The 11 Best And Worst Comic Book Things I Did This Year
In 2016, I wanted to fall in love with comics again. I'd always loved comics, and I still do, but you know how it is. Old love is comfortable love. Love that doesn't need to be revisited and re-upped quite as often. Until it does, anyway. Until someone involved in the love is asking why there's less romance and more Netflix now (this applies to both comics AND romantic love, conveniently).
I decided to try some things to rejuvenate my love for comics, and more to the point, to try relating to comics in some new ways.
Did it work?
Good: Visiting A Piece Of Personal Comic Book History
When we pulled up outside Mile-Hi Comics, my partner laughed. She said it didn't seem like we were anywhere near any kind of store, and she was right. We were in the middle of an...industrial wasteland? It was a bunch of warehouses, a bunch of loading docks, and a bunch of train tracks. We parked in a chainlink-surrounded dirt lot. As we walked in the back door, it definitely had the industrial, slightly odd vibe of a place that might inspire a Saw sequel.
It was weird. And great.
Mile-Hi comics was the place to be when I was a youngster. That is, if you didn't have access to the REAL places to be, such as parties, social gatherings, or anywhere geographic as long as you were there with someone you wanted to make out with.
This will date me a bit, but when I was in the serious throes of nerd-ery, you could not buy graphic novels and trade paperbacks at your average Barnes & Noble. AND, companies like DC and Marvel didn't put all their stuff in these formats either. The only way you could get this stuff was to make a journey to a place that actually carried the goods.
The store I visited with my partner wasn't the same as the one I made trips to 20 years ago, but the visit took me back to the time when buying comics wasn't an easy endeavor. You had to drive to another city, unaided by GPS. You had to deal with the people who ran comic book stores, who almost always seemed to be the ultimate example of people who loved a thing and absolutely should not have built a career around selling that thing. You did not see superhero t-shirts at Target, and when a comic book movie came out, you prepped for disappointment. Comic fandom was subculture. Sub-subculture.
Now, don't get me wrong. I know that I probably sound like someone who is nostalgic for a New York City of the early 80's, with its grime and porno theaters and whatnot, but who's forgotten that it was no picnic. I don't think that comic stores have to stay the same. I don't even think they were better back when. They were just different.
Imagine moving into a tiny, crappy apartment with someone you loved when you were younger. You wouldn't want to live in that shit hole today. You're not wishing that things were the same as they were then. But you can still be nostalgic for that time, for some of the feelings from that time.
Me and comics once lived in a sort of cultural shit hole, but we had each other, and it was enough.
It was good to revisit that time, just for a little bit.
Bad: Talking About Comics On Twitter
Here's a piece of advice, take it or leave it:
Unless the entirety of your thing to say about a comic is "It's great!" you can go ahead and skip Twitter for comic book conversations.
Think about your own Twitter life. Have you ever walked away from a Twitter conversation/argument feeling better than when you went in?
Let's put this another way. I read a comic book's worth, nay, a graphic novel's worth, no, an Alan Moore novel's worth of Tweets about comics this year when I could have read actual comics instead.
Good: Reviewing All The Comics I Read On Goodreads
This, I've found, is a much better venue for talking comics. Because most people who will talk with you have also read the same book or books, and you can discuss things in more detail than you can on Twitter.
But it's not just that. I think reviewing comics on Goodreads is a great thing to do because it helps comics be part of the larger discussion of books. They fit in just a little bit better with their wordier brethren.
Bad: Joining A Group Of Comic Book Enthusiasts On Facebook
I should clarify, it's not so much the group. The group is pretty nice, and they post pictures of cool books, great costumes and the like. BUT, reading the comments on things, THAT was a mistake.
What is it about Facebook that seems to bring out the worst in people? My god, I don't think the phrase, "Well, agree to disagree" has EVER been used on that site. Is it filtered or something? Is this part of Zuck's plan to throw the world into chaos and bring on the scourge that is Dromammu?
It's almost like Facebook has become the place we go to get pissed off. We all follow a relative or a co-worker or someone, almost solely because we want to point to their posts and say, "Can you believe this shit?"
That's been my experience, as of late, so I guess I shouldn't have been surprised to find that a Facebook group was not the answer to re-igniting my love for comics.
Good: Starting A Regular Review of Old Comics
I like Spider-Man. And I decided to do a podcast where we go through every issue of Amazing Spider-Man, one show at a time.
Why was this good?
Honestly, the old, old issues of comics are rough. They read like radio plays or something. You half expect someone to break in with an Ovaltine ad. But when you're looking at them closely, you can appreciate both the things that are good about them and the things that are bizarre. For example, in an early issue of Amazing Spider-Man, Flash Thompson and Peter Parker are arguing, and a teacher at their school tells the boys to strap on boxing gloves and sort out their problems that way.
Put that in context. Imagine someone at work saying, "Yeah, my son was arguing with another kid at school, so a teacher threw them in a boxing ring and had them go a couple rounds." How strange is that? How strange is it that this is the product of the world we live in from not that long ago?
Frankly, I started reading old comics the way some people read classics, which is to say I started appreciating what they say about the past and the accomplishments they managed, and I accepted that sometimes they won't be the easiest or most pleasurable things to read.
Bad: Delving Into Digital Comics
Digital comics aren't without their advantages, but I still don't think they've hit on the right formula.
