Monday, December 28, 2009

Why I Might Not Read A Comic Book

Over the 4-day weekend, I read about 100 comic books. I don't read comics like normal people do. I read them in giant chunks of at least 20 or more at one sitting. I think part of this is because, due to my work schedule, my free time really isn't parceled out evenly. But also, I'm pretty OCD about reading my comics. If I have a large stack that is unread, I feel this driving need to read them ALL – or, after a period of time, throw them away. You see, I used to accumulate massive (massive) quantities of (mostly free) comics that I never read, which took up a great deal of space in my living quarters. So to avoid this, I made the rule that I have to either read them or chuck them; long-term storage for when "I have the time" is not an option.

I'm also very OCD about reading all the comics in a certain pile, in the exact order I pulled them. If more comics are added to the pile by a well-meaning outside agency (say, my boyfriend), I must then read those comics as well (even though they are not mine and I did not plan on reading them). To clarify, I'm not truly truly OCD about all this, in a clinical sense. I could break these patterns and habits if I really wanted to; I would just die a little bit inside.

Because of these rigid self-imposed rules surrounding my comic book reading habits, a comic book has to be really bad in order for me to throw them off the reading pile. Mediocre and pointless I can deal with. But there are some comics that I find completely unreadable.

Here are some of the factors that go into unreadable comic books for me:
  • Boring. Bad comics can be really enjoyable, but boring comics are unforgivable. Some writers can have really "talky" comics that totally work and flow. And some writers lose me in their mass of word balloons. Poorly-handled and plodding exposition can really kill a comic for me. Also, there are some comics based on pre-existing "universes" that really make the assumption (and maybe rightly so) that the reader is familiar with the universe in question; but because it's all "Greek" to me, I just lose interest.
  • Embarrassing covers. Look, I have no problem buying a comic with out-and-out porn on the cover, as long as that pornographic image is organic to the story and derives some sort of artistic merit by virtue of its hyper-realism or ingenious stylistic qualities. But there was a recent mini-series about a pretty sedate and cerebral female character in which every cover looked like she was having a guttural, open-mouthed orgasm. The vibe those covers produced didn't match the story nor the character. It's like you did a biography on Jane Goodall or Emily Dickinson and had her do an open-mouthed orgasm face on the cover. It's not a matter of prudery; it just doesn't fit. So anyway, that mini-series is still sitting unread in my recycling pile. Because I like the writer, I think I'll just tear all the covers off and give it another shot.
  • Small world. Look, if anybody who worked on the particular comic in question either sexually harassed me, tore my cervix open, or perpetrated some other unfortunateness upon my person, I'm probably not going to read the comic. This is because the comic book industry is a relatively small world, and these things happen.
Outside of the aforementioned, I will pretty much read any comic on my pile.


  1. So when you 'throw away' those comics that you don't read, do you actually chuck them in the garbage, put them in a free bin, or donate them to the local library? I don't know why this seems important to me - maybe there's something shiver-inducing about the idea of throwing away books, you know?

  2. please give unwanted comics a home. if you have to, mail them to me, and i'll make sure they find owners who will love and appreciate them.

  3. I've lived in the past with a massive hoarder (A&E's "Hoarders" level hoarder), had many comic collecting friends who were hoarders to various degrees, and have had hoarding tendencies (albeit relatively mild) myself. "I'll just hold on to this until I find someone who needs it" just doesn't work for a person of this mindset; it's like being a alcoholic but still drinking alcohol. It can't be done; or, if it's done, it must be done within a very tight timeframe.

    What I had to learn was that reading material *can* be disposable. As a lifelong comic collector (and bookworm) this was a blasphemous thought that took a long time to accept. That paperback copy of "Atlas Shrugged" could totally light up somebody's life. Or it could go into the recycling bin, get pulped up, and turned into paper. Whatever the case, if it's taking more than 20 minutes to decide where the unwanted item in question should go, CHUCK IT OUT INTO THE RECYCLING BIN. And if you have the plan in place to ship the books to some charity halfway across the country, and it's been two weeks and you haven't had time to do it and the books are just piling up – CHUCK THEM ALL INTO THE RECYCLING BIN.

    I've also made the mistake in my lifetime of taking in the unwanted collections of others who were trying to be healthy and open up more space in their lives. I've also committed the unforgivable act of giving massive portions of my own unwanted collections to people who I knew were hoarders – thus enabling their disease and burying them in my detritus.

    There is no shortage of cheap/free comic books (or book-books) out there to read, if that is what one wants. DC Comics had a gigantic (the size of a small car) shredder in their library/archive room that did nothing but chop up comics all day and deposit them directly into recycling bags. You may think that is barbaric, but what else were they supposed to do with quantities of unwanted comics of that scale?

    As a postscript, the reason DC started with the big shredder was that they had a rampant hoarding problem involving some of their employees and the comp comics they received every week. Again, in a few examples, we are literally talking about a hoarding problem on the level of A&E's reality show "Hoarders." So one day corporate ordered all of us to clean out our offices. We were encouraged to dump our extras in large bins for recycling. Some resisted and hired vans or other means to take all their books home with them. I initially resisted, and took many of the cast-offs that were in the big recycling bins. Because you know, those books couldn't go to waste. Then at some point I attained something close to sanity, and started throwing everything away in the bins; I never looked back from that.

    (also: some of us, me included, used to take home the make-readies as well. That's the unbound comic books we got every week of the books about to be printed. If you want to talk about a hoardy paper nightmare ripe for fire-hazard.)

    All this said, I'll be the first in line to take free comics – especially new stuff – and read them. I have a voracious appetite for reading new comics. But unless they are really good (or potentially might be handy for writer's reference – though that too can be a hoarder's trap if you're not careful), I will not keep them. And I'll only give them away to people who will do as I do: read, keep a few, and discard the rest.

    So if there is a program that people who love to read (but are not hoarders) can easily take their unwanted books to and trade with others, I think that's great & I support it. Other than that, I'd just as well move that paper along through the circle of life.

  4. I'm a hoarder. :(

    I also took to reading batches of comics every Sunday. Then I got too busy with deadlines and that was kiboshed. And my addiction to discount bins has left me quite the backlog I need to get to before Con season starts back up...

  5. I try not to hoard so much these days. I'm a big fan of upgrading to trades, then finding a new home for the comics.
    As time and (lack of) money ensue, I'm having to find more titles to drop or wait for the trade.
    I agree about if you're pondering keeping it for 20 minutes, ditch it, but I've been doing the same for computer games, dvds and such, too.

  6. Gnort2:45 PM

    It's true, the comics/space thing is my major issue with collecting.

    That said, I think you're wrong about one thing: that paperback copy of "Atlas Shrugged" could never light up somebody's life.

  7. Hello. Might I suggest that you donate any unwanted comic books to my elementary school. I am leading a literacy initiative using comic book reading and creation in the building where I teach in Schenectady, NY.

    Feel free to contact me with donations at