pluto

How I Became a Comic Book Consumer

I've been wanting to write this blog post for a while, about how I became someone who reads and buys comics. I see a lot of analysis out there about the habits of the comic buying public, how the comic book industry can get more people to buy comics, and especially how they can get those who are readers (consumers of novels/non-fiction, what my boyfriend helpfully calls "Word Books") to cross over into reading and buying comics. Maybe my experience can be a little bit helpful, because although I now work in comics, I'm not a native comic book reader. I came to them late in life, and only in the past five years have become an enthusiastic consumer of comics. And there are pictures of my bookshelves! I love my books.


In the beginning, I was someone who was always very attracted to comics as a medium. I did read comics as a kid, but they were extremely limited: the only comics I had access to were the Tintin and Asterix series (both widely available at my local library) and Bible comics. My most favourite book when I was a kid was a comic book version of the Bible, which detailed the many adventures of White Jesus and his disciples. I read that thing until it fell apart.


Although I had brothers, and one of those brothers read Spider-Man, I didn't particularly like Spider-Man. It was a scary book, with lots of screaming and violence. I remember being particularly disturbed by pictures of a demonic looking Harry Osborne screeching at Spider-Man for something, I dunno. Spider-Man was scary.

I was a very committed reader (still am). Reading was my entertainment, as I grew up without a TV or any video game console. There were many books out there that I liked (Lloyd Alexander and Diana Wynne Jones were two particular favourites) and that seemed to be written with me in mind: stories about girls going on adventures, girls being awesome, science fiction, fantasy... there was a lot of diversity in books, something I didn't see in comics when I was growing up. I only saw superheroes, and I didn't particularly like the way the girl superheroes were drawn.

But I really wanted to read comics. Occasionally when I was a teenager I would sneak down to a local comic book shop, a dark forbidding place so unfriendly to a teen girl that I would walk past the doorway five times to get my courage up before entering. I bought some X-Men comics, because I liked the cartoon on TV.


In college I discovered a tattered copy of volume 3 of Bone at a local Chapters, and read the crap out of it. I had no real idea what was going on in the book, but I loved the artwork and female characters, and the idea of a comic with one solid vision propelling it forward. It was very different from the scattered X-Men storylines I'd assumed were a staple of comic books.

But even though I read the crap out of Bone, bought everything associated with Bone and loved it deeply, I was frozen in place with that one comic book, reading and re-reading it and never venturing beyond to read other comics. I completely missed the manga boom of the early 2000s, having no friends who were into manga, and being intimidated by the shelves of it at the big box bookstores. So I read Bone, and occasionally picked up books by Andi Watson, whose Skeleton Key series clicked with me (magicial girls and their friendships, what's not to like).

Things changed when I moved to Halifax, and this is where I became a comic consumer. Here's how it happened.


1) The library. Libraries had gotten into stocking graphic novels (and trades and floppies) years ago, and while I had read a few at my local library back when I lived in Ontario, I hadn't yet lived in a city with a good library system, and especially one that was very concerned with graphic novels, and invested in them. The Halifax libraries had thousands of graphic novels and manga, allowing me, a timid consumer, to try before I bought. I read their collection by the bucket-full, dragging home stack after stack of graphic novels. I tried thousands of pages of manga, something which became very important, because frankly, the entry point to manga is expensive. It's hard to judge a manga by a single volume, and I wasn't prepared to fork over $50+ for multiple volumes of something I hadn't read.

This has always been a big issue for me: I'm a very conservative consumer. I'm reluctant to buy unless I know a work is to my liking, and the library allows me to try new things. I'm very committed to creators though; if there is a creator I like, I tend to buy everything by them.


2) A good local comics store. I cannot stress how important it was for me to find, in Halifax, a comic book store I was comfortable in, that I enjoyed going to, and that did a lot of outreach, putting comics in front of me even as I was a reluctant consumer. Bravo, Lovely Local Comic Shop, Strange Adventures. I feel like this is an issue that all of the comic industry knows is an important one, but it bears repeating: an easily accessible, female friendly comic book store with a knowledgable staff is so, so important for reaching out to those who are interested in comics, but unsure of their particular entry point into the medium. A good local comic store also builds shopper loyalty. I like bargins. I liked Amazon's deep discounts, but since moving to Halifax and becoming so attached to Strange Adventures, I shop only there, no matter what another store is offering.


When I moved to Halifax in 2005, I brought with me one small box of graphic novels. It contained the Bone trades, a few books by Andi Watson and the occasion other book (I enjoyed Powers for a time). I moved apartments in August, and had over 15 boxes of graphic novels. In the past five years, I have bought literally hundreds of books.


