Can Comic Books Go Green?

by Brandon

Do you make Al Gore cry? Chances are you do if you still buy monthlies, or "floppies" if you are one of those irksome individuals who often tosses off "616" when referring to the Marvel Universe.

As you may or may not know, Earth Day was this past week. For the first time in my life, I marked the day with a sense of fervent pride because I have turned the environmental corner. That's right; I'm going Green. I feel like I almost wanted to have a Green coming out party. You know, invite some folks over, drink some water straight out of the spigot with all the lights off, eating plants I picked from the neighbor's yard as refreshments. Totally sustainable. Totally cool. Totally Green. But sadly, I didn't have a Green coming out party.

But you see, Al Gore has had somewhat of a tongue-in-cheek impact on me. As a teacher, I tease my students often about being Al Gore Friendly. I make Al Gore jokes and crack wise about crunchy granola types. But I don't hate Al Gore or environmentalists. Quite the opposite. I really do love Al Gore. I love the environment more. However, I wasn't really doing much to lower my environmental footprint. If anything, I was being a typical American and doing jack-diddly-squat.

That is until about a two months ago.

I made the switch to those reusable cloth grocery bags. I have changed all the lights in my townhouse to energy saving bulbs. I have started to change my spending patterns to buy items that have little packaging or buy items secondhand, in particular my entertainment needs such as music, books, and movies. If anything comes from this, at least my Green Karma will be in better shape than it was before. Maybe I'll reincarnate as a slug now rather a mite.

As I started my own Green Revolution, I started to look at all areas of my life, comic books included. What impact do these little flimsy books have on our dearest Mother Earth? Is my obsession with "funny books" killing our planet? Would Al Gore approve? The questions made me think long and hard about my hobby. Like a junkie, I looked at my collection and thought, "Dear God, am I a part of the problem?"

The uncomfortable answer is probably yes. God knows I have tried very hard to convince myself that I am a reader and not a collector, but my twenty some odd long-boxes tell a different story. They sit there in my second bedroom, the room I affectionately call the Fanboy Room, staring at me with big, ugly eyes that clearly state, "I am an unsustainable drain on the earth's environment." Like Jesus and Hillary Clinton, I wept at the possibilities. What about other individuals with more comics than I had? What about all of those wasted trees used to print those issues of Youngblood, Super Pro, and Rai and the Future Force that now populated the dollar bins of the local-yokel comic shops? What about that comic fan who keeps purchasing Uncanny X-Men not out of joy for reading, but the necessity to keep his anal retentive collection intact just in case the second coming of Jack Kirby happens during his life time?

Surely the Amazon River Basin defames my good name every time I open a comic book!

These dizzying questions posed quite a conundrum for me. For several days, my brain and my inner-fanboy fought an epic battle. What to do? Inspiration did not strike until I was downloading a few songs the other night on trusty iTunes. I need to make the switch to digital comics. The thought made my inner-fanboy cry foul. Why, oh why, would I want to do that? I mean, isn't part of the joy in being a comic book fan holding the book ever so carefully as you read from page to page?

Let's face it; I'm a bit of a Marvel nerd. With their recent Digital Comic push, I thought this might be a good alternative. Browsing the Marvel Digital Comics Website did little to ease my geeky mind. While there is an impressive amount of books there already, the diversity and amount just aren't there yet. The price is right for me, a notorious el-cheapo, but the amount of books just seemed all wrong. My favorite title, Punisher Max, had only a few issues, and none of them being recent issues. Many of the books were oldies but goodies, some not so much, but the fact of the matter remains; they have already been published. That did little cut down on the use of paper. And back issues no doubt already populated the bins at the aforementioned comic shop.

There are other digital services out there. A few of them are legal, but many are not. My friend Chris is always extolling to me the greatness of reading comics online from some peer-to-peer hack shop. The el-cheapo in me also likes the free price point, but I have ethical issues with reading comics online illegally, you know, because it's illegal.

