I Spend What On Comics?

Comic buying and reading is an expensive hobby.  I’m not talking about buying high-grade silver age keys and socking them away in the bank; that’s comic collecting or comic investing.  Right here and now I’m talking about spending your money and buying comic books to read.  Yes, yes, I’ve harped about price, cost and other financial aspects of comics before but this is a new rant.

I stopped buying monthly periodical comics about two years ago when the bulk of them went to $3.99 and as Canadians we were getting bent over the barrel with bizarre exchange rates.  I had two children at the time, three now, and reading comics was taking a back burner to life in general.

At first I saved a lot as I waited for my regular books to be released in collected editions; that took about six months to catch up and in that time I discovered a lot of books I hadn’t looked at before.  Sure, I had seen them but they were outside my mainstream so they were ignored.  What I found was that comics beyond superheroes seemed, and this is all my perspective, to take longer to read, digest and enjoy.

Since I was reading graphic novels and collected editions I wasn’t concerned about missing an issue: these were self-contained works that could be enjoyed on their own merits.  Books like Asterios Polyp, Parker’s The Hunter, and lots of books from IDW, Dark Horse, Fantagraphics, Drawn & Quarterly and so many more publishers.  Wonderful eye-opening reads.

And then those six months came to an end and I started buying the Marvel and DC books I had been missing.  Sitting down with a $30 on average hardcover I was consuming it in about an hour.  That’s right, $30 for one hour of entertainment, including checking out all the panel backgrounds and stopping to admire the splash pages.  This seemed better than the six to eight minutes I was taking to read a $3.99 comic but not by much.

I could have waited for the trade paperback and saved $10 but I like hardcovers for their durability; luckily I wasn’t buying that many of them so the extra seemed worth it.  Even at $20 for one hour’s entertainment that’s way too much money.  A 3D movie at the theatre will cost you $14 for two hours, a hardcover novel about $25 for at least four hours.  Buying a Blu-Ray for home viewing around $25 for two hours.  I found myself leaving the comic shop every two weeks with $150 worth of books that I was breezing through.

Consoling myself that I owned these books and could re-read them at leisure did little to lift my spirits.  I’ll read a book again after about five years but not very often before that: I remember too much of the story.

And then I discovered newspaper comic strip reprints.  Prince Valiant, Rip Kirby, Popeye, and more superbly done reprints from IDW and Fantagraphics.  These books cost $50 but took me days and days to read and enjoy: how did I miss these books?  Mostly because before these two publishers came along and started really working on these strips most reprints were done from library newspaper archives and to be honest looked like crap.

Now I began to become a collector of books and not a reader: picking up the next volume out of habit and not because it could stand on its own merits.  Soon I had stacks and stacks of books I hadn’t read so I took a step back and really looked at what I was buying and why.  I’m immersing myself in older content and picking up less and less new work, simply because it all feels the same to me.  That’s just my opinion and we all have one but superheroes fighting super villains doesn’t do as much for me as it once did.  I still love some creators like Alan Davis, Tim Sale and Darwyn Cooke but I need to stretch my buying dollar.

Digital has entered the scene and I do own an iPad2 but I have two issues with the format: I don’t own the book as it’s a digital file locked away with Comixology and what happens if they go under, plus the cost of admission is too high.  Individual issues hover between $0.99 and $2.99 so I’ll go for the split and say on average they’re $2.  If I buy 100 comics and add that to the price of an iPad2 that’s about $700 or really $7 a book.  Add two hundred more and we’re at $900 and $3 a book.  Eventually we’ll have colour tablets that let us read digital comics at a good size for $100 but that’s a ways off.

All that goes out the window when you introduce portability into the mix: for about 1.5 pounds of weight you can have thousands of comics available for reading on a tablet.  The big newspaper strip reprints and Absolute Editions I so enjoy can only be read at a table or spread across your lap.  Yet the sheer size allows exquisitely large art pages so it’s a ping pong game of what you want.

I’m sure there was a point to this but I seem to have lost it along the way.  Oh yes: take a look at what you’re spending on comics and how much entertainment you’re getting from them.  Then try something completely off your radar: every good comic shop will steer you in the right direction.

Scott VanderPloeg
Scott VanderPloeg

Scott works in I.T. but lives to eat and read. His other ramblings can be found at AE Index and eBabble. Art collection at Comic Art Fans.

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12 years ago

I’m not sure I would equate entertainment value with time. I prefer quality over duration… which is probably why superhero stories are quicker to get through, simply due to the lack of depth, where as self contained novel-like comics requires more thought… very much like my high quality comments.

Anthony Falcone
12 years ago
Reply to  Charlie

Entertainment value is inexorably linked to time. Comic book companies are not only competing with each other for the entertainment dollar but also with video games, movies, tv, internet, etc. 