3) Manga. I read about 10-15 graphic novels a month. Probably two thirds of that is manga. I came to manga very late, only really getting into it in 2008, when an employee at Strange Adventures recommended Naoki Urasawa's Monster to me. I picked up the first six volumes from the library and was hooked, realizing that I had been unfairly dismissing manga (yes, I was one of those "it looks the same and it looks dumb" idiots for a while) and there was manga out there for me, if I wanted to read it.

Funny how getting into manga required the co-ordinated effort of both Strange Adventures (the recommendation) and the library (providing the initial hook). Almost as though they were working together to trap me in their web of reading! Later I would buy everything Naoki Urasawa published.

Since 2008 I would estimate about two thirds of my reading and buying material has been manga, because unfortunately the comic book industry, even though it has made great strides, has not caught up with Japan in providing the depth of diversity required to get someone like me reading. There is still a lot of amazing stuff by North American creators: I greedily consume BPRD, the works of Raina Telgemeier, Jaime Hernandez, Hope Larson, much of what First Second publishes, and Aaron Alexovich, but there is simply not as much published by North American creators. Manga compensates for that, by providing just a ton of shit to read. I love that about it. Granted, the bodies of many Japanese cartoonists are broken to pieces on the manga machine, but ... oh, the books you produce are so wonderful to consume. MOAR PLEASE.

And now I am a very happy comic book consumer. I am thrilled every time a book by a creator I like comes out, and I rush out to buy it. I check out dozens of graphic novels from the library a month. I read everything that seems remotely interesting, buying work that I enjoy the most. I don't spend a ton, due to not making a lot of money, but books are what I buy first, before anything else, when I have extra money to spend.

So that is how I became A Comic Book Consumer. How did you become one?

Comments

I'd have to say your story is very similar to mine, right down to the combination of the Halifax Public Libaries and Strange Adventures.

I also made a brief foray into DC superhero titles, but eventually the stories became hard to follow without buying dozens of issues a month (too many "crises" etc.) and also away from the HRM, I couldn't buy comics each week/ month. I still pick up graphic novels at the Valley library and when visiting the city, though.

I'm trying to discern what manga volumes appear in your pictures... aside from Urasawa and FMA, what else is there? (:
There's Cross Game, Planetes (out of print, sadly), and you can see bits of Flower of Life and Ooku and Monster in the Pluto picture. All of them I'd recommend.
As an artist and a lover of sci fi and fantasy, I had always been interested in comics, but it always seemed like it was something only boys could do. In high school I didn't really know of any other type of comic other than mainstream superhero books. Early in my high school career I discovered webcomics; mainly: Strings of Fate by Jen Wang, Return to Sender by Vera Brosgol, and of course D101. There was so much creativity online with such a range of genres!

When I got my drivers license this let me visit the book store whenever I wanted and it was then that I started to venture to the graphic novel section. I would sit for hours and read the comics/manga in the store. I didn't buy any because I still wasn't sure if it was something I wanted proof I was into. I still got the feeling that it was for boys.

A few months before I went to college I found an artist on DeviantArt that drew a comic called Invincible for the company Image. This was the first time I really understood that there was something other than Marvel or DC. This artist had a bunch of pages posted to his gallery and I loved them. My discovery of this artist (~wya, by the way) just so happened to correspond with a free issue of the comic that had just come out that was going to be a catch-up issue for new readers.

This prompted me to actually find a comic shop, drive there with my brother, and then leave with one free comic book. But that was all it took. I read some DC books (I like books about the Bat-family), don't usually pick up anything Marvel, but I read a lot of books my smaller publishers like Image. I don't buy many single issues each month; I usually wait for the trades. This saves me money, it stores better on the shelf, and I can get more content all at once.

I've been to San Diego Comic Con a few times (I met you there in 2008; you were super nice!) but it's really overwhelming and I can't go two years in a row. Basically I love comics now, I live off of recommendations from friends and people I follow online, and I definitely don't think they're just for boys anymore.

That's probably a longer reply than you were expecting, but there's my journey to becoming a comics fan.
Haha, I'm glad I was nice. ^^ I worry sometimes.

Relying on friends for recommendations is what I hear a lot, and I feel that's why my entry point is so unusual: I didn't have friends who were into comics. I wish I had, growing up. I probably would've found the good stuff in comics a lot sooner.
White Jesus? what you mean to say that Jesus your lord and savior doesn't have look sorta like Axl Rose( before the botox).
I get you on the comic books shops being creepy. Before I moved to Washington State I use to shop at Jim Henley's in Manhattan. That place was well lit and inviting. But one of the local shops Cosmic Comics has very little lighting and is very dusty. They are also very unprofessional. Basically its a place that the owners can play Magic in with their friends.

