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Losing faith in comic books

Wall of text alert! But hey, this is important, and I’d appreciate your comments afterwards.

I’ve been reading comic books since around 1984. I read ‘em off and on as a kid, then got more “serious” about collecting in high school in college. Comics have been a part of my life for…well, most of my life. There have been times where I was obsessed with comics as well as times where I just didn’t give a shit. Here we are in 2014, roughly thirty years after I began reading funnybooks, and I’ve been giving many long months’ thought to a serious shift in policy over my comic-buying habits.

With rent and other life expenses due to increase this year, I may (mostly) quit buying comics. Let me explain a bit further, as it’s not as cut and dry as that statement might lead you to believe.

First, let me explain why I’ve been thinking about this. At its core, I no longer feel that comic book issues are worth their purchase price, even the good ones. The average price of a comic book nowadays is $3.99, and that’s just too much. Maybe it’s kept pace with inflation, maybe not, but there’s something much bigger for the medium to worry about: comics now have to compete with digital sales of music, books, video games, movies, television shows, and computer or smartphone applications. Many of these are cheaper than a single issue of a comic book, and offer much longer lasting value. Even if you put subjective quality aside, look at basic numbers: a comic you can read in five to ten minutes…or a movie that lasts an hour and a half.

I mentioned last year that I often have trouble remembering what happened in many comics’ previous issues. This may be connected to an overload of media consumption in general, but the more I think about it…it may simply be that I’m not that interested anymore. Series I regularly enjoy — like Mega Man and everything the resurrected Valiant Entertainment is putting out — are great, but I don’t know if they’re worth the price anymore.

Even my longtime favorites Green Lantern and Iron Man, which have had their share of highs and lows, are having a hard time keeping my interest enough to make me want to keep shelling out the cash for them each week. (The Lanternverse being expanded into five goddamned monthly series doesn’t help, either.) Despite vast improvements in both (thanks to a switch in creative teams) over the past year, I’m finding that I’m rarely waiting with baited breath to see what the next issue will bring.

More importantly, I don’t feel a need to reread most of my comics. By way of comparison, I’ve always applied a simple rule to DVD purchases: if it’s something I don’t plan on rewatching multiple times over the next few years at least, then I don’t need to own it. Why shouldn’t it be the same with comics? I don’t have anything in my collection worth a lot of money, and I never collected comics for that reason, anyway. It was always to preserve them for later reading, and if that’s not going to happen…well, do the math.

Which brings me to my next point. Ending current purchases is one thing, but what about the big collection of comics I already own? Well, except for my signed issues and most of my trade paperbacks and manga, I’m even entertaining the thought of parting with my entire comic book collection.

I’m sure some of you are doing spit-takes right now.

I don’t own nearly as much as my peers, but there’s still about twenty shortboxes worth of comics taking up space in my closet. Look, I’ve been cleaning out a lot of the cruft over the past year, bringing old series and whatnot to my local comic book shop, and trading them in for store credit. The staff’s been very helpful and generous with that. I’d much rather the books find their way into other fans’ hands, and for random assortments, bringing them to a comic book store sure beats eBay.

As you have undoubtedly surmised, a possible purge may even include even my lauded Green Lantern and Iron Man collections. (Now you’re really freaking out, aren’t you?) Yes, they are my two favorite superheroes, and I’ve been reading their adventures since childhood. But consider these examples.

Iron Man famously relaunched as part of “Heroes Return” in 1998. The new series featured top creators in the form of Kurt Busiek and Sean Chen, and the book was great, even after new writers and artists took over down the line. I loved those stories, and they kicked off a new era of Iron Man fandom for me.

I haven’t read any of those issues since.

I dug out the Kyle Rayner era of Green Lantern (Vol. 3) and read it again about two years ago, but I feel no desire to reread any old Hal Jordan adventures from before that time period. (Maybe “Hard-Traveling Heroes,” but I’ve got that in a set of collected editions.) And that’s the stuff I grew up with! As for the material that came after Vol. 3, that’s when the entire mythos was radically altered. Most of Geoff Johns’ tenure on Green Lantern was atrocious, so the odds of me dragging those stories out again are unlikely. (I definitely won’t read that “Wrath of the First Lantern” shit ever again.)

This whole thing isn’t completely without precedent. I actually stopped buying comics in 2008 (save for a few trade paperbacks), and this lasted for about a year and a half before I got back into Green Lantern. Thus, rather than cutting off all comic book purchases completely, I may once again switch to trade paperbacks, though they often come out extremely late, especially in the case of Marvel and DC. Plus, even the cost of those is beginning to get ridiculous, and they collect fewer and fewer issues now; generally only four or five issues per volume, rather than the six or more which was the de facto standard for ages.

The other solution is moving on to digital comics. This may come as a colossal shock, since I generally hate digital versions of comics, books, movies, and so forth. I see those forms of media, particularly when they’re loaded with digital rights management (DRM), to be nothing more than rentals, not something you’re buying and owning. (Yet, you’re still paying a premium.) If you want to just rent, then sign up for something like Marvel Unlimited, which is a brilliant idea. It boggles the mind as to why DC Comics has not followed suit.

Believe me, I wish there was a better way to buy digital comics. comiXology is a great platform, but it’s laden with DRM, and there’s no way to back up your purchases. Image Comics offers DRM-free downloads, but I don’t read any of their books save for Saga, which I purchase in trade paperback form. Regardless, there’s still the price problem that afflicts all comics. Like I mentioned earlier, the average price of a comic book is four bucks…and that’s for print and digital versions. That’s goddamned insane. My personal belief is that digital comics should cost no more than half of their print counterparts, and if I’m trying to cut down on spending, the equal price point is not making it any easier. We’ll just have to see. I could always wait for digital sales or borrow other folks’ comics to read.

It’s all part of an ongoing process towards owning less “stuff” in general. Comics, books, DVDs, video games…I just don’t need to keep all of it lying around, especially since I know I won’t use most of it again. (I’m even cutting back on Gunpla, due to my massive backlog. Oh, horrors.) I’m trying hard to trim down to my favorites and part with the rest. It’s tough, as collecting’s been in my nature for as long as I can remember, but we all need to move on sometime.

As if there wasn’t enough on my mental plate as I agonize my way through this, here’s another wrinkle. I’ve got a sinking feeling that if I do cancel my comic subscriptions, the comic book store crowd will be rather annoyed with me. Not because the shop can’t make up the business elsewhere; I’m pretty sure I’m on the lower tier of spending compared to most subscribers. It’s just that I’ve been friends with them for a very long time, and I’d hate to “betray” them, as it were. This is probably nothing more than my paranoia talking, but I imagine you can still understand my concern.

So what do you think of all of this? Should I make this massive change in my habits, possibly leaving comics behind, in one way or another? I’m not going to bow to peer pressure, but I am honestly interested in what you think, since I know that many of my readers are comic book fans of varying degrees of obsession. “Quitting” comics would be one hell of a switch, but it might be just what the doctor ordered.

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