The Bottomless Back Issue Bin

How's this "Sienkewicz"? Any good?

How’s this “Sienkiewicz”? Any good?

In my day (and believe me when I tell you that today is not mine), the act of keeping up with my favorite characters was a full-time job.

When I was a lolly-licking lad in short pants, my shop of choice was a used bookstore a little more than two miles away. When I was all of eleven, with no parental supervision of any kind, I was allowed– nay, expected– to hop on my ten speed and ride down the shoulder of a highway to this store whenever I wanted to see what the X-Men were up to. Off I would trudge with my bare skull (when I was a kid, there was no injury you could get on a bike that was worse than what would happen to you if other kids saw you wearing a damn helmet; even now, I see padded six year olds on scooters and have to consciously stop myself from thinking, “wuss”) braving the elements until the shopping plaza appeared on the horizon. Then, all I had to do was cross six lanes of highway, park my bike out front with no lock of any kind, and walk past the guys hovering around the porno shelves to go back issue diving.

(In addition to the comics they kept in the back like an embarrassing old auntie, the used bookstore’s other main source of revenue was an expansive, diverse selection of erotic periodicals which were shelved right by the front door so the old lady who owned the place could keep an eye on the pervs. If there wasn’t already some kind of nerd stigma associated with reading comics back then, the fact that we had to skulk to the comics tucked in the back past the proudly displayed front-and-center Grannies and Trannies Magazine would have driven home our place in the pecking order pretty completely. Anyway, if you think the digital era has revolutionized your access to comics, imagine how those guys who used to stand in public in front of Myrtle the Turtle to get a glimpse of Playboy feel about the Internet. But perhaps I digress. What were we talking about? Oh! Comic book site. Righto.)

It blows my mind when I think about what I would do in 1987 to read every chapter of a story. I hopped on Uncanny X-Men with issue #223, but when it piqued my interest I discovered that #222 was nowhere to be found. The back issue bins seemed voluminous, but that was mostly because they were filled with unsold reams of Obnoxio the Clown. I could get my hands on #200, 201, and 210. That was it for the next year or so. I would eventually get to read all the chapters I was missing fifteen years later, after the nineties crash when comic shops would shovel back issues into your open trunk for a dollar and a handshake.

Pictured: a real thing.

Pictured: a real thing.

I mention all of this to you little punks with your “smartphones” and your “electric can openers” as a long-winded preamble to pointing out that the age of digital comics is good for more than just getting the latest Wednesday books before USA Today runs the publisher’s press release and ruins the entire arc before you would have even been physically capable of legally entering a comic book store. If you browse just some of what’s available out there now, poring through the infinite back issue bin of the Internet, it will only be a matter of minutes before you find yourself at the bottom of the world’s most expensive rabbit hole. That run of JLA by Chris Claremont and John Byrne is out there. Defenders issues from 1975 are out there. You could read the original run of New Mutants this afternoon and wash it down with Ultimate Marvel Team-Up, the Ultimate book that time forgot. I opened up comiXology and started poking around for examples half an hour ago, and now I owe them $11,000.

I had heard for years about how transformative people found The Infinity Gauntlet, but I only got around to checking it out for myself when I noticed it on Graphicly decades later. (Having finally read it after years of build-up, I… am glad you enjoyed it. More power to you.) Tonight, I think I will find out why comiXology is randomly selling some kind of “Daredevil/Deadpool Annual” from 1997. (Was Daredevil/Deadpool a book? These things need to come with liner notes.)

Whenever we discuss digital comics for more than ten minutes, someone always raises the specter of brick-and-mortar obsolescence. “If everyone starts downloading their books, the trusty shopkeeper who has kept me in bags and boards all these years will be living in his car before you know it.” If you find yourself grappling with this kind of buy-local guilt complex, I would humbly suggest that you have it both ways: a good comic shop can introduce you to new books and new authors that you would otherwise miss, and the digital gateway is the perfect resource for going back in time. Not many shops have a substantial back issue bin anymore, but there is a bottomless one sitting in your house.


Jim Mroczkowski thinks back to his childhood and wonders if maybe his parents should be in jail.


  1. I had a place similar to what you’re describing “back when” I was a kid. Only, they also rented movies (VHS tapes!) and we would journey there as a family once a week to pick out a movie and I would gravitate to the comics, both new and back issues. We have a completely endless back issue bin at our fingertips we just need to embrace the new and the old. I get my subscriptions online and also purchase some digital books, but I also visit several comic shops in my area and talk to the guys at the shops to get a feel for anything coming up that I think I may find interesting, as well as check out their back issues.

  2. I rather enjoyed your ‘prolonged throat-clearing’. It helps set up what I think differentiates the older generations of comic readers to that of the newer readers. I’m speaking of continuity.