I am one of those people that has been reading comics since they could read. I read a lot of superheros until I turned 25 and then I just started to get really bored with Marvel. I had already started to branch out into stuff like Love & Rockets and Dave Coopers Weasel. But you are right North America needs more interesting comics. Having said that its really hard to make a living doing stuff that isn't for Marvel,DC or Dark Horse.

BTW why not make Ice as a graphic novel? It would give you a reason to finish it.
Was this your White Jesus comic? It was definitely mine.

Getting into comics

My gateway to comics was the tie-ins for GI Joe and Transformers. I discovered the idea of issue by issue stories and comic shops on a road trip to Florida. when I came home, I started looking for a means of following comics on a regular basis. But I bought my first X-Men at a convenience store. A second hand book store in town added weekly comic orders and then another one did the same. then an old friend and his Dad, (Faith knows) started a store from their house which grew into the town's main source. I've been doing the weekly trek to the comic shop for over 25 years now. (CRAP!)
But in recent years, I've been hitting the library really hard. My own cities, and the ones from the cities to either side of me. It's been a great way to access the stuff I'd either never buy, (superhero stuff out of curiosity and to have some idea what's going on with those) but more importantly, to read stuff I might never even see otherwise. Many I've gone on to buy.
Yeah, Halifax has a uniquely symbiotic relationship in Strange Adventures and the library. They benefit from each other (Strange keeps the library well stocked with great graphic novels, and in exchange the library is Strange's best customer), and make Halifax a very comic-savvy city. It's really fantastic and if every city was like this one, comics wouldn't be a fringe medium anymore.

... well, one hopes. That's the dream, anyway.
I was one of those lucky little rascals who had a dad with a ginormous shelf of comics from day one. Most of them were too mature for me as a kid, but there was a stack of Bone, Amethyst: Princess of Gemworld, and Action Girl that I read over and over and over and over.

But what got me into actively seeking comics - as opposed to just picking up whatever was already around - was manga. First Pokemon, then Oh My Goddess. (Seriously, one right after the other. "Age-appropriate" became a very minor concern for me that year.)

This happened right at the point where manga sections in bookstores were just starting to outgrow their "two shelves at the bottom of the science fiction section" phase, so my appetite for comics grew at the same rate the available selection did.
I just recently pulled out my big box of comics from my parents' basement and started looking through them to decide which ones to keep and which ones to sell or donate, which got me reflecting on my history as a comics reader as well. What really struck me was how much of my collection was given over to superhero comics, and how little I actually remembered about any of them. Aside from a few exceptions, most of them are exactly the kind of juvenile dreck that everyone used to think comics were before they became (mostly) culturally legitimate. I didn't remember the plots or characters because they were really forgettable; just a parade of mindless fight scenes between various groupings of one-note caricatures with hilariously exaggerated anatomies.

But that was what I was into, pretty much from as far back as I can remember until I was around 13 or 14, when my comics reading tapered off almost completely. I guess I just couldn't take them seriously anymore. But then when I was 18 I walked into a new comic book store in my hometown and, for the first time ever, walked over to the independent section. I'd read titles like Maus before and I knew that comics had a much, much broader range of subject matter and tone than I had explored as a kid, but it wasn't until this point that I decided to really give the alternative stuff a shot. Thanks to some recommendations from the clerk I walked out with Mark Oakley's Thieves and Kings, Linda Medley's Castle Waiting, and Judd Winick's Barry Ween. Suddenly a whole world had opened up.

Now my comics shelf is loaded with everything from Scott Pilgrim to Y: The Last Man to Persepolis to American Splendor, and comics reading is no longer something I do for the wish-fulfillment fantasies (at least not exclusively). I think getting into manga is going to be my next evolutionary step as a comics reader, and thanks to this post I think it's time I got on that.

Sort of off-topic, but now that there's a comics conversation going on, can anyone recommend any good steampunk titles? I'm starting work on a steampunk graphic novel and I could use some good inspiration. Thanks!
I used to be a pretty heavy collector of comics for about 20 years. Some years I was buying 10-15 graphic novels on top the stand alone issues a month.

Then I lived in Japan for awhile and after I came back... the interest was gone. I had picked up other less space-filling hobbies in the interim, and probably more importantly I had an epiphany that I had spent all of high school, college and grad school deeply engaged in a hobby I shared with no one else, to my social detriment.

