We Should Be Better At Buying Comics By Now

 

Or I should, anyway. Who am I kidding? As I survey the landscape, I think just about all of you are better at it than I am. It looks like most of you are actually really good at it, in fact.

I’ve been thinking about this more and more lately when I go to rate my weekly books. For you lurkers out there: when you’re a registered, stand-and-be-counted, make-up-a-fake-name-and-use-a-Huckleberry-Hound-avatar member of the iFanbase, you can make a pull list each week of the books you’re planning to buy, which handily enables you to print it out on Wednesday/load it up on your phone at the shop/tweet it out to anyone you think might be interested. (The number of people I see tweeting their pull lists each Monday makes me think it’s quietly the most popular feature of the site. We’re over here editing podcasts and getting brow-sweat all over our keyboards and dancing like caffeinated monkeys for the organ grinder, and in the end all anybody’s paying attention to are the pull lists and book comment threads. That’s why I’ve been letting the cat suggest column topics by walking across a Ouija board since February. But never mind.)

For someone who is afflicted with cover blindness, who might very well leave his favorite book on the shelf in a given week and wander home with a back issue of Planet Terry, being able to whip out my sizable pull list at the store each Wednesday is very gratifying. More importantly, though, making a pull list gives you the chance to rate any book you “pull,” and those ratings are publicly averaged to give you a look at how well a given title was received by the community.

Those community ratings are why I think I’m so bad at buying my books these days. As I rate my books, it seems like rarely a week goes by lately without a two- or one-star book in my shopping bag. Those intrepid bean-counters and trainspotters who look at pull lists besides their own will no doubt notice that I also have a pile of books going back to at least May 5th that I bought and still haven’t even read, which I think of as my “Aw, Christ” pile. As in: “What’s next, here?… Fall of the She-Hulks? Aw, Christ, not tonight. I’ll move that to the bottom. What else we got? Aw, Christ…!”

Vegas bookmakers: what are the odds that anything in the “Aw, Christ” pile is going to get four stars once it’s been read?

In contrast, it looks you guys are batting a thousand. (Whatever that means.) I look at the average ratings each week and see 3.7, 4.8, 3.5, 4.1. Good for you, collectively! It doesn’t mean any of those books are Empirically Good, of course, but it means that the people who bought those books liked those books, and that’s exactly the way it ought to be.  Every book should be a four-star book, for you. If it’s gotten less than four stars for more than two months, why are you pulling it? Do you just enjoy saying “Ehhh” that much in a given month? What are you doing with your time, really? And your cash, for that matter? These books are headed into $3.99 territory; at those prices, are you really satisfied with a two-and-a-half-star life?

If I sound accusatory, it’s really just because I’m projecting. You don’t even want to see how many threes I hand out in a given month. In my homestyle cosmology, five stars in damn near unattainable, so four stars is an “A,” and yet… every month there are twos. Even ones.

Some months, I’m completely blameless. How was I to know that the author of I Kill Giants would cram ****ing Deadpool into my Spider-Man like Belushi into a Woody Allen movie? (Yes, I live in 1979 forever; what of it?) How could I predict that when in the middle of a decent crossover, I would hit X-Force #26 and have to close the book, find a fixed point in the room, and concentrate hard on staring at it just to get my eyes to finally stop rolling?

Other months, I have no one to blame but myself. Whom can I yell at when I buy The Sentry: Fallen Sun and it turns out to be 112% as terrible as every Sentry book I have ever read? Sure, Rogue deflowering. Yes, Thing murder. Absolutely, doggie cameo slash punch-a-wall. What did I expect? How is that different than any of the nerd rage I felt when I read issue #1 of the Sentry’s miniseries ten years ago in the first place? Of course the very title “Fallen Sun” starts by referencing the death of Captain America that was so iconic a few years ago, without earning the reference at all. That’s what Sentry books do. Never mind reviewing the book; what was I doing buying it in the first place?

