This is not a column about collecting comics: this is about reading comics. I’ve been an avid comic reader for 34 years now and things have changed in the industry and in my life that affect how I buy comics.
I transitioned away from Marvel and DC because I was done with capes and my perceived value of the books was very low. Let me explain that last part: I was paying $4 for a comic that I was reading (text and images since comics are a melding or words and pictures) in about ten minutes. That put the entertainment cost of those comics at $24 per hour, which is high. I now read a lot of newspaper strip reprints and graphic novels from smaller publishers, whose entertainment cost per hour is much lower. A $50 newspaper strip reprint book is taking me about five hours to read, putting it at $10 per hour. A $20 graphic novel takes me about two hours to read, so the cost is again $10.
A few years before giving up Marvel and DC completely I switched to reading collected editions: I was tired of waiting for issues that were constantly delayed, so I’d wait for the trade or hardcover and get the whole story in one package. Unfortunately there isn’t much of a cost savings anymore, with five issue trade paperbacks costing as much or more than the single issues plus a $8-10 premium for hardcovers.
I also am married with three children and on a single income, so every dollar needs to be accounted for. I do side jobs to pay for this hobby, which makes every purchase even more distilled.
There isn’t any resale value in these books anymore, so that avenue is mostly closed. I can get 25% of a softcover’s price in trade at my local comic shop, which isn’t a bad deal and at least lets me carry forward the value.
That brings up another factor: re-readability, or will any book get a second or third reading thereby drastically lowering its entertainment cost. To be honest with myself I’ve probably read ten books twice within the last ten years.
This all came to mind because of an article on The Beat last week, How To Be A Comics Fan When You Can Barely Afford Them. The author made some good points and got me thinking. I didn’t want this column to be one long complaint, so here are some ways to read comics on a budget.
Let’s start with free. Your public library most likely has a good collection of comics, depending on the size of your city. Since every comic is now collected in a trade paperback you can read most everything for free if the library carries it. I live in a very small town and their comic section is about fourty titles.
Another route is the one I mentioned earlier, selling your old trades and buying used ones. Your local comic shop or used bookstore are excellent sources, but just like the library you’re limited to what they have.
An idea that’s bubbling in the back of my mind is a comic reading swap group, where people swap books with each other. Perhaps a group could be established through your local library, community center or Rotary/Lions Clubs. Meet up once a month, bring what you don’t need anymore and swap it with others for new reads.
There are discounts available for new books from online retailers like Amazon, so you could save about 35% off cover right there. Some local comic shops offer discounts for subscribers but that seems to be in the minority. That’s my route for buying and it’s served me well: a combination of a discount at my local comic shop and orders through Amazon.
So far all my talk has been about trades and hardcovers, as they’re carried by a variety of retail outlets. For readers of “floppies” or good ol’ 32 page comics your discount choices are severely limited, but your local comic shop is still the best bet. Most good shops will have a discount or bargain bin section where you can pick up books six months and older for $2-3 each, providing a slight deal. It will be all around cheaper to read trade paperbacks if you’re on a comic reading budget.
Finally, how about sharing those Marvel digital codes. If you’re not using them why not give them to people who could use them, again through a local community group or perhaps organized by your local comic shop. While not everyone has a tablet most people have at least one PC at home.
All my proposed solutions have a major obstacle: reading new material right away. If you’re lucky your library gets comics as they’re published, but that may not be the case. Brand new items will not be in a used section, and people most likely won’t want to trade something brand new. Sharing digital codes could get you new material, but a digital code can be shared once and a trade paperback can make it to ten or more readers before falling apart.