Simple Comics as Objects of Desire

shoesI like comic books more than beautiful shoes, more than amazing toys, more than well-designed furniture, more than drinking champagne, more than fancy restaurants, more than almost anything else non-essential that money can buy. I wouldn’t have thought this to be true, but when it came down to the crunch it proved to be the case.

A few years ago there was a little bit of a blip in the economy, (kind of like a little precursor to what’s happening now), and there wasn’t a whole lot of work around. Not so long after that, my body decided it hated me and let me know by causing me insane amounts of pain. Suddenly I couldn’t work for a year, I couldn’t even sit up for long enough to do anything interesting on the computer. I was too knocked out by pain and pain meds to focus on books, or friends, or pretty much anything. Despite the exhaustion of the pain, after a few weeks the boredom really started to make me crazy. This is where the comics came in. Even if I couldn’t handle anything else, I could lie in bed and read comic books, immerse myself in a world other than the crappy one I was stuck in. Escapism was an essential part of staying sane and comics were the best route to that.

parkWithout an income and the expense of fabulous therapies that doctors recommended, (but health insurance didn’t cover — thanks), I had no leftover cash to spend on extras. When I say “extras”, I don’t mean caviar, I mean no clothes, no cafes, no burgers, no beers, no nothing. It sounds weird that comics would be the one thing I’d keep going with, but if you think about it logically, it makes sense. Out of all of those things, comics are the only ones that entertained me. Clothes don’t really matter if you aren’t working or going out to anywhere much, and when I was finally out of bed and desperate for a change I found a few clothing-swaps to unload stuff I hated in exchange for stuff my friend’s hated. Cutting out drinking tea in local cafe’s was annoying, but surprisingly easy since I live in San Francisco where the weather is usually nice. I’d make a cup of tea in a travel mug, make a sandwich, and take them to the top of Buena Vista Park. Okay, so we’ve got the basics covered, but while sitting in the park in my second-hand jeans, sipping my tea, what the hell do I do? Read a comic. See, it’s the only part of the equation that I couldn’t replace — comics.

Maybe it’s because I started out my career as a print designer, or because I grew up in a house filled with books and art magazines, but all I know is that there are few things nicer than reading for hours. This is why I’ll never care about reading a comic on a screen, it holds no appeal to me. I like the feel of paper and I like the smell of paper. When I was sick, reading comics was a real saviour in many ways.

teaIt wasn’t just a passive entertainment either. As I made my slow recovery, attempting to build up my strength, the first regular errand I managed was a walk to the comic shop once every couple of weeks. I knew that I could afford to buy one comic a week and then I could sit in a park on the way home to read my bounty. It sound like a meagre existence, but after a year stuck indoors, with my strength slowly returning to me, it was all I could handle and I loved it. For $3 or $4 I got a nice little walk, some good conversation at the store, something great to read, and another small addition to my library of good reading material. That’s hours of entertainment. It was the beginning of a return to the world outside my sick bed and I was grateful. Don’t get me wrong, it was still a stretch to afford my comics. By the end of it, I had to cut it right down to Love and Rockets and Hellblazer, and briefly I cut it down to just Love and Rockets (which hardly ever came out). But still, I could go and indulge myself in this very small way and it gave me so much back in terms of feeling that I still had something to look forward to.

Thankfully, now this is all a clammy memory, and the hard work towards a healthy life is paying off, but I cannot fathom people balking at paying for comics. I love that it’s not a struggle for me to afford them anymore, but even when it was, I fought to keep going. From my point of view they are cheap, we aren’t just talking about information here, we’re talking about an object of desire. To take a comic and distill it simply to its visual input seems like only half of the object. To me, owning a digital file of a comic instead of the comic book itself, is akin to rejecting a trip to Hawaii because it’d take too much time and effort. If it’s a trip to Hawaii, then I want it to take time! Similarly, if I like the comics, I want them to take up space in my house, I want to own them, I want to touch them, because I want the object just as much as I want the information.

toysObviously now I’m an employed adult and I can afford luxuries like comics, so this might seem like an easy choice to make. But as I said above, even when I couldn’t afford it, I simply bought much less. The alternative of reading them online is not an alternative, but a flaccid and unsatisfying disappointment. Even now, people send me pdfs of comics, and I try looking at them, but none of the fun is there. I need to be able to stuff my comic books my handbag and read them on the bus to terrify old ladies. I want to take them to bed so that when I wake up too early on Saturday, I can lie there reading till midday. I want to stash them on my shelves in alphabetical order so that I can yank them out at a moments notice and leave them around the house to read over and over again. I want to lend them out to my friends in huge piles so that I can blow their minds.

