When you stare into the longbox, it stares back at you

I’ve been busy lately, sorting and boxing up well over a decade’s worth of comics.  Having spent extended periods of time in 4 different towns in that stretch, it’s quite a pile to sort (10 long boxes and counting), but it’s interesting to see physical evidence of your buying patterns over the years.

It’s clear I’ve had an aversion to event tie-ins that goes back a long time.  I can see my Detective Comics run coming to an abrupt halt when crossovers loomed and there are a lot more stand-alone mini-series I’ve filed.  And trust me, it’s more time consuming putting an assortment of mini’s into their own piles as opposed to throwing all the Daredevils in a stack and then putting them in order.

And as I’ve been bagging, it’s clear my comics consumption has really been dropping off in the last few years.

I’ve had conversations with various store owners over the years that amounted to “are you really buying less than when thing were at their worst, ~’99-’01?” The answer to that is “absolutely.”  And it was really instructive how my buying habits are different.  A lot of it comes down to missing titles and authors that aren’t as prolific (or aren’t working on properties I have any affinity for).

There are a certain number of titles currently on hiatus that I’d still be buying if they would ever come out.  Powers (yes, I know there’s supposed to be a new issue out soon… Powers is a lot like THB was, back in the 90s.  If you find a new issue, it’s a happy accident), Astro City and Queen & Country all fall into that category.

There are a certain number of writers I used to pick up regularly that aren’t as frequent any more.  Alan Moore was doing regular work for Awesome and then Wildstorm/America’s Best towards the beginning of my sorting zone.  Priest/Christopher Priest/Jim Owsley is out of comics.  Len Strazewski is out of comics.  Steve Gerber died.  Dwayne McDuffie died.  Denny O’Neil retired.  Greg Rucka is doing less comics work than in years past.  JMS has been doing more movie scripts and his DC work, in general, has been a serious disappointment.  Ed Brubaker appears to be down to just Fatale.  Paul Jenkins, who was a frequent name on covers I was sorting, hasn’t been particularly well-utilized in recent years.  I’m still annoyed with Marvel for cancelling All-Winners Squad: Band of Brothers roughly halfway through the story.  For that matter, I’d forgotten how much Brian K. Vaughan used to write.  Ulimate X-Men, Mystique and his wonderful Doctor Strange: The Oath.  Still, it’s not exactly a new item that writers (or artists, for that matter) who’ve made the rounds for a couple decades can have trouble lining up work.

Am I just not finding new muses?  That’s not really the issue.  It’s more like I’m not finding new muses who are working on properties I’m happy with, which is also to say, working on properties that aren’t getting plotted by editors and shoveled sideways into a crossover, as things increasingly starting to be, circa ’05.  I’m still waiting for the second volume of Jeff Parker’s Interman, and just can’t warm up to the whole “Red She-Hulk” concept.

I see my run of Marvel’s Ultimate universe slowing down as creative teams were replaced and coming to an abrupt halt when Ultimatum hit.  But there are tens of thousands of people who would see the same thing there.  I’m in good company.  My intake of DC’s New 52 starting getting culled at a very steady rate starting about 7 months in.  Marvel Now has been more of a jump-off point for me than a jump-on point, based on my sampling of relaunched titles.  I buy more Icon titles than Marvel titles, assuming everything comes out on time.  (I’m looking at you, Bendis.)

And yes, I do find myself reading more Image, where the chains of Events aren’t tying things down.  Valiant and Dynamite’s expanding pulp line are where I find my superhero (ish) attentions drawn towards.

I’ve had people try and tell me that this is a function of aging, except my old comic circle in Chicago all ran into many of the same problems with the current output about the same time and there was a 10-15 year age range there.  This wasn’t “hit 35 and move on to something else.”

The changes in my buying habits have coincided with DC and Marvel being held closer to their corporate parents.  Price hikes causing me to judge the content of a book more closely.  The tendency to manage the publishing schedule and Events with an eye on quarterly reports does seem to be an issue.  That in turn causes a change in the type of story delivery and it seems like the Big 2 might not want your business if you’re not on board for, a minimum, frequent crossovers for “families” of books.  (Think Batman or X-Men crossovers.)  It also cuts down on the instances of individual voices on extended runs as plots get handed down from above and the individual voice is crammed into the issues between Events.

What do I mean by individual voices?  Azzarello and Chiang/Akins have a distinct voice to their Wonder Woman.  Mark Waid and his cadre of artists on Daredevil.  Mieville/Ponticelli on Dial H.  The individual voices are a little rarer at the moment, between the crossovers, Marvel’s relaunch and DC’s frequent reshuffling of creative teams.  And yes, Axel is name checking individual creator vision at Marvel, but that universe is still getting plotted out by a small circle of writers and editors at retreats and they still look to be having Events, so we’ll have to wait and see how it plays out.