What's a poor fanboy to do? To borrow a phrase from Joe Quesada, "Wait and see." While digital comics remain a possibility, I don't think the comic companies have fully caught up to the technology currently available. I'm obviously open to suggestion at this point, but it doesn't seem to be a viable option for me now. I hope these companies prove me wrong soon, but I somehow doubt it. For now, Al Gore will have to weep while I let those unread issues of Jack of Fables collect dust on the kitchen table.

Lesson learned: going Green is harder than you think for comic book fans.

FYI: You can calculate your own carbon footprint by clicking here.


Doug Smith said...

I've considered moving towards digital comics, but the reading experience just feels so weird to me. Combined with, as Brandon said, the lack of current comics (we are addicted to that weekly fix) and our compulsive habits, digital comics have an uphill battle.

Brandon said...

I'm a monthly fix person since I do online, and that nearly kills me.

Chris Ware said...

Plus, where's the pride of ownership? You can't walk into a room and lovingly gaze on your collection of digital comics like you can with 50 long boxes.

Two areas where I find it difficult to be environmentally conscious: cars and reading (both comics and novels).

Dan said...

Nice article! While switching out the light bulbs and having reuseable shopping bags is something we've started moving towards in our house, there's some stuff I don't think is worth the compromise.

I have a hard time feeling bad about choosing to read a comic or magazine in paper format. Pros for the format are lengthy, but the biggest being I don't want a computer in my bathroom or in my bed (the two places I read comics and magazines).

The cons for online comics are equally lengthy, but mostly it's the complete disconnect I feel when I read comics online. There's just something about seeing the hand-drawn art in printed format that gets lost on the screen. There's also an emotional disconnect from getting engrossed in a good comic or trade and reading one online.

Liana said...

I'm about sick of a basement full of longboxes, but digital comics hold no real appeal for me (same with digital books). I think if the industry moved to a purely digital format, I'd completely lose interest. Which is a little odd considering I spend about half my day on the computer anyway, but there you have it.

The General said...

I think with the phrase "pride of ownership," I think that Ware is just trying to make all the Buddhists out there cry.

But, yeah, while I've been making every effort to be as green as possible, I think I'm a long way from quitting my comic book habit. I can see the advantages to switching to digital, but like Brandon points out, the technology isn't there yet... plus the experience isn't quite the same. I need the smell of pulped trees in my hand.

Great article though.

Betsy said...

Great post.

I think that the key is to do something with your paper comics rather than have the collect dust in longboxes in your basement. I get a ton of magazines, and I like having them in paper, for all the reasons everyone else has described. But when I'm finished reading them, they do not go in the trash. They don't even go in the recyling bin. After I'm done reading them, I donate them to the library. The library then sells them, which means that my magazines not only raise money for a worthy cause, but also go on to someone else - thus reusing them. I hope that, in turn, whoever buys my old magazines from the library donates them again. The same thing would absolutely work with comics.

See? It's easy being green.

Brandon said...

A large part of the experience of reading a comic book is lost via online, but the spacing issue is driving me mad! This insanity does not come exclusively from Jenn, though rest assured that she puts pressure on me. I really do hate the clutter. My cat loves it because the long-boxes create a lovely surface area for him to lounge and drain good oxygen from the world.

Perhaps a good alternative to cut down on the environmental footprint of comic books is to not store them in the bags and boards... But what would you store them in? If I could find an eco-friendly alternative that uses less trees and petroleum, I'd be all over that. However, I don't think most comic fans even think about going Green with this medium. If enough of us did, I think the big two would at least consider some alternatives.

For now, we should probably just protect the environment by not buying/ordering crossovers.

coolgirlsar said...

Great post Brandon and really makes you think about how this dilemma can be dealt with.

Maybe all us comic fans should plant a few trees in our gardens. ;)

Brandon said...

Planting trees is definitely a fun activity! I have a few small ones in my yard. I grew up in a log cabin in the middle of the forest!

Matt said...

Fun article Brandon. I have been trying hard to become green. Maybe I can burn all of those Youngblood issues I have been saving for a big payoff this winter instead of using our furnance.

Brandon said...

I'm positive burning the comics contributes to global warming, Youngblood in particular. Wait, they never could release many actual issues...