This has all been an unfortunate part of a trend I've been noticing lately. The Sentry, Sentrying around; this guy Arsenal, killing guys with a dead cat; Shakespearian characters, somehow being attacked by the very audience that should love them. I've been hearing a lot of, "No no; wait, wait; this is the worst comic I have ever read. Sorry, Last Week's Book!" lately, at a time we should know our own tastes. Why is that? Is it because comics are getting vastly worse, or because we keep giving them the benefit of the doubt?

 


Jim Mroczkowski actually really likes both Jeff Parker and the concept of She-Hulks; he is just working overtime to complete the Flux Capacitor, head back to 2005, and convince everyone involved that Red Hulks will bring about The Dumbening before it’s too late.
 

Comments

  1. WHY I END UP BUYING CRAPPY BOOKS: The guy at my LCS (which is probably 60-70% dedicated to gaming anyway) only orders the top selling books for the shop. I can’t blame the guy- he can only afford to regularly stock what he knows will sell, which means 99% of his new books are the most obvious DC and Marvel monthlies. Where does that leave someone who wants something more than Spider-Man, Avengers, Green Lantern, etc.? We order from him directly from the Diamond catalog. This means that my books are essentially bought months ahead of time. I can be committed to buying up to three issues of something before I read any of it. As you can imagine, that means I end up buying a lot that just winds up (in my opinion) sucking. The long term effect? I actually buy LESS than I think I would like to read, for fear that I will commit $10 to something that I will hate.

  2. It’s taken me a long time to narrow down what I really like.  Now a days, due to money, I’ve ended up rarely taking a risk on a new book unless its by a team that I know that I’ll like.  For months though, I was similar to you in that I was getting boat loads of mediocre books and wincing after I read them.  Things are definitely better now that I’ve been able to figure out exactly what I like, but it took a while to do it.  Great article!!!

  3. @HailScott Same here in the UK, where the cover price (you guys think you’re hard done by with your $3.99??) means ordering in advance is the only realistic option. That means being committed to books three months ahead of release. In other words, if you decide you aren’t really enjoying the first issue of Superman and Batman Vs Vampires and Werewolves (and who did), you’re stuck with it for the whole run. Hence several three and two star ratings.

    For what it’s worth, a book has to try really hard to get 1 star from me. Fallen Sun got two, for instance, so you can imagine how terrible it has to be to get 1. Um, did I mention Superman and Batman Vs Vampires and Werewolves yet…? 

     

     

  4. Good article, Jim. I have to wonder what comics as a medium would look like if we were brutal with our buying habits and paid for quality-only, opposed to the sometimes sticking with the mediocre adventures of our favorite established commercial properties. I try to be pretty brutal, regardless of characters involved, but I’ve still be suckered into sticking around longer then I should sometimes.

    @HailScott – My LCS is the same, which is why I’ve switched to 100% online retailers. DCBS (free shipping with orders over $50) and Heavy Ink ($0.99 s&h for shipments of 3 or more items) pretty much made buying the comics I want possible. And no 3-issue commitment either. Geez.

  5. A lot of readers suffer from a type of comics hoarding. Some fans are so proud of the fact that they have a complete run of a certain title, they refuse to drop it even if it’s been garbage for 12 issues. You can only tell yourself "It’ll improve any month now." for so long. Hell, I know guys that haven’t even read issues they bought a year ago. Not out of laziness or procrastination, but purely because they can’t break the habit. This kind of thing saddens me. It’s like seeing the pile of empty beer bottles overflowing from an alcoholic’s recylcle bin. When you’re in it strictly for the collecting value, you’ve lost the magic.

    I must admit I tetered on the edge of this chasm myself. I’d been reading Wolverine for as long as I could read. Its always been a moment of pride for me when I look down at my long boxes and see my Wolverine section. That title has had its ups and downs no doubt, but I’ve stuck with it. However, as I get older (and cheaper), I find my tastes becoming more refined, and my ability to rationalize grows weaker in the process. I finally dropped it last year a few issues into Dark Wolverine, and couldn’t be happier with my decision (mostly thank to Aaron’s Weapon X). I hesitated putting a gaping hole in my run, but the bottom line was that I hated what I was reading.

