Why I Quit Reading Comics

Spider-Man No MoreYou may have noticed I’ve been on a superhero movie kick lately. My last four reviews are all, in one form or another, superhero-based films, as is the next. I’ll be deliberately taking a break from them for a bit to put some variety back into the blog and my viewing schedule, but it should come as no surprise to any regular readers that I’m a fan of the genre. And I have been for most of my life.

I grew up watching Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends and various incarnations of Super Friends among my other Saturday morning cartoons. I couldn’t buy comic books — no allowance — but the local library had a few collections available. I remember hardbound origin stories of Captain America, the Fantastic Four, and Spider-Man, and at least one Superman omnibus. And of course lots of Asterix. When I became an adult, I got into the miniatures game Heroclix, and this led to me getting into reading comics regularly. But a few years ago, I quit. I’m still a fan of all of the characters, I still love the superhero genre. But it’s unlikely I’ll ever return to reading comics regularly again.

Booster Gold AdThe money, obviously, is a large part of it. Comic books, like anything else, have gone up in price over the decades. I think when I was kid they were around 75 cents. When I collected them as an adult, they cost $3 each. $3 seems a little high to treat something as disposable, at least in the slightly neurotic mindset of the typical comic book buyer, so you then buy plastic bags and cardboard stiffeners to prevent them from being easily damaged. If you picked up a few titles per week, the total cost could add up extremely quickly. And don’t imagine for a second that this in any way represents an investment; while vintage comics can sometimes go for a lot of money if they’re the first appearance of some major character, most modern comics don’t hold their value. You’d be lucky to get one dollar back out of your three. They’re also expensive — or perhaps I should say expansive — in a non-financial sense as well; just as the cost adds up quickly, so does the amount of space they take up. A serious collector might find themselves using up a “long box” — about three feet — in the span of a year.

Doctor Strange The OathBut it’s not just the costs involved. A couple of months back, Marvel and Comixology had a promotion where they gave away over 700 digital copies of #1 issues of different Marvel titles — ranging from the major ones to the obscure, long-running titles and one-shots. I signed up, I took part in the giveaway, I got my 700 free “purchases” added to my account. These were as free as free could be. They cost me no money to obtain, they take up no space in my home. They’re hosted online, so they don’t even take up any space on my hard drive. And I haven’t actually gotten around to reading a one of them yet. Somehow, I just always find something else I’d rather be doing.

Annihilation Conquest PrologueI’m sure I’ll turn my eyes to some of them eventually, but my disinterest — which would have surprised me half a decade ago — has its foundations in the directions the medium has gone over the years. Part of it is simply that in many of these cases, there wouldn’t be much point to me reading them, even if the title sounded interesting. Stories that are told in a single issue are rare nowadays; most stories are written with the omnibus in mind, and span five or six issues. If you want a complete story, you’re looking at fifteen to eighteen dollars if in physical copies; I haven’t checked Comixology’s prices, but there’s no doubt this factored heavily into their planning for the promotion. The idea is to get you interested in the story so you’ll buy the rest of it. It’s not a heinous plan or anything; it’s still quite generous, assuming you’re reasonably interested in the stories. But somehow, despite that being the setup when I started collecting as an adult, it no longer appeals to me. I might read series of books that don’t tell everything in one go, but if I have to wait and/or pay extra for the next installment, I want that first installment to have some serious meat to it. One sixth — or one twelfth, even — of a comic book story usually isn’t all that satisfying. We’re only talking about 20 pages of content, after all.

Blackest Night TalesOne might suppose I could simply go buy the collected volumes as they came out and get complete stories all in one go that way, but aside from the same expense issues as above, it’s not always as complete as one might think. Some of the bigger stories — the ones that impact all the lines and thus the ones you’ll want to know about no matter what you’re normally reading — can really become sprawling with the different tie-ins and crossovers. If I remember right, there are four or five different volumes to Blackest Night, so if you want the whole story, it’s still going to be doled out in several chunks. These crossovers were one of the bigger reasons I tired of comic books. While they can be exciting, they can also grow tiresome if they come too often (which they did) or if they were too sprawling (which they were) or if they derailed the story you were trying to read in a regular comic (and they always did.) Marvel Comics had a “Civil War” that affected all of their titles, and loves to pit different teams of characters against each other. If you want to guess Marvel titles at random just say “Team 1” vs. “Team 2”; chances are, it’s either been done, or it’s in the works. DC Comics is just as bad about it, or even worse, having had multiple 52-issue weekly series, one of which tied into events going on in the regular series. Both companies have periodically had sets of multiple miniseries that all tied into each other, and led into a big “maxiseries” at the end of it all. It just gets to be too much to keep track of.

