Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Comics Suck

For the last month and a half, I've put aside all prose and focused my reading time on comic book tradepaperback collections and original graphic novels. Want to know what I found? That comics suck. At least most of them.

I know that sounds harsh. I also know that there are some great stories to be had in comic format. Unfortunately, those stories are few and far between. What I've found in the last month (and in the last five years) is that most comics are a fun diversion at best. And when it comes time to defend comics, everyone mentions a few key classics and moves on, continuing to read more and more garbage with the hopes that something new will come along that will fit in with those other greats of the format.

Unfortunately for this collector, I can't remember the last comic that grabbed me by the balls and wouldn't let go. The last comic that toyed with my emotions in such a way that I couldn't get rid of that feeling for days. Is it too much to ask for a comic story to make me feel something? To come away from the book changed in some way? Can't comics be good enough that they're more than just a way to pass the time?

I can think of a large number of novels and memoirs that impacted me in that way. I can think of an even larger number of movies. Sure, I realize that for every movie or book that strikes a chord for me there are 1000s that wouldn't, so in theory the same should hold true for comics. It just doesn't seem that way. It seems that bad comics are the norm, not the exception.

I realize that something else might be at play here. Maybe it's just that for movies and books, I've learned to pick and choose which ones I'm fairly certain I will enjoy and that the older I get, the better I am at picking winners.

With comics it's a total crap shoot. With comics, you can use Previews to order a book three months in advance, or you can base your purchases on word of mouth and reviews. With the former, you're basing your purchase on little more than assumptions because the solicitations give you very little to go off of. And don't get me started on reviews. I'm yet to find a comic reviewer who is unbiased enough to write a review that actually helps me make an informed decision. You get fan boys who love everything, or you have indie fans who love everything. Still others are trying to break into the business and would never go so far as to say which comics stink for fear of pissing off the wrong people.

Yet as my trade and OGN collection continues to grow with books I'll never read again, I need to put some serious thought into how I purchase these books. Using Previews isn't working for anything new. Sure, if I've read the title or writer before, I can be certain I'll enjoy this next volume. But for something new? How do you make an informed decision on a new comic?

I'm not sure what the answer is, but you can bet this month's order form will be anemic. After that, who knows. Perhaps it's time to do away with the whole buying new mentality, and only buy those key books that attain classic status years after they hit the shelves. The collector in me balks at that idea. I can't imagine how hard it would be to find pristine first editions that late in the game. But maybe it's time to quiet that part of me and focus on the reader, the part of me who loves comics and wants to see comics succeed. Of course, that might be a difficult proposition because the only way I can get back on that bandwagon is actually reading something good, and doing so consistently.


Aaron C said...

Just wondering what you consider to be classics? Do you read any Vertigo stuff or are you mainly a supers only reader?

I've recently dropped all monthlies and now only buy trades of things I'm pretty sure I'll enjoy or backissues I need to fill holes in the collection.

James W. Powell said...

I read fewer and fewer superhero books all the time. I'd say maybe 30% of my reading is superhero stuff, the rest is whatever I think will be good. I buy GOON, CONAN, Y, WALKING DEAD, etc. All great. But it's when I try something new I tend to get burned.

I think I'm just going to focus on the stuff I know I'll like, and be a lot more choosy before I pick up a title/author I've never read.

Anonymous said...

i assume you mainly refer to superhero comics and the like, so maybe you just need to look for some graphic novels, as well as non-american stuff? i dont know what youre reading, i just know that my shelf is brimming with variation and great stories. Graphic novels come in any form imaginable and i love it!