    What use to be a pride of the comic collectors hobby, has now been thrown to the wind by the Big Two.
    DC Comics, with it’s New 52 initiative, did away with its most prized possession by changing everything. Perhaps a little less so with Marvel Now!, but with the constant renumbering, it becomes fatigue inducing.

    A good story is a good story, but for many of us longtime readers, that good story was based on continuity. This new crowd of comic consumers are being conditioned to care less about continuity and more about the ‘newness’ and dispose-ability of the product (I’m looking at you digital comics).

    Now…if I can just keep those digital reading kids off my lawn!

    • “What use to be a pride of the comic collectors hobby, has now been thrown to the wind by the Big Two. DC Comics, with it’s New 52 initiative, did away with its most prized possession by changing everything…. A good story is a good story, but for many of us longtime readers, that good story was based on continuity. ”

      Except that DC Comics did the same thing in 1985/86 when today’s old readers were then young readers.

    • @Will Magnus I see your point, but I think continuity is over-rated. I don’t like the idea that a writer can come up with a terrific story, but he can’t tell it because it contradicts some random issue from 10 years ago. In my opinion, continuity should be used when it enhances a story and just ignored when it doesn’t. (Within reason, obviously.)

    • “Except that DC Comics did the same thing in 1985/86 when today’s old readers were then young readers.”

      I don’t disagree with this statement, but I’m unclear as to why it was stated. Crisis on Infinite Earths was put in motion to “clean up” convoluted continuity, the New 52 was created to boost sales for the DC suits to justify their jobs. Crisis shaped the continuity, the New 52 shattered it by doing a complete reboot.

    • @WIll Magnus: They were both enacted for the same reasons: they cleaned up continuity and boosted sales. I would argue that CRISIS was more of a reboot than The New 52 was.

    • “They were both enacted for the same reasons: they cleaned up continuity and boosted sales. I would argue that CRISIS was more of a reboot than The New 52 was.”

      @conor – I’m not sure I can agree that both ‘cleaned up continuity’, but I do agree sales were boosted.

      It’s mysterious to me why you think CRISIS was more of a ‘reboot’ than the New 52. Even through numerous retcons and such, CRISIS still maintained the history of the characters (majority of them) to keep the past relevant, whereas The New 52 started over from scratch. Yes, I acknowledge some of the pre-New 52 continuity still lingers (e.g. Green Lantern, Batman), but, as a whole, the New 52 wiped out the past history. In fact, The New 52 wiped out CRISIS!

    • @Will Magnus: I should have written “they were MEANT TO clean up continuity”. I don’t think either was entirely successful in regards to cleaning up continuity. The New 52 has failed in that sense because DC has tried to have it both ways by having a new continuity but still keeping stories from the old continuity. In point of fact, The New 52 did not wipe out CRISIS, it was referenced in one of the early issues, which as been one of the problems.

      CRISIS wiped away most of the old stories but kept some of them. The New 52 wiped away most of the old stories but kept some of them. They are, at their core, the exact same endeavor.

    • @Conor Kilpatrick – I can agree with you that CRISIS and The NEW 52 have similarities, but you stated “…CRISIS was more of a reboot than The New 52 was.”

      How so?

    • @Will Magnus: I feel like that there was more of an effort with CRISIS to make a clean start from the beginning. That, of course, fell apart over time as all of these things do in comics.

      It seemed like with The New 52 DC made en effort to point out that “All your favorite stories still happened!” which really made for some serious logic and storytelling problems with the reboot.

    • @Conor Continuity is why we come to love these characters and stories having more meaning and substance for sure and as someone who liked the DCU pre New52, I’d have to say looking back a lil before my time and reading Crisis on Infinite Earths and what it reset like Flashpoint kinda did then we had the New52, I don’t mind it all that much as it seems they’re gravitating towards things being the way they were before Flashpoint. That story did change everything in a Flash and left doors wide open for resetting, the multiverse is back and think they can pull it back together where it counts, all new reader experiments aside. Marvel on the other hand stuck to they’re continuity, from the Scarlett Witch single handedly changing the landscape of the core Marvel U on both the Avengers side and the X-Men side, from Disassembled, Cival War & Initiative on the Avengers side and Decimation, House of M and the Messiah Trilogy on the X-Men side, all culminating to AvsX, it spat out direct results of all that with Uncanny Avengers, Cable & X-Force, Uncanny X-Men, the Avengers whole line up….etc…those books all have ties with Scarlett Witch and Hope ultimately then Wolverine and Cyclops on the other. Cosmic is another ball of wax but have faith in its restoring w Thanos Rising, Nova and Guardians. I loved DnA’s run and those are big shoes to fill so the only logical direction is a fresh start but think they’ll tie the past in somehow cause they’re were a lot of factors in that cosmic run they could use to do it. Obvious cosmic marketing movie stuff aside on that point.

