Stack Week, Part One: The Shaming

This week, the team at iFanboy pauses to take a long, hard look at the books that have somehow accumulated around them again. Welcome to Stack Week: like Shark Week, but with much, much less movement.


I have a stack of graphic novels, which I have nicknamed the Monument to Failure. The Monument resides on a shelf under my coffee table in the living room. This means that my Stack is literally between me and the television, the noisy time burglar that keeps the Monument so tall. Occasionally, I rest my feet on it while I watch TV. But I glance down at it constantly, guiltily; it is inescapable. Some nights I can almost hear it mocking me like the Telltale Heart. “Sure, you could be reading right now and doing something with your mind, but no. Go ahead, Shakespeare: squeeze in another three episodes of Iron Chef. Nothing is more intellectually enriching than watching the preparation of food you don’t get to eat. Oh, whatever will Morimoto do with all those natto beans?”

Everyone who reads comics — hell, anyone who reads — has a Stack like this somewhere. Though not all of them are as sarcastic as the Monument to Failure, they sit on nightstands, desks and end tables all over this country, silently rebuking us for buying them only to let the dust collect. Why do we keep buying these books and letting the Stacks stack? It doesn’t seem to make any sense… but there is a dirty little secret behind the Stack, at least behind mine, and it is time I came clean about how the Monument was erected.

Listen: I want to try new things. Absolutely. I trust the recommendations of the smart people who run and visit this site. No question. I want to take at least a 3/4th-hearted stab at being well-rounded. Man cannot live on web shooters and adamantium claws alone. I “want” to read these books…

…but come on. If I wanted to read them, they’d be read already, wouldn’t they?

The truth is, you don’t leave books on the Stack because you “just don’t have any time” or “work has been crazy lately.” You’ve bought plenty of stuff since you bought the book at the bottom of that pile, stuff that got read the very day you brought it home. I know I have. There are weeks when I’ll buy ten comics and a trade paperback and have them all in the “done” pile by Thursday morning. So why do those books get finished while the Monument to Failure continues to grow like the nerdiest game of Jenga ever? The answers lie with the books themselves. Let’s see what I’ve got awaiting me:

Fables: Sons of the Empire

Why I Bought It In The First Place: I read Fables in issues from roughly #36 to #50 before deciding I was going about this all wrong. I knew who the Adversary was before I knew that was something that was supposed to be a big deal. So I went back to the beginning and filled in all the gaps. Now, here we are; things are about to heat up in Fable Town.

Why I Still Haven’t Read It: It’s weird… Fables is a book that I “like,” and then the minute I put it down I forget all about it. Less Harry Potter book; more Narnia movie. “Hey… Fables. Yeah. I am totally going to eventually read that.” Volume Two sat atop the Monument for roughly 17 years.

Ultimate Marvel Team-Up: Ultimate Collection

Why I Bought It: Fond memories. I’ve actually read it before, in issue form (16 issues of Ultimate Marvel Team-Up, plus the Ultimate Spider-Man Super Special where they unceremoniously announced its cancellation). This book was yet another gem from the recently gushed-upon Nu Marvel era, one that was frequently forgotten until it was referenced in the opening pages of Ultimate Origins #1. In each issue, Brian Michael Bendis’ Ultimate Spider-Man teams up with a new Ultimate hero while Bendis himself teams up with a new art collaborator, usually someone you never see doing books like this (Phil Hester, Matt Wagner, Terry Moore, and especially Jim Mahfood are just a few who come to mind). The Ultimate Universe was still in its incubator, so continuity is a non-issue; it’s all simple, beautiful, self-contained goodness.

Why I Still Haven’t Read It: I got about halfway through it when the wide variety of art and story styles made my fun circuits start shutting down. You almost never hear this, but maybe this was actually better to read in issues; no man was meant to go from Mike Allred to Bill Sienkiewicz to Jim Mahfood in one unbroken story. Besides, I’ve already read it; the need to finish is less pressing than it would be otherwise.

Fear Agent, Vol. Two: My War

Why I Bought It: As is often the case with books like this, iFanboy collectively harangued me into buying volume one. I knew nothing about it, but everyone swore it was good, and (again, as is often the case) everyone was right. I couldn’t believe the cliffhanger that ended volume one; I couldn’t wait to find out what happened next; I waited to find out what happens next for six months and counting.