Yes, it’s been an odd 2-3 years for comics, with DC and Marvel both feeling the business need to do their own flavors of relaunch and the independent scene finally catching a long overdue surge.  I’ve always been a proponent of buying off the shelf, not the pull list, so you’re making an active decision with your purchases.  Even so, I’m a little surprised with what I found while I was sorting my collection.  You might also find it instructive to take a look at how your buying habits have changed over the last few years.  Especially if you’re on autopilot with a pull list.

Comments

  1. Micah says:

    My Marvel and DC pulls have been dwindling, Marvel for quite some time and DC very recently. My Non-Big-2 pulls have been increasing greatly. This reflects my saturation of super hero stories and attention to crime and high-concept sci-fi stories. And I love it!

  2. Steve C says:

    I was on auto-pilot for awhile… then about 3 years ago, I stopped doing my monthly pull list altogether. As I got older (now 35 also), my priorities changed..kids, house, etc. I just didn’t have time, money or even the room for monthly books. I was buying only trades for awhile, then started buying digital once I got a Kindle Fire. I still don’t buy things consistently, but will occasionally buy a few issues in a row on Comixology if there’s a sale. I did however start another pull list at my LCS… for my kids! All Adventure Time and My Little Pony books. We usually go once a month to pick them up. It makes them happy and makes me happy as well.

  3. Ralf Haring says:

    “Am I just not finding new muses? ”

    Yes, this is the case. Of the current crop of Marvel and DC writers that have come to prominence in the last 5-7 years , I’ve only found Hickman to be of interest. He hasn’t stopped working on his own series and is able to put a distinct stamp on his corporate work. As you experienced, previous favorites are pulling back or working in other media and I have not found new writers of the same calibre to replace them.

    Another factor is a lessening of focus on manga. With 20th Century Boys ending, I think I might be down to zero books from Viz.

  4. You know (this is kinda sorta about this subject) I’ve become one of those INSANE people who look through an entire stack of Superior Spiderman to find the “perfect” copy. I used to look at these people and laugh at them. And it’s pretty much impossible to find a perfect copy with Marvel’s new “self-cover” covers, which are utter garbage. Valiant isn’t much better. I think their printer’s employees roll all over their comics before they’re shipped to the stores. Always with the creases and crinkles and WTF, Valiant? But all this is to say, I think it has to do with money. (I refuse to believe I’ve simply gone insane.) As time has gone by, money gets tighter the older you get, and comic prices have gone way up (oh 65 cents comics when I first began collecting, you were so grand), my comics pull total is around $120 now (before store discount of 10%.) WHICH is insane. I used to only buy around $65 a month. But the prices have made the costs of comics crazy. And I think in turn, I want my books to be perfect darnnit, because I’m paying good money for these floppy things! That, or I’ve just gone nuts in my old(er) age…

  5. Bryan L says:

    I’m 50 and my buying pattern has exactly paralleled yours. Tapering off the Big Two, shifting more to Image and independents, and generally reducing my overall purchasing. My weekly purchase is less than half of what it was in the ’90s, and that’s with the price increases. So I’m buying maybe a third of the books I bought then? I buy absolutely NONE of the Big Two’s flagship titles any more.

    Around 2004 or so, I basically said screw this, I’m not paying for something I don’t really, really want. Every week I always arranged my comics from stuff I most want to read to stuff I least want to read, and so I cut all the crap from the back of the pile that I was reading purely from habit. ALL of it.

    I do maintain a pull, for the discount, but it’s mostly Image, independents, and some of the last remnants of Vertigo, with a few Marvel/DC titles that aren’t tied to massive crossovers (and of course those are the titles which get cancelled a lot), and a generous helping of the all-ages titles (which also don’t last long any more).

    I refuse to buy on auto-pilot any more — my shop is happy to adjust my pull at a moment’s notice, so I take full advantage. If I find a title is consistently at the back of my reading pile, it’s gone.

    I do look for that ‘individual voice’ you mention. It’s missing in most of the Big Two books, particularly those that participate in crossovers, so I don’t buy much from them. The few times the ‘voice’ shows up, it typically doesn’t last long. And doesn’t often get replaced. So my list thins even more.

  6. “I’m still waiting for the second volume of Jeff Parker’s Interman”

    Ha! I thought I was the only one.

    “I’ve always been a proponent of buying off the shelf, not the pull list”

    Same here. I’ve never set up a pull list in my life, but then again I’ve been lucky enough to live in areas with many good shops nearby. The first store I visit every Wednesday gives at least 15% discount even if you don’t have a pull list.

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