What can I say? I’m in love with the medium as well as the message. It’s magic and it’s worth every penny to me.


Sonia Harris is incredibly healthy and solvent. Most days she remembers how damn lucky she is to be walking around, but the rest of the time she’s incredibly cranky just like everyone else. If you want to remind her of the beauty of everyday existence, you can mail her at


  1. Well, this makes a nice compliment to Conor’s article (which I’m a bit afraid to jump in and comment on at this point).I will always have comics in my life. Whether its one or fifty-one will depend upon my financial status. But i’m always gonna need that form of entertainment I crave so much.

    Interesting note about comics as objects at the end. I’ve toyed with the idea of moving to a digital format for some stories. There’s simply "pulp" entertainment that I do just read for the thrill and don’t need to relive it again. The equivalent of certain TV shows, I guess. I don’t buy the DVD set of every show I watch. However, if I really love the show, it’s likely I might buy the series on DVD just to own it and to watch it again.

    Same with comics. I wouldn’t mind have some disposable issues. There are a few books out there that are fun, but are not something I need to own. On the flipside, I own the first three volumes of Absolute Sandman… that adds up. And I’ve already read the series; I own all the individual issues. But in this case, those volumes are a precious objet d’art. They are something I want to display, I want others to see, I want to own because of what they mean to me.

  2. Fantastic article as always, Sonia. You summed up pretty much everything I feel about books vs digital. Digital comics seem soulless and give me headaches. Real books give such a satisfying reading experience nothing will take their place for me.

    Loved that comment about shoving books in your handbag. I don’t own a handbag, obviously (or maybe not obviously) but I always have a record bag with me and it’s nearly always full of different trades and issues.

    This may be my favourite piece you’ve written yet, really uplifting despite being about a time that sounded terrible. Glad you’re back to full strength now.

  3. Well done, and well timed!

    Always with the paper smell. People: just say no to the fetishizing of the paper smell! Buy some old paper and keep it by your computer. You can have my copies of Web of Spider-Man to hold and sniff.

    I love my *old* comics just as you describe them, but in this day and age I have become acutely aware of waste. So much paper; so much space….

  4. Hellblazer would make my cut as well, if I had to whittle the list down to a handful of comics.  

    But to be honest, comics fall just below stilettos in my hierarchy.  Even if I do wobble in them.   

  5. A nice "complement," dammit… I meant "complement." Why can’t we edit these comments? It’s seriously bothering me now.

    Also: Paul can’t pull off the stilletos nearly as well as he thinks he can.

  6. Excellent article Sonia. I agree with you (and Dave) that it comes down to the simple fact that these things will always be a part of my life because they make me happy.


    Yes, entertainment is an industry, but I can decide what I’m going to invest in and to what level. Yes, economics always enters into it, but it’s always my won personal economics. I make a decision on what I see in a theater and what I watch at home. I decide what books I’ll buy in the pretty hardcover edition, what I’ll get in paperback and what I get from the library. Sometimes I buy the entire album the day it comes out and sometimes I just buy the catchy single.


    I’m never going to stop buying these things because the art in my life, whatever form it takes, is incredibly important to me.

  7. What if each issue cost 800 dollars?  

  8. great article, Sonia–a great time to reflect, in the light of other articles that have come out this week, on what comics mean to all us and what "cost" really means.  When I look at the Absolute editions that I have, I realize that I bought them almost out of respect for what the books mean to me, to have an edition that will be the best expression of the story and the art–the concept of "needing" the book didn’t play into it at all. I invested in the Absolute "New Frontier" because I want to have that book around for the rest of my life, in a way. 

    I gotta run to work, but I just wanted to say something!


  9. I can completely relate to your desire for the physical object associated with whatever medium you’re enjoying. For me, digital music files will NEVER replace my collection of CDs and vinyl…aside from the liner notes and artwork, the sound quality is far superior, even if most people (including me) can’t tell the difference on their iPod headphones. There’s something magical about putting on a CD or record on a decent home stereo and really listening to the music intently, rather than as a background accompaniment to whatever else you’re doing. It’s something that I don’t get to do as much these days, but I still treasure the ability to do so whenever I want.

