Thursday, August 14, 2008

Comic fandom is a subculture like any other, and as such we have our own rites of passage.

I experienced one of those rites earlier this week, as I undertook the spiritual journey known as "The Cleansing of the Long-boxes."

(and yes, I'm writing again!)

I mean, seriously. We all do it... probably out of necessity, I'd wager. At some point, you just fit another box in your room, or basement, or wherever it is you keep your comics. And then what do you do? Probably nine times out of ten you just find a new place to put those new boxes. But then, every once in awhile, you do it--you roll up your sleeves, you dig in there, and you clean out your collection.

This is kind of a horrifying thing... especially if you have a ton of comics. One of our customers told me he did this right when we opened and pared 25 boxes down to 15. That's impressive, but I reckon that there's folks out there who have to do this with hundreds. Fortunately for me, I have six and a half... that's only a few hours work. My rule was to yank anything I didn't see myself rereading. Sometimes this was an easy call and sometimes it was not, but after making a day's work out of it, I'm happy with my results.

It's funny that this process is often undertaken out of necessity for space, and then very infrequently, because it strikes me that we should all do this a lot more. It helps our wallets, and it helps our culture.

But let me explain.

Cleaning out one's collection invariably means re-evaluating what series one buys on a monthly basis (because it will be some of these comics you may be considering getting rid of). The majority of mainstream comic fans will be able to tell you that there's at least a couple books on their pull list that they just don't enjoy reading. There's any number of reasons they keep buying the books--they want to complete a run, the covers look cool, they feel loyalty to the character or creator--but what likely is the original reason they started buying the title (they like it!) is gone. I am guilty of this as much as anyone, and the temptation is greater for me because I buy books at cost, not retail. That has, as you might imagine, led to a lot of fat in those aforementioned long boxes. Well, no more.

I think, my friends, it is time for this blog to institute another rule. My rule about line-cutting didn't go over too well, I grant you, and I think that it needs some serious revision--but remember, these are only proposals, open to debate and discussion. But anyway, my next rule applies only to the comic-buying populace, and it is this:

If a book you buy fails to sustain your interest over a period longer than two story arcs, DROP IT AND DON'T LOOK BACK.

You may be asking yourself, why is a comics retailer proposing that we not buy books? Well, like I said, it helps our wallets, and it helps our culture. Obviously it helps your wallet, as the reader. But as a retailer, I'm pretty sure it even helps me, in the end, and it does this in the same way it helps the comic-book culture.

I see it happening two-fold: if people stop reading series they don't like, we (hopefully) stop ordering them (which already saves us money) and sales will decrease at the wholesale level. A big enough drop in sales will cause a re-evaluation of what the book is doing, and, one hopes, the book will come out better for it. Of course this is not the only reason a book changes direction (why, All-New Atom, why?!) but it is one reason.

The second way, I think, is more important. It seems to be pretty rare that so many people would drop a title at the same time that it would affect a change in direction... it happens, but not a ton. But the second way reevaluating pull lists helps our culture (and my wallet) is on the individual scale: if you're not spending all your money on crap titles you only get out of tradition, you have more money to spend on good stuff, like graphic novels you've always wanted to buy but never quite had the cash for. I mean, if you think about it, cutting three-four books from your pull list gives you the cash to pick up about a graphic novel a month, and it opens a doorway into series that are better than the drek you just dropped. I firmly believe that if the top 50% of our customers cut five books from their pull list and instead started buying trades of Y: the Last Man, we would in the end make more money (you can't buy just one!) and end up with a more literate group of comics readers who would thirst not only for more Brian K. Vaughn but also for more interesting, off-the-beaten-path stories. Of course sometimes people who drop books because they don't like them don't end up buying other things, but I'm okay with that too (as long as they pay for the books the ordered, damn it!). Even those people will have a richer reading experience because their monthly books will be hopefully unburdened of crap, and that will give them, in the end, a more favorable outlook towards the comics medium, if only subconsciously.

This is kind of the approach I've taken. I'd rather amass a collection of Ultimate Spider-Man trades than continue to get Justice League of America, which, let's face it, has hardly been good since 2005. In the end I think I cut six or seven books from my list of about 30. Some I still question (do I really want to drop Ultimate Fantastic Four? I mean, just because Lucifer is genius doesn't mean Mike Carey's superhero stuff is wonderful... but it's good), and with some it feels like a weight has been lifted (goodbye, Amory Wars. Jesus Christ, why is Coheed & Cambria's music so awesome yet their comics are incomprehensible and bad?!) In the end, my collection will be better for it, and so will (maybe) my finances. But if you all do this, I don't suppose I need to worry about my finances, do I?

But anyway, what I'm saying is that I think it's good to periodically take a hard look at what you've got your local comic shop (mine?!) pulling for you. Chances are there's some of it you don't really want. Maybe you should tell them that... you'll end up liking your comics even more! And while you're at it, buy Blankets. It's really awesome.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for writing again, it was getting moldy here. I think you make a good point... I should re-evaluate my pull list, and see if I'm happy with everything.