her and started talking to her about comics, and later she realized it was  Bruce Springsteen.

    I probably got that wrong.  Why would he be on public transportation?

    What I mean to say is *great article*!  You are a wonderful ambassador for comics.  And weirdly enough, I was at a con all day Saturday but I’m not sure I accomplished reading comics in public.  I read the program and there were about 5 minutes when I was looking through my friend’s manga trades at California Tortilla, while wearing an Iron Man T-shirt, so I hope that counts. 

  25. I don’t catch much public transport so that might be why I’ve never seen anyone reading comics around here. My town doesn’t have much of a comic culture either so I dare say what readers there are spend most of their time indoors. Much like I do.

    The last time I saw someone readings comics in public was when I went to San Deigo Comic-Con in 2009. I need to move to America.

  26. Great stories.

    The only time I had a negative (kinda) experience with comics in public was on one of my BART rides home from Wondercon. It actually wasn’t even comic related. I sat in a seat and a bodybuilder looking guy sat diagonally across from me (and irritatingly put his feet up on the chair adjacent to me). As I was pulling out my copy of 20th Century Ghosts (Joe Hill’s short story collection), he sneered "Ugh geeks" (I probably wasn’t the only one with my Wondercon badge in the train car) and moved away. I was kinda relieved I didn’t have to sit with that guy. He ended up sitting next to a crazy lady. After he left, she had a bit of a breakdown.

    Otherwise, all positive. 

    I do get kind of embarrassed about comics with older people though. I need to stop doing that. But that’s a problem with me, not them.

  27. The classic jock/nerd dynamic actually happens in real life?

    If I was sitting next to you, I would of thought, "Man, that guy is cool."

    Just remember that everyone who rides public transportation is crazy anyway and the things they say won’t affect you. At least they all crazy in L.A.

  28. C’mon Mr. Neseman, where are you? After your Crap of the Week rant on ABC this week we need to hear from you… aw, just kiddin’.

    Nice article. Me, on Saturday I read some Aw[some/ful] late-era Kirby comics (Captain Victory, 12.5 cents each at Half-Price books) at a Caribou Coffee in Columbus whilst consuming a caramel cappuccino. I’d like to think I was paying homage to the alteration-infused mighty Marvel era by that, but it was in all honesty a copacetic coincidence. Go comics!

    PS @akamu Every one of those books makes – not made, makes – me cry. I’m getting teary right now just thinking about, well, any of them. You bastard, making us weep like children. *Sob*

  29. @Josh I got a bulk discount and am using my copies to erect a tent city in a local park to aid the homeless

  30. Great article!

    I read comics in public constantly (though I actually didn’t on Saturday, because I was feeling under the weather and didn’t want to try to navigate the weekend schedule of a new city’s public transit system to get away from my isolated apartment complex).  But I know what you mean about some things not being safe for public consumption.  The first issue of Captain America: Forever Allies, for instance, did a great job of dismantling and criticizing golden age racial caricatures, but to do so it printed some of those caricatures.  Without the contest of the words, I knew others who saw the book would be (rightfully) offended, and I kept closing the book every time someone passed me in the pizza parlor where I was reading it.

  31. A few months ago I was sitting in a doctor’s surgery waiting room (I’m fine) and a woman sat nearby and started reading a Sandman trade.  Made my day.

  32. my new strategy for reading comics in public is to bring along a copy of watchmen so if someone tells me that I am to old to be reading my amazing spider-man trade, I pull out watchmen and open to something with rorschach. If they then tell me that what I am reading is awfully violent and that I am a worse person for reading it, then I switch back to spider-man. I want to see how many times this repeats before the person gives up.


  33. I read comics on NYC subway practically every day to/from work. heck I read comics today in public at poolside