  3. Back in the late 90s, Marvel experimented with bringing back Annuals, but instead of each comic getting annuals, two books were paired up together for one annual. Hence Daredevil/Deadpool.

    Great article as always!

    • Yes, Annuals as a replacement for Marvel Team-Up… but that Daredevil/Deadpool was one of the high lights (and one of the firsts, I think). A personal favorite of that collection was Captain America/Citizen V, which wad really for of a Thunderbolt story despite not having the Thunderbolts in the issues…

  4. I tried the digital route for a few months, but its not for me. Yes, I’m one of those people with a ridiculous amount of comic boxes stored at my house. I can see the definite advantages as far as space is concerned , but nothing beats flipping through back issue bins until you find that one key issue you’ve been missing. I just like to have the issue in my hands. Enjoy the digital revolution my friends, see you on the flip side!! And to you Jim…Infinity Gauntlet is a classic!

    • I love flipping thru bins looking for sought after issues of series I’m collecting. I recently found the last 3 issues of a Moon Knight mini I’ve been looking for, for almost a year! I felt like skipping afterwards.

  5. I think you buried the lead Jimski – there’s a Claremont/Byrne run of JLA?! WANT!

    Also, back issue diving on the internet is MUCH cheaper than in-store. I think, back in the early 90’s, I paid more for the 9 back-issues making up X-Tinction Agenda than I did for the collected HC in 2011. But then that was at the very beginning of re-prints and 1st/2nd printing price variations, and I think my store got me the 1st printing copies of chapters 1 and 9. $.99 to $1.99 an issue is a much better deal, indeed.

  6. The Daredevil/Deadpool Annual was great, that was the issue that turned me into an avid Bernard Chang fan. Infinity Gauntlet suffers a little bit today, if you are just reading it for the first time. As a young reader though, it blew my mind. I was 14 at the time, and oh my lawd did this badass just straight up murder a bunch of heroes? Thanos has been one of my favorite characters ever since, although my favorite appearance of his involves a Thanos-copter.

  7. Great article Jimski! It leads me to make this confession: I am now 90% digital. Comixology is now my comic shop of choice – and I like it that way just fine. I still get the other 10% of comics and magazines from a local brick and mortar store. But recently, I had an epiphany – I just didn’t enjoy reading paper comics any more. Whereas I get the greatest joy swiping from frame to frame on my digital comics on my iPad. The colors and art are just more vivid. AND – like you pointed out – you can not only buy new comics, but much older comics and back issues, mostly for $.99-1.99. What a deal! And in the case of some older comics, digitally they look so much better than they ever did on paper. So I have cast my lot with the future – and the future is digital.

    • One more thing, and this is a negative, I still don’t like the pricing of digital comics. Paying $3.99 and $4.99 for a digital comic is just price gouging – especially by Marvel. Yes, they do have their Marvel sales on Monday and Friday for $.99, but you never know what’s coming. I think a much more reasonable price point for new comics is $1.99 – and $.99 for much older comics. That’s my opinion.

  8. Am I alone in my dislike of digital? I don’t like ebooks either. There’s just something about having the physical copy.

    • Never felt like they were mine, only “borrowed”.And when you live on the east coast and a hurricane hits and got limited or no power to run devices like tablets you begin to dislike digital even more.

    • I find that when I buy digital they often seem ‘disposable’ and ‘less special’. As BIG AL WILLIAMS mentioned, they ARE borrowed. You never ‘own’ them, you only ‘own’ the rights to access them.

    • I hate how (when I first started trying them anyway) the screen would freeze, or it was a hassle going panel to panel, or the words were way too small. I have some ebooks I keep on my iPod, but theres bugs with those as well.

    • I’m slowly migrating reading to ebooks – but I’m doing so only with public domain works, so I’m not paying anything. Working my way through the classics I never read as part of summer reading.

  9. Yeah… except reading things digitally encourages the same sort of distracted thinking (“Let me check my email and Twitter every three minutes…”) that makes most people unable to read or appreciate many comics written pre-2000.

    The main thing I remember about reading comics as a kid was how we had to RE-READ comics, take things slowly, and fit information together because we didn’t have every issue. Those were GOOD THINGS. It isn’t isn’t that important to be a completist.

    If I had to choose between being someone who has to search out and therefore CARE about what he’s reading vs. someone who has everything digitally handed to him so that it all means nothing, I’d definitely choose the first option.

    The good thing is that we have options. Digital is a great resource, and if you actually can’t find a pesky back-issue, then of course you should buy it digitally.

    But we live in an age in which most back issues from the last 30 years don’t cost that much at all, anyway. You can search online (which is another great invention — so please don’t mistake my comment as being that of a luddite!) and find tons of back issues for cheap . . . vs. giving Marvel or DC close to cover price (or more) of those same comics old comics.

