by KC Carlson
When dealing with an ongoing bad habit (from serious stuff like drinking to excess and smoking to minor stuff like biting your fingernails), usual advice most always has something to do with the phrase “breaking the habit”. It’s also frequently used by long-time comic book fans who think they have tired of reading comics and just want to quit “cold turkey” (another one of those phrases). Now, while both of the phases are very important ways of dealing with dangerous habits like acholism or nicotine addiction, I don’t think there’s anything inherently dangerous about reading comic books. Unless 1) you’re not paying your mortgage or rent and buying comic books instead or 2) you’re susceptible to the rising violence and general grossness in current comics and are plotting to kill your comic book retailer to get unlimited free comic books.
If you ARE in the middle of #1, please seek professional help immediately. If #2 is true, you’re a complete idiot. While you might accidentally get away with murder, unlimited free comic books would dry up almost immediately, as Diamond will cut you off dead for nonpayment (and might possibly take your house, as well).
For most comic book fans, “breaking the habit” and “cold turkey” aren’t really necessary. Sure, you may be sick to death of overly violent superhero comics or may suddenly loathe everything that an individual publisher may be publishing, but that’s no reason to quit comics altogether. The field is a huge, rewarding place, and in any given month there are always dozens (if not hundreds) of new (and old) things to try.
Maybe we should look at it as “Modifying the Habit”. Don’t stop reading — try something else.
TRADE NEW FOR OLD
When I say “old,” I’m not kidding. There is a lot of wonderful older material out there, starting with newspaper strips. Take advantage of the fact that this is a new Golden Age for comic strip reprints. There are more classic newspaper strips being reprinted and collected (with respect and love) than at any other time in history. (Maybe too many — it’s difficult to collect everything you might want.) For those of you who feel there isn’t enough “heart” in comic books, may I direct you to such classic strips as Gasoline Alley, Little Orphan Annie, or Mary Perkins on Stage. Even slam-bang classics like Milton Caniff’s Terry and the Pirates and Steve Canyon (must reading for any true comic fan) have equal amounts of heart-tugging moments. If everyone read Charles Schulz’s Peanuts, there would be more much-needed understanding and empathy in the world. And secretly subversive strips like the lost (and now found) classic Pogo puts pretty much everybody on notice at some point. Even modern classics like The Far Side, Calvin and Hobbes, and Bloom County (and offshoots) are now available in their entirety.
If you want to stick with comic books, both Marvel and DC showcase their history in impressive Masterworks and Archive hardcover collections, as well as affordable Essential and Showcase Presents lines of trade paperbacks (occasionally known as “phone books” to those who still remember what phone books were). I love these reprints of older material, as they are essential to getting a handle on why these characters are so great in the first place. There’s a reason why so many characters have passed the “test of time” and become classics. If you just know the characters from Marvel NOW! and DC’s New 52, here’s your chance to discover why they’re so great.
Collections of older material are also essential for playing “Find the Influence” — discovering which older stories and creators are inspiring newer artists, writers, and storylines. This is especially fun for Grant Morrison fans. DC actually collected a selection of Silver Age Batman stores — Batman: The Black Casebook — selected by Morrison as inspiring the “Batman R.I.P.” storyline.
I’LL TRADE YOU A TOM SEAVER FOR A JERRY McNERTNEY
Another fun game is to trade creators around like they were baseball cards. Were you getting a little burned out on Brain Michael Bendis on the Avengers books? Why not try a lesser-known writer like Roger Langridge on Popeye or Snarked or even his lamentedly cut short Marvel book, Thor: The Mighty Avenger? Or the upcoming Rocketeer: Halloween Horror. Or you can even try time-traveling, by reading proto-Bendis on his early indy work like Goldfish, Fire, or Jinx — or even his early Powers work at Image.
BUT I MIGHT MISS SOMETHING…
If you change your mind, the thing about missing a few issues of a top modern writer — that stuff is always going to be reprinted, if not as a second issue printing, then as a trade paperback or hardcover slightly down the line. Except for those few out-of-nowhere overnight successes, comics for reading have never been easier to get. And this is especially so with the advent of digital comics.
With frequent reprinting and updating, almost anything worth reading is now available as a TPB, hardcover, or digitally. (Is this destroying collectability? Probably. But that’s a different topic. Is anybody actually buying for collectability anymore?) There’s absolutely no reason why you couldn’t — or shouldn’t, if you’re bored — temporally modify your reading habits. To be more blunt: if you’re getting bored with what you’re reading, try something else. (And maybe declining sales may actually kick some publisher butt to stop publishing boring comics! Ah, but I can dream!…)
I’ve been reading comics for decades now and plan to for several more. I can’t remember a time where it’s been easier for casual comics readers to sample things that they’ve seen in the movies or on TV or heard about on the internet. For you long-timers like me who are increasingly saddened by what you’re reading currently, do what I’m doing and just walk away — over to my bookshelf or comic book stash to read long-neglected things (Dick Tracy), stuff I’ve stashed and haven’t read yet (DnA’s cosmic Marvel books, lots of Alan Moore and Grant Morrison) or things deserving of a re-read (Astro City), or maybe best of all, stuff that’s long been unavailable without a struggle or a fortune (Pogo, Mickey Mouse strips, Golden Age Superman and Batman).
To poorly paraphrase Journey, don’t stop reading (or re-reading)! Don’t kick the habit — modify it! Recharge your batteries and read something GREAT!
KC CARLSON SAYS: It’s amazing how many things I’ve rediscovered through the process of moving. There’s something about actually holding old collections in your hands that makes you want to read them again (or for the first time!). To try this for yourself, you don’t even have to move. Go reorganize your collection or bookcases. Or move your collection from one room to another. If you don’t believe me, ask my wife. She’s pulled enough stuff to keep her busy all year (or at least the cold winter so far).