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Reading Comic Books the modern way

With the recent success of super hero movies and TV programs, especially the Marvel Universe movies, liking comic books is solidly back in the mainstream. That is probably a little bit of an exaggeration as comic books have been widely popular for decades and decades. They are about the purest example of popular fiction out there and for a very long time the comics code authority kept them no worse than PG rated and a G rating was probably closer to the truth except for the violence.
What I think happened is that the mass market appeal dropped in the 1980’s and they started appealing to the collector crowd and not so much to the regular kid. Newsstand sales became much less important and specialty comic book sales became more important. There were still plenty of Saturday morning cartoons and I don’t think there ever was a period without at least a TV show that was super hero based in some way, but the comics themselves moved solidly up in printing quality and cost and moved away from dime sales to younger kids.
So there was a whole portion of the nerd population that was into comic books when the average person wasn’t. The late 1970’s and the 1980’s was my period of reading comics in a more classic way. I went to the comic store weekly and bought what I had allocated from my allowance. I quickly learned to buy a bag and a cardboard insert and I carefully read and saved my comics. I think I was a very typical cross-section of the group that would like them. I was playing D&D, reading SF and Fantasy, had just started programming on my high school’s Apple ][+ computers, and I was reading comic books. At the time, I was a big Marvel fan, and in particular, the X-Men and any comics associated with them. I also liked The New Teen Titans a lot and read the occasional Batman issue.
By the time I got to my last year of University, I had a pretty decent sized if narrow collection and I had some bills I needed to pay. There was a large comics book dealing in Montreal (called 1000000 Comix or something similar) that advertised in the comics themselves and I took my collection out to the West Island and sold it to them. That trip was important to me in a few ways. The first is that I was able to negotiate better than average dealer buy prices for my comics. The second is that I was actually at their warehouse, and I got a first hand chance to see just how big an industry comic collecting was. The owner had well over 1,000,000 comics there. I was able to find an interview of the owner from back in 1986 on Youtube:
After I sold off my collection, I occasionally would buy and read a comic, but I was travelling and moving a lot after college and hauling around comics just didn’t seem like the best use of my time and space. I missed reading them, but they were not very convenient when on planes and packing suitcases as they were guaranteed to be ruined. The Batman movies came out, and that rekindled some interest in comics. I still had the same problem, though. Too many moves, too easy to damage the comics when on planes or in hotels. Plus, for the time it takes to read a comic, they take up a fair amount of room and add too much weight to your luggage. I had pretty much resigned myself to reading only the occasional “blockbuster” series that came out in graphic novel status, until maybe 5 years ago I found a new way to buy and read comic books called Comixology. Comixology not only had real comic books from Marvel and DC in ebook form, they had a very good reader for my iPad. At that time, you could even buy the comics directly from your iPad (today you need to visit their website).
Comixology developed a very good method to read comics on a smartphone screen or on an iPad called Guided View. Basically, they give you the choice of reading the whole page on one screen similar to how it would look on the actual comic book page or by naturally zooming in panel by panel (even word balloon by word balloon) . On top of that, they had regular sales of back issues for 99 cents each.
I now had a way to buy comics and could buy them anywhere I had an internet connection and my storage worries were solved. What followed over the last 5 or so years was an explosion of me buying comics, both new issues and catching up on back issues. I now have over 5,000 comics in ebook form and new comics Wednesday is a day I look forward to again. Comixology carries the comics from many publishers, not just DC and Marvel and their back issue library keeps growing and growing.
If you used to like reading comics when you were younger, or even if you never did, I suggest that you give it a try. The maturity level of comic books writing and the art has greatly increased compared to the time before the 1980s. The comic code authority is gone, but the mainstream comics are still owned by major media companies (Disney for Marvel and Time Warner for DC) so they still are tame enough. Many titles are solidly in the PG range, but only smaller publishers make comics that would be R rated.
I had dropped out of reading comics right when many of the smaller, independent publishers were springing up and starting to gain market share. A good example is Image Comics that publishes The Walking Dead, the source for the popular TV series. Image was founded in 1982 by several artists to try and keep ownership and copyright of their creative work. Another example is Mirage Studios which published Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I actually started reading TMNT when it first came out, but I think it was the only independent comic I did read back then. Comixology opened up those comics publishers to me and I was able to greatly expand my comic book reading horizon.
The Comixology app on a tablet makes it very easy to read and enjoy the comics. You can drop in and out of guided view if you want to see how the comics were originally laid out on the page. The artwork looks very good and you can carry many comics on your device with all the books available on the server if you want them. I was a little worried that maybe they might go bankrupt and I would lose access to them, but then they were bought by and I am a lot less worried today.
I could go on for quite a while describing which series I like (the main character/series I buy is Batman but I buy quite a few others regularly) but I think it is better that you try it yourself if you want to take a look. You can download the app for iOS or Android tablets or read the comics right on your computer screen if you want to.
If you used to read comics when you were younger and now are coming back to them, I should warn you that DC and Marvel have had several events where they have blown up and reset their universes. For example, as of this writing Batman is Commissioner Gordon, not Bruce Wayne and Thor is a woman. They also have taken a jump to much more of a PG rating and there are plenty of publishers that go past that. Comics have always been a place that pushed the boundaries of social acceptance, and this is even more the case today. The X-Men have featured bigotry and the effects on the mutants since their very first issues, and the comic has carried on that tradition to the comics today. A good example is homosexuality. There are many openly gay characters in the mainstream comics today (Midnighter by DC features a gay main character). Someone wrote a letter to Marvel a few years back complaining about a gay couple in the X-Men comics. Marvel responded by having them get married and that was on the cover and the main story that issue. I don’t think anyone should get offended by such stories, but the language and open nudity and sex scenes in some titles from the independent publishers might not be appropriate for younger readers. I even have to be careful on planes from time to time in case something is too explicit.
I have had to slow down my buying a little as I have a few too many back issues to catch up on, but maybe I’ll be sitting next to someone reading this one day in the future and then I’ll know that my blog helped someone else become a fan or rediscover their fandom.

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1 Comment

  1. Xin

    I like your blog, very interesting!

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