One More DayAnd sometimes it’s hard to keep track of even the story you’re reading. Superhero movie fans have learned the nature of reboots with Batman Begins, The Amazing Spider-Man and Man of Steel, but it’s a way of life for comic book fans. There are two basic forces at play in the writing of comics that make continuity a mess even for somebody with an encyclopedic knowledge of characters. The first is simple salesmanship; a shocking swerve drives up sales, so writers and editors love to throw out the familiar in favor of something new every now and then. Characters die left and right, and come back to life as frequently. I think Jean Grey of the X-Men is up to around a dozen resurrections by now, Captain America was dead for a while, and every major DC Comics character has died at least once. The second factor is that the inmates are running the asylum. The average comic book character is around twice as old as the average comic book writer. They grew up reading these characters, they’re fans, and they have their own ideas of what the best take is. And they don’t always agree. The result is that when one writer or editor takes over and doesn’t like what the previous creators did, they change it, even at the expense of linear — or quality — storytelling. The editor-in-chief at Marvel didn’t like the fact that Peter Parker wasn’t single because it “made him seem too old”, so he mandated a story where Spider-Man, in order to restore the secret of his identity and save Aunt May’s life, sold his marriage to the devil. No part of that sentence is a joke. DC Comics has restructured their entire universe at least three times that I’m aware of in the last ten years alone. Most recently they rebooted everything — literally everything — to square one, with entirely new takes on things. I gather it’s been successful for them, but I don’t know these characters anymore. The stories I knew “no longer count” for stories going forward. It’s not the first time, and it won’t be the last. Five or ten years down the line, some new editor will decide he really liked the Superman with multiple decades of history, and it’ll all come back again.

But I don’t think I will. I still enjoy some of the stories, but it’s hard to sort the wheat from the chaff. I find I don’t have the ambition to hunt for the good stories any more. It’s more efficient — and generally more rewarding — to stick to the movies, where it’s a lot easier to tell where to begin, what’s connected, and what’s good.

About Morgan R. Lewis

Fan of movies and other media
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17 Responses to Why I Quit Reading Comics

  1. Cost and space were the driving factors for me giving them up. I still collect a handful of titles in trade (Fables, Saga, whatever Morrison is doing), but I long ago gave up on Marvel and while I gave a couple of nuDC titles a try, the superhero stuff didn’t work for me. The magic/horror stuff like Swamp Thing, Justice League Dark, and I… Vampire was better, but now they’ve all either changed creative teams or have been cancelled so I cut those off as well.

    That said, it looks like comic book sales are the highest now in about 10 years, so someone is buying them. More power to ’em, but I’m comfortable being out of the crazy.

  2. Yeah, I’m in an “off” period right now. For me, it was always the time to read them all… I’d go to the shop, buy a stack of titles that appealed to me, and then wind up building a pile of backlog that I could never get to!

    There’s always something out there worth reading, I’m sure I’ll get back into it one of these days!

    • The time is certainly a factor as well. I remember there were a lot of times when I’d spend an afternoon reading an entire month’s worth of titles because I hadn’t had time to get around to the weekly reading until then.

  3. I have trimmed my pull order at this point down to about 4 books. I honestly don’t seem to have the time to read them like I used to. Also spot on about where to keep them and the lack of fun in trying to keep them in pristine condition and for what? I used to just keep them in a big pile and read through the same 30 books over and over when I was a kid. So many titles and producers now it is crazy. I actually enjoy talking it up with the owner of the comics shop almost more than reading the books at this point. I almost feel obligated to show up there every other month or so. lol

    • I understand that as well. I didn’t spend as much time talking it up with the comics shop owner, but you do get to feeling like they really count on their regular customers.

  4. Spikor says:

    I’ve been reading The Walking Dead in trades since ’05. Other than that, I pick up trades of stories by authors I enjoy, or have heard amazing things about. I sometimes grab some riskier buys when stuff is on ridiculous sale.

    But whenever they release a new He-Man series, I’m there as soon as I find it. I buy them in monthlies. This usually leads me into buying one or two other monthlies. Which of course causes a snowball effect until the point that I have to cut back to just trades of The Walking Dead, and the odd BKV title. Usually by this time, the He-Man series has been cancelled.

    • How many series is He-Man up to now, anyway? Four? Five? One of those cases where it’s memorable enough that they want to keep bringing it back, but they can’t seem to make it click.

      I don’t think I’ve even bought a TPB for five years. Just completely cut it all.

      • Spikor says:

        The ’02 relaunch lasted for almost 2 years, with a re-1-ing when they introduced the Snake Men. Of course, they also had the Origin of One shots for Trap Jaw, and I think Tri-Klops. My LCBS’s never got the one shots, so I don’t know what I missed there.

        Then there was nothing until last June, when they launched a 6 part series that has garnered some very mixed reactions. But it was successful enough to have 2 Origin of 1 shots, and afterwards, the re-1-ing that’s going to release Issue 3 next week, after another Origin of 1 shot for Hordak last week.

        That paragraph would make perfect sense… if you already knew the answer to your own question. 😛

        I highly recommend picking up Saga. It’s 2nd trade comes out early/mid July, and the first trade is only $10. No idea on a price point for the 2nd one, yet.

        Also coming out is the trade of the 6 issue He-Man arc from last June-Dec. I recommend it, because it’s interesting, as a He-Fan. But be warned that could leave you leave a fan very, very, very upset.

        • Uh oh. One of those “Let’s do something daring and shocking” stories? 😀

        • Spikor says:

          Yup. It also divides the fan base on what their favourite lore was. In many ways, it picks and chooses canon from the original Minis, the original series, and the ’02 relaunch.

