I have a comic book buying problem. Unlike most weeks wherein I both present some sort of comic-related problem and then lay down a really great answer, I have to admit that I’m totally stumped when it comes to this. I know I buy too many comics, and I know the simplest solution is “just stop,” but figuring out where to cut back and how to implement change eludes me like a shirt eludes Hercules.
I won’t go into numbers regarding my problem because they are relative to each fan’s monetary situation. I listen to podcasts by people who read exactly twice as much as I do, leaving my mind spinning as to how they accomplish such a feat on a weekly basis both monetarily and mentally. I can barely keep all of the ongoing plotlines of my monthly pull list straight. The thought of doubling that makes my head spin.
But when it comes to my specific collecting habits, comics are the only things that I still collect. Even after a recent seismic shift in my own bringing-home-the-bacon department, I still buy the same amount of comics weekly. I’ve told myself that I was going to hold off on buying new things until after I’d read everything I already own. But then I noticed a sale on digital copies of IDW’s new “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” series and I caved to nostalgia. Then I noticed a new “Thor: The Mighty Avenger” trade, and I’d heard nothing but good things about it… and I caved. Then I found old issues of “Savage She-Hulk” and “Ms. Marvel” for cheap online and, come on, there’s nothing more fun than Bronze Era comics! You bet I caved! And so the “to read” pile grows exponentially, with no end in sight.
Two recent events really put this problem into overdrive. I had all of this under control. I read most of the trades that I bought while at home for the holidays and was getting my digital reading list trimmed down. Sure I’m reading way too many ongoing series both in back issues and month-to-month, but at least I was reading what I bought. Then Comixology’s epic Marvel sale hit (featuring 700 #1 issues all for free), followed by the launch of the Marvel Unlimited streaming app. The vault doors had opened, and there I was, staring at decades worth of comics for comparatively little cost (or in the case of the Comixology sale, zero cost).
Remember the old Nickelodeon event, the Super Toy Run, wherein a kid that I was super jealous of would get a minute to run through a giant toy store, shoving everything in sight into their cart to take home? This was the digital equivalent of that. By the end of that weekend I had a ridiculous amount of comics in my queue to read, most of them ongoing series that I really have no time to start. I have to finish “Sweet Tooth” and “Scalped” before I tackle the insanity of Todd McFarlane’s “Spider-Man”! I now know that those kids went home with a shopping cart full of more Nerf guns and Gak Splats than they could ever need.
But also “boo hoo,” right? I know that having a lot of free comics to read is a complete non-problem. I need to cut back on what I’m spending more than what I’m queuing for free. But this quasi-dilemma makes me wonder how new readers are handling comics in the digital era, where events like Comixology’s free Marvel Comics blitz and the site’s weekly 99-cent sales are commonplace. As a kid, I had to read “Uncanny X-Men” by convincing my mother to buy every back issue I could, when I could track them down. Now you can read a chunk of it for the price of one month’s Marvel Unlimited subscription. I foolishly treat digital comics as if I found them in the wild, like the physical back issues of my youth. In actuality, those digital comics aren’t going anywhere any time soon. They’re not in the wild; they’re in the supermarket. It wouldn’t hurt for me to let a sale or two slip by every now and then. The issues are always going to be there, unlike the first time I passed up the opportunity to own “Uncanny X-Men #266 (which I didn’t buy until years later when I happened upon it at a kiosk in a mall, of all places).
The digital revolution also means that I should be better about chillaxing with my monthly pull list. I’ve dropped books more regularly in the last year than in previous, now that catching up is only a few clicks away. I need to focus on the series that are truly great and worth my monthly attention; the rest I should be fine with catching up with later, if ever. But that of course adds to the very first problem I mentioned above: the exponentially growing “to read” list.
As a kid, I constantly dreamed of being able to read every comic book ever, at any time I wanted. Since I’m the kind of adult that works in a Super Toy Run reference into his column, it should come as no surprise that that dream is still alive today. It’s just that today the dream has pretty much come true, and it’s a bit different from what I thought it’d be. I love that comics are more accessible than ever, and I hope that this accessibility helps new readers pick up the hobby. But as a reader twenty years into the hobby, I’m still a bit overwhelmed and have old habits that need changing.
Because I have to eat. And ’70s issues of “Marvel Team-Up” are not food.
Brett White is a comedian living in New York City. He co-hosts the podcast Matt & Brett Love Comics and is a writer for the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre show Left Handed Radio: The Sequel Machine. His opinions can be consumed in bite-sized morsels on Twitter (@brettwhite).