  10. Can I have your Dinosaur Neil figure?

  11. @paul — if the market ever got to a point where someone could charge $800 for a comic book, I really wouldn’t have to worry because I’d be making $100,000,000,000 a year at that point. Sure, I might have to sacrifice a couple items on my pull list, but those $500 postage stamps aren’t gonna pay for themselves, y’know?

  12. I’m the same way.

    But, when I started reading comics (about a million years ago), they were a quarter. The first price hike was to thirty-five cents – so I bought fewer. Then fewer and fewer at fifty and sixty cents. I’ve been juggling what I like to read versus what I can afford to read ever since. There was a time when I did the same thing – I only picked up one or two books. Now, I don’t even think about looking at the covers of something like Secret Invasion or Civil War or Final Crisis. Trinity is really a strain. But I’m pluggin’ away…

    I have a feeling pretty soon that I’ll be back down to Ultimate Spider-Man and Green Lantern. For how long – who knows. I have some back issue gaps I’d love to fill. I might start doing that… 

  13. Great article!  I really enjoyed how you distilled the priorities down to their essence when forced to make choices.  I respect what you are saying but I can’t totally agree with the sentiment.  I have no problem reading comics digitally so long as they become as portable as the real thing.  I do understand the feeling of having the actual comic in your hand but I think the story itself has to have meaning as well.  If the comic is only so-so then I won’t want to read it again no matter what the format.  At least with the digital I won’t be wasting resources on something that to me has no value.  I would read the digital and then if I really like what I read, I would go buy the trade.  Sorry Jimski but it isn’t the same but I think there is a happy medium where we can be choosier on what we use paper for if that makes sense.

  14. While I disagree on the digital aspect (Full Discosure I practically grew up in libraries, but my brother also taught me BASIC on my commodore 64 when I was a wee bitty.  So… You know…) I completely agree with the rest of the sentiment.  I’m in the sort of desperate money stage at the moment myself.  Comics are one "luxury" I consistently cling to.  Some weeks I spend more on my books then I do on groceries.  We’ll make money for what we love.

    Then again I’m the only person I know who thinks we don’t pay enough for music…

  15. I think that’s horrible that you were in pain for so long. I’m glad you made it out of that mess.

  16. Sonia, thank you for this wonderful and personally very meaningful article.  I can relate to it in a number of ways.  I became seriously ill in late 2001 and my doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong.  It wasn’t until a year later that I finally received a diagnosis from a physician at Johns-Hopkins that I was suffering from a type of autoimmune disorder with no known cause or cure.  The best they could do was treat my symptoms and hope I would improve.  I didn’t.  I had to go on health leave from my job in June 2004.  Fortunately, I had great disability insurance.  But even though I and my family were okay financially, I was far from okay personally.  My illness made even the smallest of tasks difficult.  And no longer working at the job I loved, I was lost.  Feeling like crap physically, I soon fell into the deep funk of depression.  One of the things that frustrated me most was my difficulty in reading.  Before my illness, I regularly read 2 or 3 novels/books per week – often more.  I just no longer had the mental concentration to read any thing that was very long.  One day, out of sheer boredom, I dug out my comic book collection from the late 1960s-1970s.  These are among my most treasured possessions.  The texture and smell of these books evokes so many good memories from when I was a child.  They bring back to me memories when the world seemed more wonderous and innocent.  Most of these Silver and Bronze Age comics I bought when I went on errands with my mom or dad and they would succumb to my begging and allow me to get one or three to take home.  Others of them come from my older cousin who culled from his amazing collection and gave me to me.  They were in pristine condition.  He really knew how to take care of his comics, and in the process taught me the same.  As I pulled out the long boxes of these comics, I began to finger through them to remember what issues I had.  Cover after cover, these beloved comics were recalled by my memory.  It was like visiting with old friends too long neglected.  After purusing my collection, I picked out a handful and decided to read them again.  When I returned to my office, where I spend most of my days in my Lazyboy chair, I began to read – READ!!! – I could actually concentrate enough to read these comics.  This was my epiphany and re-awakening to comics as an adult.  I couldn’t believe how much I enjoyed reading them.

