Trading Up?

I love comic books; a simple statement that has completely impacted the course of my life. From my early days as a newsstand reader of GI Joe, to my days as a comic book store owner; from the burnout days of not wanting to go into a store and only buying trades, to finally, my days of interviews and reviews. Comic books have been one of the main constants in my life. 

When I was young, there was nothing better than the thought of going out and seeing if the next issue of GI Joe had come out yet, I was always excited to know what was going to happen next. As I started buying at my first comic book store, all I knew was the month to month release and read of comics. I always went for the books that excited me the most first, and then stacked them in order of interest. Trade paperbacks didn’t yet exist, and the only way to go back was via back-issue bins. The thrill of the hunt was the most exciting part of this time of my life, the opportunity to uncover the single issue missing from a run that I was trying to put together.

When I owned a store, trade-paperbacks were just starting to come into the market. I was collecting a massive amount of books, but primarily used trades as a way of adding nicer elements to my collection. The collected editions looked great on my bookshelves (still do), and were more easily accessible than my enormous comic collection. It soon became, for me, the preferred method of reading. I mean, what could be better than having the entire story collected in a nice looking, easily read format. The opportunity to read Watchmen and not have to find the single issues was amazing.

Writing for comics has been ever evolving, and the collected format helped to push that in other ways. The idea of doing more multi-issue arcs within a series became more commonplace. The knowledge that your work had the chance to live on in another format other than the dreaded comic shop bins, had to be a great relief (not to mention financial boon). But storytelling has changed; I don’t feel they have the same sense of urgency to tell a story as I did in my early days of reading. There was a point where every issue could have been someone’s first, where the only way to ensure that the reader would be back for another issue was to have a great ending that would leave them wanting more. These elements just don’t exist as much in comics anymore. I am now reading books that take longer to evolve the story, and in many cases feature soft endings which are essentially just transitions into the next issue, almost as if it is written as one whole book as opposed to serialized parts.

Recently I experimented with reading Marvel books in monthly order. I would read all of June’s books, then move on to July, and so on… The experiment failed because I lost interest in many of the titles. I think many of them begged to be read collected, because they are not written to be read monthly anymore. I am finding it very hard to commit to collecting books in the same way that I used to, because the market that I came into is so very different than the one today.

I am sure that digital will affect the evolution of comic writing as trade paperbacks have; perhaps it will help bring it back in line with the style I love…who knows. Nowadays, I buy books digitally, through a store, and in trade format, my primary driver being cost vs. quality. The vast majority of my new comic reading is in service to reviews, but I still love going back and reading the collected works of the titles that I enjoy. Am I ever going to stop supporting comics? No. I will happily hand my hard-earned money to those creators who have given me so many years of joy. The real question is, am I asking too much, or are they giving me too little?

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