When you have a two-page spread in a paper comic, you can use the space in a lot of different, exciting ways.
When this two page spread is on an iPad, not so awesome.
A two page spread in a print comic is about 13" wide and 10" long. The 12.9" iPad Pro has a 12.9" screen when measured diagonally. I'm not going to bust too much geometry (sorry, Mr. Winegar), but with the iPad on its side, you're missing 26 square-inches of real estate. Something like 20%.
Digital comics aren't a bad thing, but if a comic is being printed digitally, it'd be nice to see it built around the format. Currently, it would seem that comics are designed to be read issue by issue, not in trade paperback or digitally.
For me, the excitement for digital comics will come when they not only match the goodness of reading paper, but when they find a way to exceed it. When the format becomes an advantage, not a hurdle.
Good: Read A Top-Selling Book Of 2016
Ta-Nehisi Coates' Black Panther #1 was a top selling book of 2016, which is exciting for a lot of reasons that a lot of people have spoken about, but I don't know if I've seen consideration given to just how huge the sales were.
In April, the book sold 253,259 issues. That's like early 90's numbers, when people thought that comics were a solid investment. Which they weren't, by then. There's the occasional high-value book, but somehow most people involved in the collecting bubble did not put together the fact that older books were WAY more valuable because A) far fewer were printed, B) they featured early stories of iconic characters, and C) most people back in the day didn't give a rip about comics' collectability, so there weren't a ton that survived in collectible condition.
Black Panther ushered in a huge summer for comics. This June was the comic book industry's best-selling month since 1997.
Other books showed big numbers as well, Civil War II, some Star Wars books. But it felt like the path was set by Black Panther. It was great to read something that was at the forefront, and to see good comics setting the tone for such a profitable summer. Reading a top-seller let me be a small part of that.
Good: Collecting Cover Art
This year, I decided to start collecting comics again. But not for bagging and boarding in stacks of long white boxes. I started collecting for display.
I don't have a ton of cash to spend on comics, but I have enough to start seeking out books with great covers for hanging in my home. Which is something I really recommend. There are SO MANY great covers out there, and they can be had for a great price.
When you collect covers that you like, you don't have to buy anything expensive. First appearances and significant events don't matter. It doesn't even matter if you like the character. It's all about getting that great art.
And it's a new way to find some joy in your collection. Rather than putting books in a box, let your collection breathe. Let it be something that you can look at and admire. By changing the composition of your collection, by collecting the things that bring you joy and deploying them in a different way, you can really take the act of collecting comics to a new level.
Just a warning, if your mom is like my mom, she will be concerned by this idea and may start asking questions about whether you think you'll ever get married.
Good: Watching Comic Book Movies While Totally Ignoring ALL Peripheral Conversations About Them
I made a mistake with Guardians of the Galaxy. I didn't watch it until everyone was saying how great it was. And then, by the time I watched it, nothing could live up to the hype.
I think Guardians was a perfectly good superhero movie that benefited greatly by being the superhero movie that had almost no expectations going in. It seemed, on paper, like a mistake. We cast Andy Dwyer as a hero? We had a pro wrestler? We cast Bradley Cooper, a world's sexiest man, and used only his VOICE? The post-credits sequence features the cinematic return of Howard the Duck? What about ANY of that sounds like sound decision making?
Well, it turned out pretty good.
But hearing how great it was over and over, it soured the experience. I knew what to expect. My bar was high.
This year, I corrected the problem, and I went to see comic book movies with almost no expectations. I tried to ignore the trailers because they almost always show me the most exciting shit. Sometimes I was rewarded (Deadpool). Sometimes I was less than thrilled (Batman V Superman). But ultimately, I liked excusing myself from the conversations, attacking or defending a movie (Suicide Squad) three months before it's come out, based mostly on 3 minutes of trailer.
A bad movie is still bad, regardless of how much you talk about it. A good movie is still good, but it's got a little something extra when you let the surprises be surprises.
Bad: Purchasing And Listening To The Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark Cast Recording
While everyone else was pissing themselves over Hamilton, I went to a dark place. I attempted to turn the dark off, but I'm not sure I succeeded.
I don't know a lot about musicals, so it's hard for me to be judgmental. That said, this is a rough one. I mean...there was one song I found memorable. And it DID result in a new song for me to sing to the cat, which is kind of a hobby of mine. But I could've just stolen another Adele song.
Good: Talking To My Comic Book Bestie Drunk Until 4 AM
This was, easily, the best comic book thing I did this year. If there's one thing I can recommend doing, it's this.
To be clear, I don't recommend talking with MY comic book bestie. He had a kid this year. He's busy. But YOUR comic book bestie? Talk to them. Have a couple drinks and talk about comics.
Comic book nerds have taken to the internet like a (Howard the) duck to water (eye-droppered into whiskey). And I don't think it's outrageous to say we've replaced a lot of our in-person conversations about comics with online conversations. And I don't think it's outrageous to say that online conversations often turn into online arguments.
If you want to love comics, whenever possible, replace comics conversations online with in-person talks. Even if you only get to talk 10% of the amount you used to, you'll be happier. And drunker. Which is basically the same thing in my book.
What's the best comic book thing you did this year? Maybe not the best book you read, but the best comic-adjacent thing you did?
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