    Once I realized that here was a medium that I could actually read and enjoy, my next step was to visit a LCS.  There was one about 3 miles from my house.  I had passed by Dave’s Comics any number of times, but had never gone in.  When I finally did, I was kind of embarrassed.  What’s a guy in his early 40s doing in a comic shop?  Whatever apprehensions I had about going in where soon dispelled by the warm greeting I received by the store manager, Marlon, someone who would become a dear friend of mine.  He asked if there was anything he could do to help me.  In short, I told him that I read comics in the 1960s & 1970s, but hadn’t read anything since then.  I asked him as someone returning to comics how could I get caught up on some of the major events that had occured since the 1970s.  He then in turn showed me the section of the store where he kept graphic novels and trades.  He explained what these were and proceeded to recommend a number of key books that might be of interest.  So for the next few months, I voraciously read dozens of graphic novels and trades.  The more I read, the more I wanted to read.  Finally, the moment came when I felt confident enough to start reading monthlies.  I had intially worried that I would be lost in the storylines of the monthlies, but I shouldn’t have.  I dove right in and started enjoying these single issues.  At first, I collected only DC, but my interest soon expanded to Marvel also, and eventually (because of iFanboy) to Dark Horse, Image and others.  I started out buying 4-5 issues a week and soon was buying more – way more.  But I justified the expense by telling myself that – beyond TV (bleech!) – this was my only form of entertainment.  When the rest of my life was feeling pretty bleak, comics became the bright spot.  Wednesday became my new high holy day of the week.  I lived for Wednesdays.  Though I had stopped driving for the most part, I could manage to get myslef to Dave’s Comics each week.  Both Marlon and Dave have become close friends and invaluable advisors in making recommendations.  I also soon realized that my age didn’t matter.  There were lots and lots of readers in their 30s and 40s (and beyond) who were still in to comics.  I got to know some guys my age who were also comic geeks like me.  We’ve spent many hours sharing our passion for comics.

    Comics have been an essential part of my healing process.  Though I still suffer from my illness and have been unable to return to work yet, comics have filled an hole in my life that has lifted it’s quality.  I am a happier and better man having rediscovered and embraced comics.  Thanks for letting me share.

  17. @isteve: Thank you for sharing your experience, it resonates so much with me, and I’m so happy that you rediscovered comics. I had a very similar experience in that the problem had connections to my immune system too (in the end, many diseases stem from that) and things only started to get better when I started doing as much of my own research as possible to 1) find out what was wrong, 2) find out the best treatment, and 3) get the right help.

    Over the years my recovery involved changing every aspect of my life, from diet to sleep to friendships… it all had to change. It was a struggle, but it’s been fantastic and now I find that I’m actually glad that I was forced to do such radical work on myself (even if it was hard). My disease gave me the impetus to change and grow and I’m a much happier, stronger person because of it.

    I hope that your healing process can give you such gifts, and I send you many wishes for a speedy and extensive recovery.

  18. It’s all about getting some enjoyment out of this mundane (and often trying) thing called life, whether that’s reading a comic in the park or buying the latest, greatest flatscreen TV, or playing touch football with some friends. Anything that makes you feel better, no matter what your given situation is, is well worth it.

    That being said, I think I’d have to drop a couple books if it became comics vs. booze. Escape is fun, but numbness is even better. 

  19. @iSteve – What a fantastic story, thank you for that. I’m really glad things are getting better for you. Yet another example of a wonderful community we have here. 🙂

  20. @dan: but you can’t enjoy alcohol more than once. In fact, experiencing alcohol twice is a bad thing.

  21. Alcohol wins.

  22. No way!  A Dinosaur Neil action figure!  Spoon!!

    Nice article Sonia.  While my relationship with comics has been spotty, I’ve made a full commitment to them now, and I’ve never been happier.

    BTW, I want that The Dark Knight Returns poster like…yesterday. 

  23. Once again Sonia, wonderful article! Hear hear! I’ve long maintained that if I were forced to give up all but one of my expensive habits, smoking and drinking are easily cut. Buying, reading, and collecting comics on the other hand, I could not imagine life without. Just don’t make me choose between my comics and my dog.

  24. I am also a good reader and in my childhood i read the comic of many comic hero like spider-man, superman etc. I appreciated such type of interesting and true life interests. Thanks for sharing this nice stuff.

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