Comic books killed my credit score
I have a real love-hate relationship with comic books.
I grew up on them, devouring comics as a kid. Today's youth have it easy. You can check comic books out of the library and, thanks to apps like Comixology, everything published is available at the click of a button. As a kid, though, I was limited in what I could get my hands on to read.
There were comic book shops in the town I grew up but the people who worked there were snobbish gatekeepers who made me feel weird and unwelcome. I was a kid in their dungeon, so I preferred to stick to the brightly-lit magazine aisles of retailers like Wal-Mart or HEB. Wal-Mart, in particular, was great at offering affordable value packs that the retailer would package together from their stock of back issues.
Trade paperback collections were rare in the '90s, with only a handful of compilations available, and these primarily being super expensive. I spent a lot of time at Waldenbooks at the mall flipping through them but rarely had enough cash in my wallet to buy any.
I didn't collect any titles month-to-month. Instead, I picked comics based on the cover, oftentimes not understanding the books' convoluted plots because of the fact that I hadn't read any of the previous month's issues. To help make heads and tails of the books I was reading, I started to pick up Wizard, a monthly rag dedicated to providing the latest values for collectible comic books. I bought the magazine more for the juvenile humor scattered throughout the pages than actual interest in assigning value to my tiny collection. For the longest time, Wizard was the only comic book-related thing, I bought. I was like the person who buys Soap Opera Digests or reads episode recaps online, and I was OK with that.
In high school, though, I became friends with a group that shared an interest in comic books for the first time in my life. I had friends growing up that watched X-MEN cartoons are knew who Venom was, but this was the first time I had buddies who went to the comic book store every Wednesday. This common bond we shared spurred me to increase my own consumption of the medium. With a bit more spending money in my wallet thanks to a summer spent working at camp, I started buying a graphic novel every time I went to the bookstore. Even still, I didn’t become an avid comic book collector until I went to college.
Because I didn’t have a car my first year of school, I would walk to the comic book store every month to pick up the latest issue of Wizard the week it hit the stands. Eventually, though, I started to feel that if I was going to make the effort to walk five miles to the comic book store, I wanted to go home with more then just a single magazine. I eventually started to buy other books that caught my attention. Soon, I was making a point to follow specific titles, buying each new issue as it came out. Before long, I was going to the comic book store two or three times a month.
By the time I got a car my sophomore year, I was making weekly trips to the comic book store. Now friends with the woman who owned the shop, I went as much for something new to read as I went to talk to the shop’s owner. At first I only bought a single book a week but, on one visit before I was about to take a trip to San Francisco, I decided to buy a handful of books for the plane ride. That act opened up a proverbial Pandora’s box. Consuming the books with gusto during the trip, I came back and instantly went to buy a new batch of books. Soon enough, on my weekly trips to the comic book store, I was walking away with almost $30 to $40 worth of comic books. Needless to say, I wasn’t making enough money to comfortably support this habit. Because of the number of books I bought each week, I would often not have enough money to eat well – surviving only on Ramón noodles or dollar cheeseburgers.
As much as I hate to admit it, I even put a sizable dent on my credit cards by pulling out the plastic whenever I didn’t have enough cash to buy my weekly fix. I guess you can say that I came to the same end that every addict comes to – I hit rock bottom. My personal plummet came when I had two credit cards and a debit card denied as I tried to buy my new supply of books. Although the manager of the comic book store offered to let me take the books home that night and come back the next day to pay, I knew that I wouldn’t have enough money the next day either. I was flat broke and buying comics was the last thing that should be on my mind.
Embarrassed, I went home that day and put some serious thought into how unhealthy my obsession with comics had become. It was then that I realized that I had bought a comic book for the last time.
I spent years without buying comic books. Wizard went bankrupt and I moved to following comic book news on sites like CBR.com and BleedingCool.com but I didn't bother stepping back into a comic book store until about ten years ago, and even then I was more of an infrequent graphic novel reader than a monthly collector. And then I discovered Comixology. As I mentioned above, I love the freedom to experiment that the site offers, I can pick up a book on impulse and, if I like it, immediately buy every issue that has come before in the run. I read more comics now than I ever have in the past, but I own so few physical books in my collection. And I'm OK with that.
Here comes the hot take: Monthly physical comics are a wasteful and outdated practice. As a form of entertainment, monthly comics are a rich man's hobby. Paying $4 to $5 for fifteen minutes' worth of entertainment, especially in this era of decompressed storytelling, is a hard pill to swallow. There are, of course, examples of great books - titles jam-packed with entertainment that more than cover the cost to purchase them, but - as a whole - monthly comic books are a luxury that I don't see sticking around for too much longer.
It may not happen for another ten years, but I can't help but imagine a future where the Big Two (Marvel and DC) switch to releasing ready to consume graphic novels and 100+ page trade paperbacks instead of releasing monthly print titles. Maybe the titles are serialized monthly via digital outlets before their graphic novel release. Regardless of the details, the big publisher's monthly comic book department seems like it is in its last generational cycle.
But that's OK - leaving their comic book roots behind is the last step characters like those from Marvel Comics need to embrace their final destiny - pure modern mythology. What began in comics and continued in toys, television shows, games and movies will end in communal storytelling. DC and Marvel's characters need to be set free. Not from copyright and trademark laws - that's never going to happen, let's face it - but from continuity.
Spider-Man needs to shed his nearly 60-year history of back issues and soap opera storytelling and be allowed to be an icon, one that can be remixed, reimagined and reinterpreted to the desire of whoever is telling the story. I am fully aware that there are already mini-series and one-shots and other flirtations with out-of-continuity Spider-Man adventures, but as long as that monthly series is chugging along, pretending to drive the conversation about the character and who and what he can be, Spider-Man will never be truly free. This goes the same for all of comic book characters - from Black Panther to Batman to Brother Voodoo.
Marvel and DC need to understand that their superhero characters no longer belong to the printed page - they are on the cusp of becoming true modern world mythology. Let them free from the shackles of sequential storytelling and let a planet full of artists and storytellers make them into legend. Every time somebody tells a Sherlock Holmes, Frankenstein, or Robin Hood story, do they feel the need to bridge it from the last one? No - they cherry-pick the parts they want, jettison the stuff that's old hat and passe and create something that reflects the world around the storytellers.
Listen up, comic book industry - It's time to quit the race before the race quits you - stop publishing monthly comic books. At least for the sake of my credit card bills.