Why I Still Haven’t Read It: Fear Agent — in fact, every book in this stack — suffers from event-book blowback. Plain and simple. In the course of my daily life, knowing the people I know and visiting the sites I visit, it is incredibly unlikely that someone is going to stroll by and ruin the ending to Fear Agent, Vol. Two. When it comes to Big-Two superhero books, though, you’ve gotta be on the ball; wait more than a day or two to read your summer event book, and before you know it the Shyamalanian shocker at the end of Crisis Upon Crisis comes tumbling out of some clown’s mouth at the comics shop and wrecks everything. Hell, at least twice in the last two years Marvel has issued spoiler press releases before the comics shops were even open that day, thoughtfully ensuring that the only people genuinely interested in the stories would not enjoy them. When even the company wants to spoil you, you can’t afford to dawdle. Everything else gets the ol’ back burner. Apologies, Mr. Remender.

DC: The New Frontier

Why I Bought It: If you look at anything else I’ve written on this site, you’ll notice that I have never mentioned a DC book. That is no accident; the number of DC books I buy regularly, which once rose as high as three titles a month, is currently resting comfortably at zero. We’ll go into that another day. The point is, this seems like a character flaw, and I’d love to fix it. Everything I hear tells me this is the book that will make me give a damn about Lanterns of various colors while also making me an acolyte in the Church of Cooke. I want to believe, Darwyn! I want to see the light!

Why I Still Haven’t Read It: Meh. Flashes and Wonder Women and what-have-you. Power rings. I’ll get to it.

To add insult to injury: preparing to write this article, I only just now discovered that I have not, in fact, bought DC: The New Frontier. I have bought DC: The New Frontier, Vol. One, and as such have only half of the story. Discovering this pisses me off beyond the telling of it, though I now understand how I got such a good deal. Thank God I realized this before I got to the last page of the book itself, at which point I would have let out one of those bellows that makes the birds fly away in movies. This book just got demoted to the bottom of the pile until I sort things out.

Truth, Justin, and the American Way

Why I Bought It: Scott Kurtz of the decade-strong PvP webcomic teamed with another artist to tell a semi-wacky retro eighties tale about a schlub who accidentally gets an alien super suit from the KGB and has to fend off enemies foreign and domestic. I have never heard anyone other than the author mention the existence of this book. That, combined with the cartoony-looking art and the premise, made it irresistible to me; it seemed like an antidote to everything else I was reading.

Why I Still Haven’t Read It: At the moment, I like everything else I am reading. No antidote is currently required. Nice to have this in the medicine cabinet, though!

Penny Arcade, Vol. 5: The Case Of The Mummy’s Gold

Why I Bought It: I love Penny Arcade and never miss it. I can’t really explain why; it’s primarily a comic strip about video gaming, and there are games in my house I got for my wedding three years ago that I’ve never played. (I’ve been too busy not reading comics). Maybe they remind me of my friends; maybe I just appreciate their dark sense of humor and way with words. Whatever the reason, any time they release a collection of their strips (which they apparently did this week) I buy it.

Why I Still Haven’t Read It: Dude, cut me some slack. I just found out it existed Saturday. Technically, my reason is “because I am writing this right now.”

Queen & Country: The Definitive Edition, Vol. One

Why I Bought It: Another iFanboy harangue, but I held out for a long time before buying this one. “I see: a spy book featuring nondescript illustrations of men in suits. In black and white. Ooh, and a new issue comes out once every three years? I don’t know… still sounds like I’d stand a chance of following it. Is it possible I could get it in Portugese, or with the pages printed out of order?” Then came the invaluable Book of the Month video podcast. Once I saw what the interiors of the book looked like, once Conor virtually held it in front of my face and showed me how hefty it was and how many pages of story I’d be getting, I had to admit to myself that I was close-minded and just buy the damn thing.

Why I Still Haven’t Read It: My God, have you seen the size of that thing? It’ll take me forever to finish that.

(Remember, kids: hypocrisy as a joke is still hypocrisy.)

Doctor Strange: The Oath.

Why I Bought It: I wanted to read this series by perennial favorite Brian K. Vaughan and recent iFanboy darling Marcos Martin from day one, but something had soured me on miniseries at a crucial moment. Maybe it was Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk; maybe it was something Mark Millar had his hands in. Whatever the reason, #1 of this mini came out and I said “Bah! I’ll get it in trade when it’s finished.”

Why I Still Haven’t Read It: I… don’t know. Spell? Evil spell?

The Walking Dead Hardcovers 2 and 3.