    Scientific studies have shown that reading things on a backlit screen is a less effective way of retaining and being immersed in information. Reading non-decompressed comics on backlit screens is a very poor way of experiencing them. Many in the iFanboy crowd admit to not even being able to remember their current printed comics a week later, so I don’t really know what the point would be of buying a bunch of old back issues digitally anyway, aside from fulfilling some sort of base “MUST CONSUME! MUST BUY!” need. You’re not going to be able to remember them very well; you don’t even have a physical object to anchor your experience or thinking.

    • Reading things digitally does not necessarily encourage distracted thinking, nor does it prevent people from rereading issues, or spending time carefully reading them.

  10. Back issues is precisely why I use Comixology. Or for the occasional new series 99cent sale they have. I just bought the first 2 volumes of the new TMNT comic. It is a good series.

  11. Good article. Me myself, I have been discovering the rabbit hole you speak of. And it takes much of my will power to stave off bankruptcy,

    Those Marvel Monday 99 cent sales do not help matters!

  12. If I remember the chronology correctly, Joe Kelly was writing both DeadPool and Daredevil at the time, so he did a team-up Annual of the two. Or maybe that was right AFTER Kelly’s Daredevil run? He had a good batch of issues with Cary Nord, just prior to the reboot with Kevin Smith/Joe Quesada/Jimmy Palmiotti/Richard Starkings/I_Forget_Who_Colored_It….

  13. I’m not sure who or where “… this kind of buy-local guilt complex… ” comes from. I don’t read many comments stating this concern on the sites a read. A choice is made about the way one buys comics, plain and simple. Some love the convenience of digital quickness while others love the visit to the LCS.

    FATALE is a comic that puts out extra content in the printed form only. Do the creators do it out of guilt? I don’t think so.

    • I’d like to do something about the pile of comics that grows in the corner of my apartment that I have to cull every few months. Who’s got a kid? Can they read Vampirella? Here: take this comic!”

  14. Good article Jim. Ironically, as a fellow lover of old Uncanny X-men issues of my youth, I’ve been waiting for months for comixology to make most of the Jim Lee run available. How is it Marvel’s not constantly releasing issues of Uncanny (only their best selling title for 15 years) digitally?

  15. Jim- loved your article, particularly since I’ve been feeling major nostalgia for “the old comics days” – back when a bike ride to 7-11 & $1.00 bought you 4 brand new comics, or two packs of Star Wars cards and two comics – my 8 year-old mind boggled with the possibilities!! Don’t get me wrong. I got an I-pad 18 months ago & got into digital comics in a big way – back issues being one of the best perks.
    But I have to admit, a combination of having a 2 year-old son & moving and unearthing a ton of comics from those blissful trips to 7-11 from my youth, has made me think about my lifelong hobby (with brief hiatuses here and there). Digital comics definitely fulfill my adult need for “what happens next?!?”” narrative instant gratification, but I really miss the coolness, the uniqueness of an actual, physical comic book. Especially the old ones. Part of it was the old thrill of the chase, rummaging through the bins in comics shops and used bookstores. Part of it is pure nostalgia – just how many times did I read the 1st 30 + issues of The Micronauts anyway? Part of it was the fact that you got so much for so little money – that was a hell of a lot of joy for (. ) cents (insert age identifying price point HERE). But the “old comics feeling” is kinda like first love – you never really forget it.
    I have no idea what comics will mean to my son when he hits the magic age of 8 or so – who knows what comics will look like by then? But I hope I can pass on my love of a real, live comic book to him. So til then, I’ll make the time to keep giving a little love to my old comic shop I’ve largely forsaken these last 18 months. Digital is likely the necessary future for comics as an art form & narrative, but comics as a hobby, to me, still needs the old brick & mortar shops. I’ll do what I can to help keep ’em afloat.

  16. Best article I’ve read associated with digital comix. So true, and have already done it with a few catching up stories I wanted to read but back issue hunting was always part of the fun, the hunt is classic and will always do it here n there, I just started one for the current Venom series just for the hunt part alone, I wanted to pick a character to do that with and only had his 1st issue so he was a clear choice, it brought back some feelings for comix I thought long gone.

  17. I buy both print and digital and it seems to be working well for me. I’ve found that I tend to try a new book out digitally and, if I enjoy it enough, I will switch to print as I have “deemed it worthy” of a physical copy, which is what happened with Saga and Joe Kubert Presents. I also think that it works both ways in regards to “the hunt.” There are some books I haven’t found in print that are readily available digitally and vice versa. I thought I’d find The Atlantis Chronicles on Comixology but no luck. A few weeks later I find all seven issues at a Half Price Books. There’s room and ways for readers to take advantage of both.