I’ve gone through several distinct stages when I was buying and reading comic books on a regular basis. There was the junior high and high school period, when I was subscribed to Star Wars and Alpha Flight and The New Mutants, and was picking up X-Men and Micronauts pretty regularly. I was keeping up with The Avengers thanks to a friend who was collecting, and from perusing the newsstands (the place you got comic books before they became solely the province of comic book shops) I was pretty up to speed on most of the goings on. I knew bout a crisis and a secret war, and a certain dark knight returning, even if I didn’t actually read all of them at the time. I had enough friends who did that we kept each other filled in on our respective gaps in knowledge.
But then the Star Wars comic series ended, and college sort of got in the way, and my comics were retired to the long box as I fell out of touch with the ongoing story lines. I still got updates from my friends who were still into it, so I knew general trends and themes — I got most of Watchmen pretty much second-hand, for instance — and that was enough for me. This was when I was also getting heavily into role-playing games, and when comic books were first starting their upward trend in price, and a couple of bucks for 22 pages I’d read once versus thirty for a book I’d use over and over again was much of a contest.
Then along came the Image boom. I remember seeing all these enticing “FIRST ISSUE COLLECTOR’S ITEM!” covers at my local 7-11, with brand new characters and some pretty interesting art (except for Youngblood; I was lucky enough to have not only missed the Rob Liefeld boat, but to have arrived at the dock long after the boat had departed and sank). So I started grabbing Spawn and Savage Dragon and Wildcats, and while they didn’t fully recapture the nostalgic days of my earlier comic reading, it felt cool to be in on the ground floor of something. I later found a nearby comic shop that had a pretty great subscription plan, and before I knew it, I was getting the Doomsday storyline and Knightfall in Batman and all the Dark Horse Star Wars titles and a bunch of other stuff. I was buying and reading more now than I had before, and thanks to the relatively new Wizard magazine, knew more about what to look for then I ever had.
Problem was, this was right when the speculation boom was hitting, when the fact that a sixty-year old comic book sold for a couple of hundred thousand dollars — mostly due to the fact there simply weren’t many of them around — made people think the books they were buying and sealing away would someday be worth just as much. Never mind that it was people not seeing the value of their old Superman and Batman and Spider-Man comics that made the existing copies valuable; nope, Wizard said this issue would be worth money, and look, the price guide in that very issue backed them up! And so comics that sold hundreds of thousands of copies at $2.99 were suddenly “worth” $30, $50, even $100, at least according to some magazine. Actually finding someone who would pay that price was another story.
This was also when publishers started getting all gimmick happy, trying to turn every issue into a collector’s item so they could be the next buzz-worthy thing. So we got trading card inserts, foil trading card inserts, foil covers, holographic covers, polybagged books, multiple covers, you name it. Anything to get you to buy more than one copy of a thing, because obviously, you needed one copy you’d open to get all the goodies and one to seal away to fund your retirement.
Except that all fell apart as people realized everybody had a copy of Superman #75, and no matter how much Wizard insisted it was worth, nobody was really buying it, and you really had a bunch of paper in a bag that wasn’t going to fund anything. And that’s when I dropped out again. I’d had it with the gimmicks, with the seemingly endless crossovers, with the style over substance. Besides, with the rise of the trade paperback (book-length collections of multiple issues often easier to find and cheaper than collecting individual issues and offering complete stories in one place) I could simply wait until I heard about a worthwhile storyline and pick it all up in one fell swoop. I didn’t need to maintain long cardboard boxes full of comics, didn’t need to hit the comic shop every Wednesday. I could just pop down to Barnes & Noble when the trade came out.
But then we entered the digital age, and apps like Comixology made it possible to fit entire runs on an SD card. No books to bag, no boxes to take up room. Everything stored as bytes on your device, and delivered without you ever having to even put pants on if you didn’t want to. Which brings me to today. I’m currently subscribed to all the new Marvel Star Wars titles, the new Secret Wars, DC’s Sandman Overture, and Image’s Saga. Yes, the price is kinda steep — $3.99 for an electronic comic, same price as the print version, go figure — but it somehow feels more reasonable than buying physical copies and having to figure out what to do with them. I don’t know if I’ll fully get back on the super-hero bandwagon; the Big Two are way too fond of launching half a dozen mini-series for every major even they do, over-saturating the market without really having much of a story to tell. And with sites like Bleeding Cool and Comic Book Resources, I can pretty much keep up with all the ongoing stories and just jump on to what looks interesting. It’s really a great time to be reading comics.
And yet there are times I miss that teen I used to be, begging my dad to take me up to the comic shop on the weekends, or biking down to the convenience store to spin the rack and see if that new issue of The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe was out. We didn’t care about collecting or value or the business. We just wanted our super-hero fix. Maybe that’s why I’ve found myself continually going back to that well over the years. Maybe I’m trying to find it again. It might be impossible, but I like the idea of trying.