Why I Bought It: I liked the simple yet rarely-if-ever-explored premise. (Okay, the good guys survive at the end of the zombie movie… and then what? They still live on Planet Zombie and have to make lives for themselves.) I liked Robert Kirkman. I like a nice collection I can sink my teeth into like so many delicious brains. I liked volume one. Win-win-win-win!

Why I Still Haven’t Read It: Zombies just bug the living hell out of me. They were designed to be creepy, and in my case they were designed very, very effectively. I do have to sleep some nights. Plus, the excellent artist Tony Moore disappeared halfway through volume one, and I’m under the impression he’s not coming back. Knowing that is not a motivator.

Captain America: The Complete Comic Collection.

Why I Bought It: Ohhh, this one hurts. At the top of my stack is a DVD which holds PDFs of over 500 Captain America comics, basically everything from his 1960s thaw to his death. Every cover! Every ad! Every letter column and horribly reproduced piece of art!

I am not one of these people who hates reading his comics on a computer screen; I love it. I love having 500 issues for $30 sitting in my lap; just rotate the PDF clockwise, turn your laptop sideways, and be prepared for your wife to constantly look at you like a lunatic. I had plenty of practice. This was an item I simply could not pass up.

Why I Still Haven’t Read It: Is that supposed to be a joke? Five hundred comics.

Oh, and P.S.: Because they didn’t come with nice cases like the Cap collection did, my Cap case also contains previously purchased DVDs of 40 years of Avengers comics, 40 years of Fantastic Four comics, and 40 years of the Uncanny X-Men. Sometimes I think about this and picture myself as a bedridden 87-year-old man, my grandchildren coming to say goodbye to me for the last time as my eyes never leave a monitor at the bedside. “Just… fourteen more… ‘Stan’s Soapboxes’ to go…!” Even if I read everything else, my pile is going to be Monumental for quite some time.

 


Jim Mroczkowski does not even want to think about how many more books are on his Amazon Wish List. He can be reached at jim@ifanboy.com or Jimski.com, which sometimes he even updates.

Comments

  1. I also have the unread stack piling up in my room, but my stack is for a different reason.  I stopped reading comics in the 90’s and only recently got back into them.  I’ve found a resale book store and an antique store near me that sells back issues for $1 so I’ve been buying them up.  Only problem is that when I get them, I’m missing parts (such as I only get parts 3 and 4 of a 4 part series)… so my stack piles up till I can find the missing parts.  Its either that or I just read them and make up what I think happened in the missing parts… hey… I have a pretty good imagination. 

    As for your problem Jim… I’d read those Walking Dead books.  They’re such a great series.  If you have a problem with the zombies, just read those books with a hatchet near by.

  2. One more thing about the Stack. If you push through and read everything like a pulpified maniac, chances are your enjoyment and appreciation of the work is going to suffer. I still haven’t finished reading Criminal: Lawless, but I went back and started re-reading Coward (after I found it stuffed in the back of my kids’ bookshelf (I am still pondering over that one), and it is just so damn good. Sometimes you just have to follow the natural ebb and flow of entertainment consumption.

     One question Jimski, what do mean by "every horribly reproduced piece of art" on the Captain America DVD? Is it not a quality scan?

  3. @patio: while thorough, these DVDs appear to have been scanned from whatever copy of each issue they could manage to get their hands on, which means you see the limitations of 1960s printing right down to the occasional coloring error or ink bleed-through from the opposing page. You’re having the same experience you’d have if you bought that issue at a flea market; I imagine reading the same issue as scanned for Marvel’s Digital Comics thingamajig would be strikingly different.

  4. Nice to know I’mnot the only one turning my laptop sideways. In fact, I’m thinking about buying a tablet PC to do this more effectively. 

  5. Get those Walking Dead books read, is all I can say about those.  Getting caught up on that series is a must! 

    Just finished reading Fear Agent Vol. 2.  Such a good read.

    Got two thirds through Q&C Definitive Vol. 1… that was a month ago. 

    Bought New Frontier Absolute Edition when the DVD came out.  Gotta hide it from the wife, so that’s my excuse for only being 1/3 the way through that!

    Others on my stack of shame:

    Fables Vol. 3-10

    Hellboy Library Edition Vol. 1 (granted I just got this last week)

    Preacher Vol. 2 ‘n’ 3 (had Vol. 3 before 2.  Just got 2 a couple weeks ago).

    Captain America Omnibus Vol. 1 (read the series as it came out, so not too bad)

    Daredevil Frank Miller Omnibus and Companion (Christmas present.  So hard getting past the non-Miller penned issues.  Shame).

    Uncanny X-Men Omnibus (gift along with the DD Omni.  DD comes first!)