As Scott has pointed out comic books are very expensive in terms of per hour entertainment. An argument can be made for high quality being worth this expense, but the majority of any entertainment medium is not high quality. If a movie is only just okay you might have wasted about $5 per hour, but if a comic book isn’t terribly good you may have a hard time convincing yourself that the $16 per hour of entertainment was worth it.  

This is a topic that Scott and I talk about a lot, and probably the one thing that we both agree upon with passionate fervor. The cost of comic books is going up, but the quality is not.

The number of words in comic books has been steadily declining, and the cost has way outstripped the rate of inflation.

Value for money is the new driver for our modern economy. People want to feel that whatever they purchase with their hard-earned money is worth it. Comic book companies will need to think long and hard about how they are going to compete in the entertainment industry.   

Kevin Boyd
12 years ago

I have similar buying habits myself. I’ve pretty much abandoned the comics periodical in favour of hardcover collections and art books. Having a really good discount from your comics retailer helps tremendously as these books are not cheap, as is having access to used booksellers who discount to either at, or below, cost. With the majority of these books I don’t factor in entertainment value when they are art objects or reference books I want to have in my collection. The strip reprints are also high on my must get lists – especially the Prince Valiant, Mickey Mouse and Popeye collections that Fantagraphics publish.
When it comes to new material, I’m a lot more cautious than I used to be, and who is producing the work matters a lot more to me than what the book is. I tend to follow writers or artists whose works have entertained me in the past who I wish to support.  As I get older, those creators tend not to be those working on traditional superhero comics for the big two as those companies, as in the world of advertising and commercial art, tend to focus on younger creators cutting their teeth in the industry.
Finally, I also like to keep my ears and eyes open to recommendations, especially books published from the indie/artistic comics side of the fence. Someone recently recommended a Jason book to me and I’m now a fan of his work. The Island of 1,000 Graves is probably my favourite new book of 2011 so far.

12 years ago

Okay Anthony; “Let’s Dance!”
I think what people value for their $$ is really a matter of personal preference, and I can understand how the duration of an experience can seem like you’re getting your moneys worth… but to say that the “…value is inexorably linked to time” is misleading. 
Essentially you are talking about the “quantity” of entertainment as defined by time. But I would argue that “quality” out trumps “quantity” for most people. Here are some comparisons… and you tell me which you would prefer:
4 hours of Green Lantern or the last 30 mins of Sixth Sense.
Video Games:
5 hours of Tetris at level 1 or getting your butt kicked in 3 rounds of Street Fighter.
Pay $100 for 93 issues of DCs Flash Point or 12 issues of Watchmen.
A two hour conversation with Scott about the value of entertainment or 10 mins of “passionate fervor” with Kate Upton.
If you enjoy Scott’s company, great but if you had to choose, I’m pretty sure most people would choose Kate Upton!
A don’t disagree with your other points… For what it is, comics are grossly expensive. I’d prefer that they go back to printing on newsprint and pass the savings on to us. I’m convinced it’s one of the reasons they are having a hard time attracting kids. There are 2 undeniable facts that work against comics:
1. 80% of the world is crap. Therefore, 80% of comics will be crap.
2. People are short sighted. Therefore, the publishers will take the cash now and give very little thought to comic book sustainability.
So, while it’s fun to discuss all these industry topics… it’s all “inexorably” linked to human nature.

Anthony Falcone
12 years ago
Reply to  Charlie

Well I am glad that you agreed with me for the most part. However, I still stand by my assertion that value for the entertainment dollar is linked to time. 

Modern comic books take about 15 minutes to read. So on a per hour basis they are quite expensive. This is fine if the quality is perceived as high by the consumer, but otherwise it makes other forms of entertainment far more enticing. 

Your examples all compare apples to apples. The question isn’t would I rather spend $100 on Flashpoint or Watchmen; the question is would I rather spend my money on a comic book or a video game (or movie, or sport, or book, etc.)?  A video game may have a higher initial investment, but can potentially provide more hours of entertainment. If the quality of comic books is high a consumer will feel more justified in their purchase even though it will not provide as much entertainment on a per hour basis. However, if the quality (perceived or otherwise) of comic books were to decrease, other forms of entertainment will seem much more interesting. 

I totally agree that quality trumps quantity for most people, but as you pointed out quality is in short supply.

And you have obviously never gazed into Scott’s eyes.  

12 years ago

But don’t you feel that an extended duration of any form of entertainment lessens it’s value. I take my kids to Wonderland most weekends but even they don’t want to go there everyday.
In any case, I do think that distance makes the heart grow fonder which is why Kate Upton and I have decided never to cross paths… that and the court order will forever keep us apart.