Stepping Away from Comics, Directly

This past week, a friend posted a video of a friendly local comic shop/bookstore. Used books are stuffed into every conceivable bit of shelf space, surrounding long boxes of comic book back issues, with memorabilia and figurines placed in strategic –and sometimes haphazard– locations. It’s almost archetypical for what you’d imagine a used bookstore/comic shop to be.

A week earlier, I stepped into that same comic shop for, if not the very last time, my last time regularly.

The reason I went there regularly — and in fact had been a “regular” for a good chunk of the past 30 years — was because I had a pullbox. For those who don’t know that term, I essentially had subscriptions to a variety of comics and I’d go into this shop every month or so and pick them up where they’d been kindly setting them aside.

That’s over.

It’s sad, but in a sense, it’s been a long time coming. For years I’ve stared at the $3.99 price tag on most single issues of comics these days and told myself that this was untenable. If a story was good, it would appear in much more affordable trade paperback form. Indeed, most comic runs these days seem to be in six-issue arcs so as to make trade paperbacks a more effortless part of the ecosystem. I’ve enjoyed Saga in this form for years now. Nevertheless, it’s the end of an era on the personal level, though not the first step in that direction.

My first step away from comics was around college, an ancient time technically not before Internet, but for the most part pre-Internet browser. In going to college, I abandoned my subscriptions to the omnipresent superhero offerings and have since come to understand how that has left gaping holes in my general comics-related pop culture knowledge. I’m certain there are no end of characters and storylines familiar to many that are completely new from my experience.

How far-reaching is this? Let me put it to you this way: Harley Quinn is a new character for me.

Lest you feel bad for me in any way, let me assure you I’ve found this to be a benefit as I watch the myriad superhero films and TV series. I have more than a little knowledge of who most of the central characters are (e.g. Green Arrow, The Flash), but pretty much no knowledge of the past 25+ years of established Marvel or DC canon (which they seem to blow up with regularity anyway). In this fashion, I’m able to enjoy countless adaptations of characters and storylines without any worry about their fidelity to the comic version.

But I’m not unaware of how the comics industry, which has given rise to the current juggernaut trend in entertainment, is failing — and may fail to even continue to be the “content farm system” it essentially is for the more lucrative divisions of its parent companies. And what does that mean for the future of superhero films and TV shows? What does this mean for comics publishing in general.

Augie De Blieck Jr. over at Pipeline Comics has a sober look at how the comics industry, which on the whole uses a business model called “the direct market” is, for lack of a better term, imploding. While it’s not necessarily a death knell for comics overall, not seeing a meaningful move en masse to a new business model is dispiriting. I suppose everything could go digital and maybe that’s the big move, but while I’ve gotten digital comics, especially when that’s the place to support indie efforts, I find a surge of luddite sensibilities at the thought of abandoning print comics altogether.

Part of the overall morose feeling is that I know I won’t pursue comic writing any time soon. There was a time when I was sure I’d be diving into comic writing and creating. I’d still love to see a version of The Broken Continent in comic form, that could continue the story more economically than our web series could. But that doesn’t seem likely given indie comics’ own challenges at being profitable.

But for now, I’m a reader of comics only… and only an occasional one at that.

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