          It also starts the story after a monumental event that, as a reader, you would love to have more information regarding.

          I found it fascinating. I still don’t know if I love it, hate it, or love to hate it.

  5. Sold all mine more than a year ago. And ever since DC flipped the breakers, about the only compulsion I’ve felt to check new stuff out is Gail Simone’s Batgirl.

    It’s sad because what I loved about comics — the rich history — is what’s being jettisoned. Not that I know a better way to bring in new folks AND maintain the intricate backstories, but it seems like someone should have by now.

    Regardless, comics ARE a huge money/space sink. The online versions are often just as expensive as physical books, even though –and we’ve discussed this elsewhere — they could just go *POOF* anytime the publisher feels like it.

    So yeah, while I still love the characters, the colors, the fights, and the fantasy, I don’t foresee a scenario where I’ll be getting back into regular comic buying again.

    • Yeah, I jettisoned most of my collection three or four years ago. Held onto a few things like the old 80s Transformers comics where they fit in with some non-comic collection I have, but that’s about it.

      It is sad to see that history go. And I just have to wonder how long the resurgence of sales will last, with that consideration. It doesn’t take too long before the “new universe” has as many continuity snarls as the old. I don’t know. I don’t know a solution either.

      And yes… as we’ve mentioned before, it is rather galling that the digital versions of things are often just as pricey as the physical ones, but less permanent. Seen it with comics, movies, books… not a fan. Especially since I’ve had one of my movies go “POOF”, so it’s not a hypothetical. (Fortunately, that one was a freebie, but still.)

  6. Good points across the board.

    My heyday regularly buying comics was basically the 80s. Throughout the 90s and 00s I would typically buy one-shot graphic novels or collected issues of a specific story line. But recently with the purchase of an iPad, the discovery of Comixology, and Comixology’s tendency to offer 99-cent specials I have gotten back into comics.

    All that being said I have recently started to scale back my purchases; primarily for the reasons you listed. Comixology had a sale on everything to do with the Marvel Universe wide Civil War series and I bought them all. I thought it was well written and liked the thought process behind it. What I didn’t like about it is it lead to another Marvel-Universe wide series which led to another Marvel Universe, and again and again and again. The other major annoyance is the expansion of a few teams across multiple titles. How many X-Men teams and Avengers teams can you possibly have?

    I do like the multi-issue stories within titles, as well as titles that exist–for the most part–in their own little world. X-Factor is a good example of this.

    Thanks for the essay.

    • The super-sprawl is definitely one of the major irritations. One crossover leading to another, 50 different X-Men titles so you can’t tell which is which… yeah, I’m in agreement with you there.

      I also liked the “standalone” titles. X-Factor was one of my favorite Marvel titles while I was collecting. Just saw that it’s getting cancelled… even though I’m no longer reading it, that’s still kind of sad for the fans.

  7. David says:

    I also grew up on Spider-Man & His Amazing Friends but was also big into Marvel comics at that age, particularly the X-Men (back when there was only one “X” book and it wasn’t a whole wing of the Marvel Universe…not sure if Wolverine had his solo series yet). You nail many reasons why I no longer read current comics, but here are some more:

    * Not much content per book anymore. With narration boxes and thought bubbles becoming largely extinct in the last few decades, there’s very little to actually read in any particular issue. So you end up going cover-to-cover in almost no time at all, and that makes it even harder to justify the increasing costs. I used to lament how wordy Chris Claremont was during his X-Men days, but the inverse is much worse.

    * Tonal shift. Today’s comics just don’t have an overall tone which I can appreciate. Even the most mainstream superhero comics are noticeably more “mature readers” in tone than they used to be. I don’t need darkness, I don’t need promiscuity, I don’t need an excess of moral grayness. Plus many of them downplay costumes and codenames, which are still major draws for me even though I’m way past the age where I’m supposed to be dazzled by a cool-looking spandex outfit.

    * Lack of single-issue stories. Okay, you did mention this one, but I just wanted to emphasize it. I still read comics, but I almost exclusively read back issues from the Bronze Age (1970s, some of the 1980s). Single-issue stories abound in that time period, and they are a real treat compared to the current trend of stretching a story out over 4+ issues even though it doesn’t really have enough content to fill that many issues.

    • All very good points. You’re right about the narration and dialogue boxes; when an issue is just a textless slugfest, it takes no time at all to go through it. I sometimes felt like writers were trying to storyboard a movie sequence rather than writing a story. It plays right into the single-issue problem, since so often it just feels like blatant padding.

      I also agree about the tonal shift, and that’s something that bothers me about the movies a lot of times as well. Whatever happened to good guys being good guys? Where does this notion that someone has to be an asshole in order to be interesting come from? *Civil War* was pretty much the breaking point for me with the comics, and now they’re announcing that’s where they’re going with the movies. Sheesh. Give me a Superman and a Batman who would never fight each other, give me heroes that will always follow Captain America into battle. The grim and gritty stuff has its place, but it shouldn’t be everything.

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