    I can only speak of my personal experience, but the reason my ratings hover around the 3’s and 4’s is because in the last five years, I’ve gone from reading everything on the shelves to only reading what excites me. If a book just isn’t doing it for me anymore, it’s easier for me nowadays to let it go. On the other hand, if I see something else that interests me, I’ll give it a few issues before adjusting my pull list to make it fit. I think we all feel a commitment to certain titles, and it can be hard to turn away from that. But in the end, it’s not only easier on your wallet to trim the fat once in a while, it’s easier on your nerves. I’ll never stop reading comics, but I have stopped reading comics I don’t like.

  6. Isn’t a three star rating mean good?

    I get a lot of enjoyment out of 3 star books.

    I think people are far too liberal with the 5s on here.

     

  7. Speak for yourself. Everything I read is good.

    The only exceptions to this are books I read because they’re bad.

  8. I do not suffer from this.

    Except for the stuff I have to buy for work. But I’m a unique case, I imagine.

  9. Arent the star ratings arbitrary?

    Isn’t a one-star hotel better than a no-star hotel?

  10. @muddi900: Yes and yes.

  11. I think the theory of cognitive dissonance (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_dissonance) does a pretty good job of describing how/why most books score so well.  I’m sure I’m as guilty as the next guy.

  12. @josh Are you talking about event books that otherwise you’d have no interest in?

  13. Pretty much, yes. I’d probably try a lot of them, and there are plenty I don’t bother with, but I wouldn’t have finished some.

  14. I have droped all superhero books except daredevil, batman and robin, detective, and batman and they are on the bubble. I’m down to inie and vertigo in my pull list.

  15. I think we all take risks on books that we don’t necessarily have any assurance will be good based on an affinity for a certain character/team/creator and, depending on the tides, we’re either rewarded or burned. In addition, a trap I often get caught in is the trap of "finishing a story," where even bad comics will be purchased again in the hope that they’ll tie it all together and have it make sense in the end. Often, this is not the case. However, I picked up T-Bolts this week as an experiment after years off the book and look how well that turned out! I think that as long as people are trying new things and experimenting with their own tastes, you’re gonna see a lot of low scores a people weed out the stinkers to find that gold.

    Oh, and that Deadpool issue of ASM was pretty great, in my humble. Ignore the haters, Joe. You’re a cool guy.

  16. That is an extremely interesting application of cognitive dissonance. "I bought this awful thing. That doesn’t make sense. I must like it."

  17. @Jimski – I bought these books.  They aren’t very good.  I’m embarrassed by the fact that I bought some bad books, but I want to keep up with these characters.  I convince myself that they aren’t really that bad and rate them higher, so that I don’t feel like/look like a fool when I continue reading them.  I don’t think I consciously do that, but I’ve probably rated some books higher than they deserve (Transformers).

    You are just better than I am at taking that pride/self interest element out of your ratings.  Some books I have given 3’s to probably deserve 2’s (or 1’s).  My subconscious won’t let me admit I paid $4 for a 1 star book, so I convince myself it was decent. 

    I may be wrong, but I’m afraid I’m not. 

  18. @stuclach – Considering how free Teh Internetz and fanboys specifically are with their hatred, I’d be surprised if cognitive dissonance was guilty of skewing the results that much. Maybe I’m wrong though, or an odd fish, but I’ve totally finished $4 and even $5 book and thought "I ****ing hate this." 

  19. @OttoBott – My favorite thing about this site is that it isn’t overflowing with people who behave poorly (unlike many other sites).  I’ve certainly seen that response here and I’m sure I’ve had it.  But the fact that the site is generally populated with level headed, intelligent individuals (like yourself) may lend itself more to the cognitive dissonance theory.  If I respect the people around me, I may be more likely to overrate my books to fit in.

