It makes no sense to limit my exposure to new creators and titles — I might miss out on future Cookes and Conners and Vaughan. I don’t want to be stodgy and be one of those old guys who only talks about the great stories and characters of the past, but here I am, basically wrapping up my legs in a blanket after taking two minutes to settle down into a rocking chair, ready to yell at the kids playing near my lawn.
— Mike Romo, wrestling with his urge to read only what he already knows he likes.
I can relate to the sentiment; I’ve been there before. Most comics readers get to a point where our tastes are pretty clearly defined and we’ve lost patience with sampling comics that don’t align with those tastes. The dilemma — as Romo points out — is whether we continue sampling anyway, knowing we’ll be disappointed more often than not, but fearful that not sampling will lead to stagnation.
As I see it, the way out of this dilemma is simple in concept, but difficult in execution. We need to redefine what we mean by sampling. We’ve been trained as comics readers – especially by DC and Marvel – to try a lot of something before we decide we don’t like it. One or two issues isn’t enough; we need to read an entire story arc or two in order to get a real sense of where the series is going. How many times have you heard (or thought yourself) that it’s a good idea to stick with a series in hope that it’ll improve? Or decided that even though not much happens in the first issue, that that’s okay because it’s all “set up”?
That works great for the publishers, but it’s a level of commitment that doesn’t work for consumers who are searching for great reading material. Because it means spending so much extra time with books we’re not enjoying, it leads to the malaise that Romo mentions in his post. The solution is to reduce the size of the sample.
Seriously, a single issue of a comic should be enough to tell you if you’re going to like that comic. There’s no reason to read more than that. If a creative team can’t hook you in the first issue you read, don’t buy another. Spend that money on another sample. Sure, you may give up on something too early and learn later that it turned out to be really great, but that’s what digital libraries and collections are for. If buzz on a comic is excellent, there are lots of opportunities to catch up.
One last piece of advice is to limit the number of comics you’re sampling. To avoid becoming jaded, you want the reliable:new ratio to skew way into the favor of what you’re already enjoying. But by all means keep sampling. That’s how taste grows. Romo describes the “shackles of taste,” but if those shackles are big enough, they slip right off.
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