Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Topic Thief: Why I Buy The Comics I Buy

As you may know from...knowing me, or perhaps from reading my short bio to the right, my brother and I run a toplist for comic blogs called The Comic Blog Elite.

Comic Blog Elite

Basically, it's a ranked link farm, where the member sites move up and down the list based on their daily hits. All of the sites on this particular list are comic-related blogs, but toplists in general can be found for pretty much any kind of website. From time to time, especially when I'm short on topics for this comic blog, I'll link back to one of my CBE members and work off of their content. Consider it a forced blog ring.

Maybe this will catch on and not be forced next time. But anyway...that's the intro.

Rich Lovatt, the author of one of my favorite CBE sites (in that I actually read it every day), Comic By Comic, asks a question in his latest post: What's most important to you when buying a comic?

Coincidentally, Rich notes that his post grew out of an idea posited by another blogger--J Caleb Mozzocco of Everday Is Like Wednesday--that today, people buy comics not for characters, but for the creators. Rich disagreed, but put the question to his audience. There was a little more to the bigger point, so I will wait here, while you go read both Rich and J's blogs.

Just click their links...I'll go update my Netflix queue or something.

Seriously. I'll wait.



Are you done? (I've got the last disc of The Wire: Season 3 coming later this week...sweet.) Back to this post!

My earliest memory of comics predates any memories of actually reading them. I used my brother's copy of Giant-Size X-Men #1 as a coloring book! When I finally did learn to read, I remember mispronouncing "Uncanny" for years (though I somehow got "Magneto" right).

You might have guessed from the above that I was a Marvel zombie from the start, but, speaking of zombies, my brother also had plenty of old EC Comics and other non-Marvel horror books that served to scare the crap out of me and warp my young mind. DC's I...Vampire was one of my favorite hand-me-down books to flip through back in the day.

Comics have always been there for me, be it as an escape, an inspiration, or to provide an ejumacation. And though I started out reading only the books my brother left within my reach, I eventually started looking for books on my own...ones that appealed to me specifically. I cast my net wide, trying anything with a cool cover, a strong recommendation, or a promising editorial pitch. For the most part, those are still good enough reasons to get me to sample most new #1's.

But comics are expensive, so it takes more than a pretty cover illustration or a hype article in Wizard to get me back beyond that first issue.

For instance, the first comic I ever collected for a complete run (including double-dipping to pick up every trade, was Preacher. I was drawn in by the awesome painted covers by Glen Fabry and the prerelease buzz I heard working in a comic shop when the series was first solicited. But it was the insane story written by Garth Ennis and illustrated by Steve Dillon that hooked me. Everything about that series informed my tastes today. I at least consider anything written by Ennis, drawn by Dillon or Fabry, published by Vertigo, or presented as anything even remotely comparable in tone to the story of a redneck priest, his vampire buddy, and assassin ex-girlfriend on a cross-country mission to find God and kick his ass for being a dick.

Really, that's what Preacher is about.

But then there are the superhero books. Through my brother's collection, I was introduced to classic Marvel series like Frank Miller's Daredevil, Walt Simonson's Thor, John Byrne's Fantastic Four, and decades of X-Men books that started with the first appearance of Juggernaught, and ran through "the Dark Phoenix Saga," "Fall of the Mutants," and the formation of the original X-Factor, plus every story in between. He also collected all of the weird B-list stuff, like Doctor Strange and Cloak and Dagger, Dazzler and ROM: Space Knight, and the always fun What If...?. My favorite book that he collected, though, which cemented my preference for "The House of Ideas" over their Distinguished Competition, was The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, an appendix series that just listed all of the major (not to mention plenty of minor) characters who appeared in Marvel Comics, complete with detailed back stories, explanations of powers, a rundown of important appearances, and even essential details like hair color, height, and "Group Affiliations."

I would lay the Marvel Handbooks out with my friends and we'd just flip through them for hours, thinking guys like Zzzzax, Cotton Mouth, and Angar the Screamer, were just as important as Spider-Man, Captain America, and the Hulk. If we broke away from flipping through these comics, it was to play make believe, posing as these characters, and playing out super-hero scenarios informed by our new encyclopedic knowledge of the Marvel Universe.

DC Comics had it's own handbook series, DC Who's Who?, which we shuffled in with the Marvel books and enjoyed all the same. It was my only exposure at the time to cool concepts like the Suicide Squad, Doom Patrol, Reverse Flash, and Composite Superman.

In fact, most of the books that my brother collected in bulk and for any length of time were the mainstream, top-selling books of that time. The rest, he'd sample a few issues here and there or had them handed down to him before he handed them off to me. So it was only through these handbook comics that I got a look at the deeper offerings of Marvel and DC. Mad Magazine Mad Magazine was about as independent or underground as the collection got during those years.

But that was then. Today, all of that influences what I like, but the Preacher model--that total package of enticing covers, knockout interiors, gripping writing, strong reputation, and plenty of hype--seems to be essential for me to really stick with anything. I find myself collecting series in short spurts, maybe sticking through a storyline or two, but losing interest as soon as one of those pieces falls out of the equation. Maybe covers aren't so big a deal to me beyond the initial attraction, but reputation and hype really do affect me, and they pretty much go hand in hand. If I'm reading a book that other people are vocal haters of, it usually sours my enjoyment. If I'm not reading a book that I hear everyone else rave about, I'm compelled to pick it up. And when the hype sites like Comic Book Resources stop caring about a series or creator, I have to admit, they tend to drop off of my radar too.

I keep tabs on what a few creators are up to, but it's the whole package that gets me to buy a book. There's no writer or artist or character that I will buy a comic for NO MATTER WHAT. Comics are just too damned expensive for that. I want to read the best, the most significant, the most relevant books. Sorry, anything Moon Knight. I loved you in the handbooks, but now...

I will check out the occasional curiosity--a book that doesn't necessarily jump out at me, but that has the strong reputation of people whose opinions I respect. But still, if any of those other elements are lacking once I'm in, I probably won't be back for it the following month.

So, to answer Rich's question, "What's Most Important to You When Buying a Comic?" The Total Package!

But to be more specific (and honest) with my answer, I'd say significance is the biggest decider when I hit the shop on Wednesdays--either significance to the big picture of a continuity I've been following since before I could read (meaning I'm a sucker for all those summer event books from the Big 2) or significance to the industry, where I'd feel like I'm out of the loop or not doing my job as a fanboy by not reading a particular work.

That's not to say all of these mainstream, over-hyped books I pick up end up being very good or having any staying power. I am often blinded by the hype or catch myself chasing a string of useless, waste-of-money tie-ins to some dopey fake event. Meanwhile, I look back at my older books or at the trades on my bookshelf, and realize that some of my favorites are those impulse buys I made, or a book I picked up long after it's original release because of a recommendation, or better yet, because of pure nostalgia. But I guess these books are significant too, in their own way. They're the books that make all the other noise worth it.

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