Panelology - How Do We Read Comic Books?

by Brandon

Here it is; my final article in my exploration of the comic book essential! In recent years, many creators and fans have wondered what the future of comic book reading holds. In a few years, will we be reading trades almost exclusively? Will reading single-issues go the way of Joe Quesada’s integrity? I say, why choose?

Your comic book collection probably looks a lot like mine. You probably have several long boxes for the single-issues you own. Someone probably is nagging you about the space they take up too. You probably have a few bookshelves dedicated to TPBs. You probably have some bitching posters or statues of your favorite Elfquest characters too.

This seemingly orderly lifestyle probably shows one of the more raging debates in comic books today. No, not whether or not Elfquest is like the "best-est" thing ever, even better than Lord of the Rings or World of Warcraft. No, the issue I'm referring to is the trades versus singles issue. Many fans and creators have bemoaned or praised the future of comic books by saying that the medium will either change drastically or stubbornly stay the same in the next few years. This type of argument has been around at least for ten years. I remember I bought my first trades back in 1998. I had a rather long road trip ahead of me and wanted some comic book company along the way without having to carry around a long box or lots of random issues. My local retailer Stephen gave me a hard time for buying three trades (Dark Knight Returns, Strangers in Paradise vol. 1, and Sandman vol. 1) because he knew this was my first foray into buying them. "You know, those trades can't exist without the issues existing first, right?"

This made sense to my alcohol-addled college brain. Thus, the war between single-issues and TPBs began for me. Stephen's argument made an impact on me, and for years I did not buy many trades. I was not outwardly against TPBs, but I wanted to support the singles. It was an honored tradition for me, and probably for others, to flip through that single issue of whatever it is that I am reading at the time. Comic books have a smell, especially older ones, that I just love. In fact, my twin brother had to stop reading comics because the smell literally sent his allergies into a rage! That smell of a comic book, old or new, just drives me crazy. I don't want to get too sentimental on you or paint a picture that I get aroused by the smell, but it is unique. You know what I am talking about. Reading the single issues just seemed like the traditional way to read a comic book. So, in the early days of the war between single-issues and TPBs, singles won.

That is until the single-issues became a huge space issue.

Good God. I have to admit that I have kidded myself over the years into thinking that I was a reader only and not a collector. It is true that I will buy a shitty looking comic and reads it. I don't care if a book is being held together by a combination of snot and sheer luck instead of staples; I will buy it just to read the damn thing. But it is also true that I will slap that bugger of a book into a bag and board and store it into a long box. Like the scene at the end of Raiders of the Lost Arc, I slowly walk down the aisles of long boxes to store it away. Over the years, the space issue has caused me many headaches and much stress. It became an economic relationship. As my stress level over space increased, so did my purchasing of TPBs. I have two bookshelves now exclusively dedicated to TPBs. I am a bargain hunter, and recently the bargains have been found in buying used trades online via Amazon.

Many people have said that the medium of comic books is changing forever. As fans, we say yeah right. I mean, seriously, don’t we hear that “everything is changing” line at least thirty times monthly? That is how they sell hype in the comic book world. But nothing ever really changes, does it? And if so, it isn’t permanent.

I do not think that fans will have to choose one or the other in the future. Why can't we have both? While I do think sales of single issues will continue to drive trades in the future, I do see an eventual shift towards trades. It makes sense to me that trades are the wave of the future, but I do not see them fully being our only option as readers. I also think that the technological issue will be important in the future. Is it really so hard to imagine reading an e-issue of your favorite title in the near future? It seems blasphemous to me to read a comic book online (especially given that my computer smells like robotic ass), but it is already happening. And much to your significant others delight, the space issue will become less of a problem. I rue the day when my fiancée realizes Marvel has a digital service. My comic-loving ass will be in trouble. I can see it now. "You mean you could read this stuff online without it being in our bedroom?" The end is nigh at that point!

But for now, why choose between any of those three options? Whatever makes sense for the individual reader should be what they go with. With trades of older material become more readily available, it makes good economic sense to go that route for older comics. If readers can get a good discount on new issues, why not go that route? To me, the beauty of comic books has always been about the choices they provide the fans, not only in the variety of content provided, but in the method of reading the comics as well. If anything, our options are growing as readers, not shrinking, as some would have you believe. The doom and gloomers may want you to believe that you will only have one option of reading in the future. But they are idiots. Or John Byrne. Either way, I think the future is bright for whatever method you choose to read comic books.

Um, unless I am wrong.

Next week, Panelology will start a month long look into what I am calling Casualties of the 90s. These articles will be a quasi-serious, quasi-tongue-in-cheek look at a character, creator, company, or property that rose to startling heights in the 90s and then went bust in some way. I will do my best Paul Harvey impersonation by saying, "...and now, the rest of the story." This will eventually morph into a monthly look at Casualties of the 90s, but I thought I would celebrate with a month long kick off. First off will be my favorite character, Punisher. See you then!


Doug Smith said...

As much as it pains me to say it, I do think online comics are the way of the future. Although for me, nothing will replace the experience of holding and reading a comic BOOK.

But the kids nowadays, they're growing up in a digital world, and that, combined with the ability to produce comics content without the cost of printing, will drive the industry forward.

Brandon said...

I think digital books will happen, but I don't ever see the whole format going away. maybe only the Big Two will be able to publish in this manner for the long run, but I think Graphic Novels will be here to stay.

KACH! said...

I didn't get the comment about Joe Quesada's integrity . . . but I did get the comment about John Byrne. =)