KC COLUMN: Reading Comics and the Sticky Factor

KC & Cow

KC & Cow

by KC Carlson

There are a lot of different criteria by which we judge our comics. As with other forms of media, we place a lot of value on story. Is it good? Is it important? Is it meaningful? The artwork is equally important. Is it attractive? Does it excite us? Does it help to tell the story? Comic books are unique in that we also make judgments upon them that have nothing to do with artistic or literary merit. Do I want to “collect” this series? What condition is it in? What will it be “worth” in 25 years?

Here’s another big one. What format is best? Floppy/pamphlet/issue, Digital, Trade paperback, Hardcover, Archive/Masterwork, Absolute, Omnibus? That one’s a whole other column.


In this column, I want to propose a new method of judging our comics — one that may already exist but isn’t talked much about. Or maybe we don’t know exactly what to call it. It’s something that has become very important to me recently, as a comic reader getting older, and one who has perhaps read too many comic books — especially superhero tales.

"What up with that?" - Deandre Cole

"What up with that?" - Deandre Cole

It’s something that I’ve been noticing a lot, especially lately. I’ll read a bunch of new comic books, and the next day, I don’t remember if I’ve read them. Sure, if I flip through the books again, I’ll often remember a story point or an excellently drawn splash page, but sometimes, I don’t. So I sit down to read it again, and often I don’t remember something until I get to page 15 or so. Sometimes I don’t remember anything until I hit the last page (either a cliffhanger or a conclusion). As Deandre Cole (or Lindsey Buckingham) might put it, “What up with that?”

I’m thinking some sort of “remembrance quotient” should be an important criteria for deciding if comic book storylines are worthwhile or not. But “remembrance quotient” sounds like some highfalutin’ textbook brainiac something-or-other. So I propose that we call it The Sticky (or Stickiness) Factor. Or, that is, does this comic book “stick” to your brain?


It might be because I’m getting older, or I may have reached the limit of comic books that my brain can contain/retain — and it won’t hold no more! Or it might be that some stories are similar to other tales I’ve read in the past. There are only so many superhero plots, after all, although different heroes or groups or superpowers may be plugged into them, and they may play out in different ways.

Okay, Wolverine is pissed-off. Anybody know why? (Cover to Wolverine #7)

Okay, Wolverine is pissed-off. Anybody know why? (Cover to Wolverine #7)

Plus, comic book covers have become so generic over the last couple of decades that many of them no longer host enough information about the specific story to trigger a brain to remember it. How many covers are there where Wolverine is angry? A lot. How many times have we seen why Wolverine is angry by adding some context to the cover? Not as many.

Or it might just be that there are a lot of comic books out there these days that just aren’t memorable. Who remembers Part Two or Part Four of a six-part story, unless the creators go out of their way to create something significant in those “in-between” issues. Too many comics are structured this way: You get a gangbusters first issue (to suck you in) and (hopefully) a kick-ass conclusion four, five, or six issues later. In between, there’s a bunch of eventually meaningless running around. It’s no wonder why I can’t remember anything in these “padding” issues! And I’m starting to resent having to buy them.


One of KC's childhood comics that stuck to his brain. He also still owns the vinyl album of the same name. (Four Color #1141)

One of KC's childhood comics that stuck to his brain. He also still owns the vinyl album of the same name. (Four Color #1141)

I’ll admit, the brain works in wacky ways. Funny animal comics that I read as a six-year-old are more memorable to me today than the latest mutant throwdown or watching my old JLA buddies argue and spat (which makes me wonder what color Kryptonite causes personality disorders (on both Kryptonians and humans)). I understand that those early comics “imprinted” on me because I was young and comics were new (to me), and the brain tends to remember the good and exciting things. It’s not for nothing that one of the best (and most traveled) quotes about comic books is that “the Golden Age of Comics is twelve.” Whatever you read as a kid will stick with you forever. (Back then, you’ve got a lot less to distract you, too, since you’re not worrying about budgets and jobs and such.)

Another of KC's favorites: Gyro's nameless helper (the guy with the lightbulb head), was his favorite comic book character growing up. Much later, he discovered he was actually named Helper. Who knew? (Four Color #1184)

Another of KC's favorites: Gyro's nameless helper (the guy with the lightbulb head), was his favorite comic book character growing up. Much later, he discovered he was actually named Helper. Who knew? (Four Color #1184)

Stuff I read when I was twelve was all stuff from the Silver Age, all of it pretty stuck to my brain even today. Admittedly, I’ve read much of that era over and over again, so that would help its Stickiness Factor. I can’t recommend re-reading good comics enough. A comfortable sofa (or hammock), a refreshing beverage, and a big stack of sequential comics is the absolute best way to read them. I think readers miss so much stuff the first time, it’s important to re-read to catch everything — plus, in retrospect, you notice important foreshadowing and other teases you might have missed. When you take to time to really read the book, you can also spend some time studying the art. Many of these talented artists work more an entire month to produce the artwork that you rush through in three minutes flat. Have some respect — take a good look!


Reading an installment of a series once every month just doesn’t cut it for me any more. I probably read in excess of 60 different new comics each month. Which means that usually, when I sit down to read the latest issue of Snausage Man, I’ve read at least 59 other comic books since the previous issue. (Not to mention the various old comics, strip collections, prose books, and the 20-40 television series I watch in any given month — that’s a lot of plotlines to keep track of.) So if Snausage Man doesn’t provide some sort of mechanism for bringing me up to speed (and wasn’t exciting enough to remember), I run the risk of being hopelessly confused.

DC Comics does a horrible job of recapping previous issues. They think it looks bad to have repetitive information collected in their trade paperbacks. Marvel, on the other hand, has a recap page in most of their ongoing comics, many of them more entertaining than the actual book. Occasionally, I wish Marvel would reprint these — but they don’t. They don’t need to. You’re now reading the story in collected form and don’t need the recaps.

Once upon a time, the comics recapped themselves. That’s now considered old-fashioned. And unnecessary, as many of the major publishers think of the collected edition being the “prime” or end version of the comic work that they are selling. These days, they largely keep the weekly comics going because 1) the Direct Market depends on the habitual repeat customer and would most likely collapse without it, and 2) both the publisher and the DM retailer stand to make money off you twice — first for your weekly comics “fix”, then again for the trade.

The use of drug terminology is intentional. We are basically dealing with addiction, after all.

The problem with that theory is that people are getting increasingly tired of the weekly comics not being enough of a bite (as a good read). They’re going straight for the trade. And the smart ones (or the ones with a credit card) know they can get the trades cheaper elsewhere than the local comic shop. So increasingly, the Direct Market loses twice.

What a mess things are! And we didn’t even talk about digital.

It almost makes me want to go read a current stack of comics — and completely forget what they were about.


KC CARLSON: For once, doesn’t think much of this is very funny.

As always, should you or any of my KC Force be caught or killed, Westfield Comics will disavow any knowledge of my actions.

Classic comic covers from the Grand Comics Database.


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