    FF Omnibus Vol. 1 ‘n’ 2 (these are more a pick up when they strike my fancy)

    Daredevil HC’s (Bendis.  Again, read as the series came out). 

    Those are pretty much my worst offenders.  Moving to Japan soon too, so I won’t be reading a large chunk of all that for a year or so.   

  6. I find your lack of trade stack disturbing. Let’s see…the first two Invincible trades (I’ll soon by them all I’m sure), all four Scott Pilgrims, the latest Fables, both Whiteouts, three Astonishing X-Men, Fell vol1, Ultimate FF vol6-8, and Ultimate Spidey vol7. Seventeen in total. And that was after I read all 7 Runaways in the last few weeks. I love me some trades.

  7. Oh, and I completely understand your problem wiht Ultimate Marvel Team-Up.  Took me forever to get through it (odd, ‘cuz Bendis usually rocks). 

    Couple others I forgot about:

    Ultimates 2 HC (read Ultimates 1 ‘n’ 2 already, but I don’t have Vol. 1, so I’m waiting so I can read back to back again.  Yeah, that’s it…)

    s1lentslayer:  Invincible’s one of those series that once I read the first 3 trades, it was at the top of my stack and pushed many of the books I mentioned previously to the side.  Jump on that first. Quite possibly the best superhero book out now. 

  8. I completely understand your pain.  My stack got so bad I had to break it down into two stacks.  One for oversized and collected edditions and one for regular trades.  This is just the collected and oversized edditions:

    Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus

    Fantastic Four Omnibus

    X-Men Omnibus

    Showcase Green Lantern vol 1

    Showcase Legion of Super Heroes vol 1

    Jack Kirby biography by Mark Evanier

    Absolute Watchmen

    R. Crumb Coffee Table Art Book

     The regular stack is just as tall as this and I just placed an order with Amazon over the weekend (hangs head in shame). 

     All this despite having sworn on more than one occasion not to be another trade until the stack was finished. 

  9. I got Astonishing X-Men vol. 2 & 3 wating for me.  I keep telling myself that I’m just wating for volume 4 to come out and then I’ll read them all at once.  I’m probably lying.

  10. I read comics, yet do not have a stack of shame.

    Sometimes, I intentionally let the trades pile up. I like to read them in chunks.

    Currently, I have nothing on deck.

  11. Wow…I didn’t even THINK about my unread stock of Trades!  My post is going to be embarrassing…

     nice one, Jimski. I like how you keep the stack right next to you as you watch TV, constantly reminding you of what you could/should be doing…

     

     

  12. my stack: an x-men and x-factor essential, green arrow showcase vol 1, league of extraordinary gentlemen, the ultimates vol 1, new avengers hardcover vol 2, preacher vol 6 and 7, and lastly the starman omnibus.  i’m chipping away at them.

  13. Discipline my good man, discipline.  Stop buying new stuff til you finish reading what you already have.  New books will be there when you catch up with this pile.  🙂

     

     the Tiki 

  14. "Noisy time burglar"… Once again Jimski makes good with the genius phrases. Get this guy on the podcast! (along with everyone else, of course, not trying to get anyone sidelined)

    I’m happy to say instead of watching TV tonight I actually made my way through the last couple of unread trades I had; Catwoman: When In Rome and Pride Of Baghdad. Both were birthday gifts, and I was feeling pretty good until I glanced to my shelf and noticed the stack of Gotham Central books a friend loaned me… Square one, my friends, square one!

  15. Grand, just grand.

  16. SoS:

    Ex Machina vol 2 & 3

    Skyscrapers of the midwest

    Bone (complete edition)

    Suburban glamour

    Essential Howard the Duck 

  17. That’s the problem with media consumption: there’s just never enough time.  Hopefully, some day, you’ll make it though because you have some seriously dope shit in your stack.  Maybe a cut down of monthly titles is in order?  Or better yet (or maybe not), you move your stack to the bathroom.  That will knock it out.

  18. "That is no accident; the number of DC books I buy regularly, which once rose as high as three titles a month, is currently resting comfortably at zero."

    Jim, I’m beginning to think we’re related. First the Nu Marvel article and now this.

    Also, if you bought and read it in issues/floppy form, it doesn’t count if the trade is unread. If that were the case, I’d have something like 20+ unread trades/hardcovers. My Walking Dead and Ultimate Spider-man HCs aren’t even out of the shrinkwrap.

  19. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    We’ll make a DC nationalist out of you yet, Mr. Ski!