    I certainly don’t mean to imply that everyone behaves this way.  I’m simply stating that it could contribute to the phenomenon Jimski is describing. 

  20. I dropped a couple of highly-rated (by others) books lately because I found myself actually saying "blah blah blah" out loud while I read them.  I would always rather hear about how I am missing out on something that eventually got really good (that I can then check out in trades to see if I agree) than pick up an issue I won’t even look forward to reading.

  21. Personally I do like to reserve that 5 star rating for the truly great books, because I still labour under the belief that while there’s plenty of good stuff out there, there’s not so much that reaches outstanding. 

    The thing is, I might end up saddled with something that isn’t that great or that has taken a real downturn, but unless my LCS sells it by the bucketload I have to expect that I can only cancel it three months in advance with the next Previews catalogue. My part of the world isn’t big on comics, so my LCS has to be careful about what it buys, so I have a standing order rather than picking books from the shelf every month.  It guarantees my comics but the downside is that it locks me into titles for at least 3 months at a time. 

    And the there are the titles that simply go through a rough patch and (hopefully in the case of Capt America) come out the other side.

  22. I’m becoming more ruthless with my reading lately, if something is consistently getting a 3 or lower?  Gone.  A 3 for me is average (being right in the middle of 1-5 after all) so if something is consistently only average I don’t have time for it in my life anymore. 

    I’ll give more leeway to a 3 book if there are extenuating circumstances, like a fill-in artist, or a writer I normally like having a bad arc but otherwise, poof.

  23. I am very extremely picky and focused when it comes to comics buying. But it doesn’t necessarily mean I buy good comics as much as comics I personally like (ex. I will buy anything that features Ms. Marvel).

    But I find myself missing out on being involved in the discussion/fandom somewhat (ex. I don’t comment all that often here) so there is that side to it. 

  24. I seldom hand out 5 star ratings to comics, but your columns generally merit a 5 star rating from me Mr. Mroczkowski.  Well played sir.

  25. Great article, as usual. 

    Most of the people who work for my comic book store chain read very little to no current comics.  Some sit in an office listening to old timey radio and only reading comics that was first put out on newsprint (and there’s nothing wrong with that, most of them are far more knowledgable than I am about silver and golden age comics); some just stopped enjoying comics, but still like collecting a paycheck.  I feel like it’s my job to read as much as possible.  I tend to read everything Tuesday night when the stores are  closed and most of my customers/comic fan friends are either asleep or….not wanting to be interrupted, and have no one around to turn to and say "Jesus Sentry, The Lizard just fucken ate his son.  That is messed up."  And since I enjoy this site (stuclach has summed up my feelings about this site, perfectly), and it gives a place to review, I review.

    I am more willing to take a chance reading something precisely because I’m not paying for it.  That said, I’ve been "dropping" (if you’re not paying for them, it’s less a dropping, and more of an ignoring) a bunch of titles lately.

    Those who continue to pay for, read,  and review books they consistently don’t like, baffle me as well.  Though, someone giving a comic I thought of only as skippable one lowly star actually entices me to check it out just as much a 5-star review.

  26. I don’t really have this problem. We all tend to buy more DC/Marvel because marketing really. So me, I tend to give interesting DC/Marvel books a shot, but no more than an issue, maybe two. Because in the superhero genre, if you can’t get your shit together quickly, then you’re not worth my hard earned dollars. Instead of spending $8 on two Avengers issues, I’ll spend $2 more and get an Invincible trade. Or $5 less and get the first volume of a Top Cow series. Why not?

  27. I’m buying 1 comic this week Jimski.  You should buy less.  Then you’ll only get quality.  Quality is often predictable based on the creative teams.  Not always though.

