Reading To Enjoy, Not Complete

A great article about reading was published today and it really got me thinking about comics and how I consume them.  I love comics and graphic storytelling; have been an avid comic reader and collector since 1980.  Unfortunately it’s that “collector” part that interferes with the “reader”.  Here’s the line that spoke the most to me from that article.

[quote]Read Conscientiously, and Take Time to Absorb and Reflect on What You Read.[/quote]


I’ve shown this pile of books before, when we talked about that stack of unread material I was trying to get through. Since I was nine I’ve had a “pull” list with a comics retailer, starting at the local flee market, the local hobby shop and then to three different comic shops.  At each I let them know in advance what I want to buy and then I go there on a weekly or bi-weekly basis and pick up those books I ordered. This allowed me to get a discount on my books and more importantly not worry about “missing out” on a title. For the last thirty years I’ve had a supply of comics coming into my home that I needed to consume at some point.

Around ten years ago I stopped reading comics as I bought them, getting a stack of two or three issues of a title before diving in and reading all or most of a storyline.  Last year I stopped reading monthly comic “pamphlets” and switched to trade paperbacks, hardcover collections and graphic novels. As my areas of interest increased so did my pile of unread books, to the point that I now have about 200 unread comic “books” on my shelves.  The old collector mentality had stuck with me and I was piling up books so I wouldn’t miss out; 140 volumes of Marvel Masterworks and slightly less DC Archives strongly prove this to me every time I sit in my library. And since I was discovering “new to me” material that had several volumes already in print I was buying whole runs of books.

I found myself reading comics to get through them instead of enjoying them. I’d look at the piles of unread material and think “I have to get through those” so I’d breeze through the mainstream Marvel and DC books without much thought. Big art and few words make a fast read. In effect I was killing my love for this wonderful hobby.

It seemed digital would be the answer, since there was no weighty bound paper to hinder me. Alas that proved false, as I have ten volumes of Lone Wolf & Cub waiting for me on my iPad.

I knew I was in trouble because I was no longer rushing home to get into a book I had just bought: my purchases would languish until I had to the chance to finish what I was currently reading. It felt like work to get through something. The article mentioned above was even more poignant since last week’s column about my Boxing Day purchases; another stack of books to add to the shelf. What to change?

First I’ve taken a look at my reading. I really enjoy newspaper comic strip reprints but find I can only read a dozen or so pages at a time before I feel overwhelmed and have to put the book down. When I read these books I absorb and enjoy the material in a way I haven’t done with mainstream comics in a long time. That same outlook and mentality needs to be transferred to all my comic reading. I’m happy having three or four books on the go, and don’t feel the need to complete one before moving on to another. I’ve had Captain Easy Volume 1 on my desk for the last six months, reading a page or two when I had the chance and thoroughly enjoying it.

Secondly I don’t intend to buy more volumes in a series of books until I’ve read the one or ones I have.  Yes I love Prince Valiant but I have four volumes on my shelf and I’ve read two. Same for Modesty Blaise, Popeye, X-9 Agent Corrigan, and many more. Fortunately there doesn’t seem to be sellouts of most collected comic material, other than limited editions. I’m reading, not collecting: big difference. Of course I keep all my books in pristine condition, but that’s just me and it’s burned into my being.

Lastly, comics are a rich visual medium. Too often I get caught up in the words and only give the images a cursory glance. I started collecting comics because of the art and thought I was maturing when I gave the story as much weight in my buying decisions. You can’t have one without the other and I need to take as much time admiring and absorbing the art as I do the prose.

This means I’ll probably read less now than before, but the goal is to enjoy what I’m reading and that’s my focus.

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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Anthony Falcone
12 years ago

This is one of the primary reasons I tell people to sell their collections. You need a collection that is manageable to read and enjoy. If you don’t care about reading it and just want to look at the books on your shelf then no problem, buy away.

But for most of us we love to read. If you did the math on how much free time you have to read and how long it would take you to read your stack, I’m sure you’d find that you don’t need to buy any more books for quite some time.

Kevin Boyd
12 years ago

I love to look at the books on the shelf! I do try to read the material as the books arrive each week, but I do find myself skimming over some books (such as those collecting comics I’ve already read). Trying to fit in comics reading around work and family is not easy, especially if you have other interests (such as watching certain television programs, movies, or sports events, or God help us videogames). I find what works best for me is to just push going to sleep as late as I possibly can…

12 years ago

I skipped all of the 90’s and the better part of the new millennium so I’ve got a huge “to read” list myself. But I’m in no hurry. I can be selective and pick out choice books and buy them during blow out sales. The result is I end up reading only the best stuff at the cheapest prices.

Collecting is only important if you want to follow the in and outs of the Marvel/DC universe, which I don’t. I know that Norman Osborn has evolved and the X-universe has exploded with a slew of new characters but if any of these developments have substance, I’ll catch up to them later… or not, since I tend to mainly follow talent.

Here’s a question for you guys:

Are comics addictive? If so, how do you know you’re hooked, and at what point does it become harmful?

“140 volumes of Marvel Masterworks and slightly less DC Archives”… could be sign. **slaps Scott across the face and shakes him by the shoulders** Come on man… walk towards the light! Choose life, not pulp!!

12 years ago

Really enjoyed the thought in the article. The same can be applied to music and movies, with both being so accessible and abundant in the digital age. I have so many friends who opt for uncapped bandwidth plans simply to download things they may never watch to their “collection”. I’ve never understood this mentality until I started getting into comics.

This is an industry that feeds on collectors and people who feel the pressure to buy simply to complete numbered volumes. It’s good marketing that’s keeping the industry alive, but it’s also watering down the value of the art.

I think it’s up to the consumer to break out of that mentality and articles like these go a long way. But those Marvel Omnibus spines definitely look good next to eachother…