  28. I think I get so few duds because in the case of Marvel/DC I only follow certain creators on certain titles.  So for example, I left Astonshing X-Men after Whedon left and will probably do the same with FF once Hickman is gone.  On the flip side I love Gail Simone on Secret Six but probably won’t read Birds of Prey just like I love JMS on Brave and the Bold but probably won’t read his Wonder Woman.  The two elements – creator and title – have to sync in my mind or I won’t buy it.  This means at a minimum I have to be pre-disposed to the title.  Fore example, I probably won’t ever buy Spider-Man no matter who writes it because Spider-Man just doesn’t interest me.  Does anyone else buy books like this?

  29. You raise some good points, and buying only 4 and 5 star books is something I strive for. At the same time, I sometimes find myself obsessing over whether or not to buy a book based on its perceived lack of longterm potential. As an example, I loved Thunderbolts last week, but I’m concerned that if the book slumps, I’ll be stuck with buying something sub par. And having just 1 or 2 issues of something without a completed story arc is irking to me as I look through my longboxes.

  30. I keep a text file divided into three sections: keep, maybe, and drop. I rate each book as I read it using Netflix’s scale: 1 star = hated it, 2 = didn’t like it, 3 = liked it, 4 = liked it a lot, and 5 = loved it. At $3/comic, a book had to be 4 or 5 stars to be a keeper, but with priced going up to $4, so are my quality requirements. If I don’t love a $4 book, it’s staying on the shelf. Also, to combat building up a run of unread issues for a title, I’ve decided that if I haven’t read the last issue by the time the next one hits the stands, it moves immediately to the drop section and the new issue stays on the shelf.

  31. @Jimski You have no one but yourself to blame for not liking the Deadpool issue of Amazing Spider-Man. Joe Kelly can do no wrong!

  32. No, you guys cannot make up your own system for rating comics and still use the iFanboy stars.

    We are miscommunicating if you do that.

    5 stars = Excellent, 4 stars = Very Good, 3 stars = Good, 2 stars = Average, 1 star = Terrible

    That is how it is set up in the reviews. So when I see cats on here talking about this book is not very good and I didn’t like it that much but then giving it 3 stars I wonder what the hell is wrong with them.

    3 stars = Good. That is a good rating.

    You need to follow the rules.

    Please iFanboy founders, tell them to follow the rules. Don’t let them break the rating system.

    Ban them if they don’t follow the rules.

  33. The ratings system can unfortunately be useful/relative/arbitrary/accurate/inaccurate all at the same time.  I’m speaking for myself here, but I have no problem rating certain books a 3  especially within the context of the ongoing title itself.  I.E.:  Not every single issue of Invincible or Walking Dead or certain relatively long-running titles are going to be excellent or even very good relative the series itself.  Sometimes there are just down times in stories.  It happens with tv series, movies, novels, etc.,  So it should be expected in comics from time to time as well 

    I agree wholeheartedly with ScorpionMasada with his notion that most people are possibly being too liberal with 4 and 5 star ratings…but…

    Alas, It’s obviously up to the individual reader in what sort of context they rate their books, but inevitably people are going to rate them from a personal opinion standpoint.  Because of that reason I think it’s a bit harsh/militant to say ‘follow the rules/break the rating system, or ban them’.  That’s a bit extreme.  

  34. @ScorpionMasada/

    @ifanboy staff-  Please let us know if I or we as a community are missing something?  In what context was the rating system originally conceived?  Personal opinion?  an overall perspective of Comics as whole/Historical perspective?  Relative to the particular title?  etc.?  Or is it completely flexible?

  35. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    It’s a thing where you put stars on a book you just read. 

  36. @jwaesch: Basically, what Paul says. You might be overthinking the rating system.

  37. ok, good.  Thats how I always thought of it, too.  I was really just curious/thinking about because of this here article,  which was obviously an excellent one.

    If I had to, I’d rate it at 3 stars!

  38. Then I am sad to say the stars don’t mean anything . . .

    And we are doomed to miscommunication.

     

  39. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    The stars do mean something. They are redeemable. In the only marketplace that matters.

    Your heart.  

  40. You have restored my faith!

  41. I must actually be kind of good at this because it’s extremely rare that the book that everybody is going YEGODSWORSTTHINGEVER about is one that I bought.  I mean, I’ll probably keep buying ‘Kill Shakespeare,’ even though it sucks, because when is the next time there’s going too be a comic featuring Tamora from ‘Titus Andronicus,’ but generally speaking it’s been a while since I wandered into a hornet’s nest unawares. 

    On the other hand, last week’s Pick of the Week (Thunderbolts) was a book I badly wanted to buy and have heard nothing but good things about but still have been unable to find a copy of, so maybe there’s some karma going on.  

  42. Also, ifanbase, if it drives you crazy that these ratings are totally meaningless, I hope and pray you never have to teach a class at the college level and have your job performance rated by a room full of hungover 19 year olds’ interpretation of ‘on a scale of 1 to 5’.  (And if you are college students, remember what grade inflation has done to you, and be kind).

  43. I am way more into reading peoples’ reviews than looking at the star numbers. For me, user reviews are the best thing about this website. They are what really matter, not the 1-5 system. Numerical rating systems are a pretty ridiculous way to communicate the value of a work of art. Remember the scene in The Dead Poets Society where Robin Williams has the kids rip out the page of the textbook that talks about graphing poetry? Yeah, that pretty much says it better than I can. In a review, a person has much more room to express their thoughts or ideas about a work. For instance, Josh wrote an excellent review of Dong Xoai, Vietnam. He probably also gave it five stars. Which one of those things really matters.

     

    BTW, excellent article Jim. I have a shortbox full of what I like to call my "mistakes." I have gotten better though. But sometimes even a great ongoing title will have a bad issue.

  44. The giving of and amount of stars I give a book is more for myself than to convey my feelings to the community as a whole. Thats what the comments are for. 

    When Im assinging stars to books I stop and think about the story and the art. It gives me an opportunity to reflect on the books and compare them to the others I’m reading, again, for my own benefit .

    Personally, 1=terrible, 2=didnt enjoy/was "work" to read,  3=okay/will continue to follow (for long-term ongoings), 4=really liked it, 5=made me genuinely happy.

    Thats all it takes to get a 5 from me. Make me happy.  After all, what better way to qualify something as "great" than happiness.  

  45. Oh, and @stuclach. You’re fuckin awesome.

  46. I buy types of comics. One is the high and mighty comics that are critically praised and "everyone" should be reading. Then the 2nd type are comics where I keep up with my favorite characters. The 3rd type is my toilet comics. The comics I read while taking a dump. Fun, light, but nothing to write home about, especially while pooping.

  47. I second @ohcaroline’s plea for students to understand what grade inflation is and that some teachers actually care more about what you learned than what you think you "earned".  

    @AlanRob – Thank you, sir.  I assume your opinion of me is based on my ability to only purchase 4 star or better books. 😉

  48. I am pretty good at picking books for myself. I rarely give a a book lss than 3 stars, which is the threshold for being a book that I derived a measure of enjoyment from and was not a waste of money. A handful get through, but I’d bet that this is under 10%. I may even go so far as to speculate that it would be under 5%. If I was taht good at betting things in Vegas? I’d own all of you.

  49. I find my self buying comics that I know I’m not in love with in hopes that it’s just a rough patch, and the books will get back to the level that I’ve grown accustomed to. The main culprits now are Captain America, Detective Comics, Batman, and to a lesser extend Daredevil.

     I haven’t dropped any of the books but I’m close to it.

     I’m currently a DCBS Service subscriber, which at times makes it difficult to stop reading a book since you have to make a commitment months in advance. Case in point, I picked up the first three issues of First Wave, before I had the chance to read the first issue. I didn’t love the first issue, and the second issue just turned me off. I still have the third issue coming, but I’m passing on the rest of the series.