I mean I still buy a graphic novel every couple of months or so, but the burning desire to acquire and read them is gone. I still have about 25 or so storage boxes filled with 'em that I can't part with, but I don't really look through them (though partially because half of them are in a storage facility). However, if anyone has any interest in obscure low print run indie comics from the mid 90s through mid 00s I probably have it.
While also being a consumer of the 90s infusion of Marvel and DC cartoons, I didn't read many comics at a young age. I started to get into webcomics first around my high school years, starting with MEGATOKYO and then later moving into QUESTIONABLE CONTENT, FALLEN (Yuko Ota), and (yes) even D101.

Getting into actual books took a bit longer. A floormate of mine at my first-year university residence lent me a copy of Craig Thompson's BLANKETS, and I had never read anything like that book before. Around that time, I wanted to start learning about comics—not just read them and buy them but also study them. I wrote about what I learned in a column under the university newspaper and even got away with writing about Will Eisner and Scott McCloud in a few essays.

Finding a comic shop I liked was hard though until I learned about TCAF. After finding out it was hosted by The Beguiling, I had to find out what kind of comic shop could host something so big. Sure enough, not only did it impress me for its accomplishments but also for how its selection of stock includes comics that I enjoy the most. I'm also a fan of Big B Comics, which also has a great atmosphere and has improved even more after the renovation they had.
Lloyd Alexander!!! yess! he was a favourite writer for me growing up.

This was a very interesting read for me. I was never really interested in comics until I started watching anime in high school, and from that reading manga. Like you said, there are some great non-manga comics but there certainly isn't as much breadth, depth, or volume. Still, I think the coming of manga has been a great boon in dredging comics from the floor of sub-culture.

Also the FLight anthology, which I found late in high school, is what really helped me see the potential for comics.
Your "getting into reading comics" story sounds a lot like mine. The difference being that I didn't come across Bone until I was in college and originally got into reading mainly through a manga that my friend had. It was a pretty bad manga series, though, but it really opened the door to a possibility that there were comics that would be more to my liking and that could cater to me as a consumer. This was a happy revelation. I also took Japanese in University which helped me to be able to read more comics and get exposed to them, especially ones that don't always make it overseas. One of the main things that kept me away from most Western comics, like Batman and the like, was the never ending storyline. I get really tired of following something that I don't feel has an ultimate goal or climax. I'm not sure if this is because my bread and butter was mainly reading novels or if that's just the way I am.

I'm also a conservative buyer, I hate wasting my money on books when I find out after the fact that they're just not to my taste, be they novels or comics. And, like you, I tend to buy the entire repertoire of an author who's work I like.
I forgot to mention that in addition to manga, webcomics were what really brought me around to comics and taking it seriously. Works like Strings of Fate, Bite Me, Fallen, D101 among others are comics that I look on as ones that solidified my love for the medium.
Ah Cross Game! I love that series. I am two episodes away from finishing the anime as well.

Never could get into Children of the Sea though. Read the first two volumes and never felt compelled to read the last of it. I really didn't like the short internal dialogue and other bits of the writing style. I also wasn't very impressed with the art.
I think the first time I got into comics was with Peanuts and other strips in the newspaper. I remember cutting them out and hoarding them when I was really young. When I was around, maybe 5 or so my dad got me an X-Men comic. All I remember was Wolverine was on the cover and I thought his name was "X-Man". I don't think I was even able to really read it that well, but I was drawn to the artwork and the idea that a whole book could be a comic and not just 3 panels or so.

Then as I got older I would read some Spider-Man and other Marvel books, but they were always disjointed and never really did much for me outside of just being passing entertainment. The Archie Sonic comic was the first series I followed though... as I was really (and still am) into video games, so it was an easy transition. Then I would start buying the monthly Disney Adventures because they had Bone in them, which completely blew me away.

In the second half of the 90s my uncle brought me some Dragon Ball manga from Japan to show me what comics were like over there. I became completely obsessed with them, even though I had no idea how to read them. Around the same time Dragon Ball and Sailor Moon were being brought over to America on TV so I'd watch them every week.

And then a lot of manga would start coming out in the US. I bought a lot of English Dragon Ball books, and then I got really into Oh My Goddess through my local library. Pretty soon there was the whole anime/manga boom so it became very easy for me to the find the kind of stuff I like. Through manga I found manga-inspired creators, which led me to indie comics, and now I read pretty much all kind of stuff!
Actually, you got me into comics. I stumbled across your artwork on Elfwood, way back in '03. I was in 8th grade, and considered myself a serious reader. It was a long time before I stopped taking myself so seriously. I thought comics were only about lame superheroes and had no interest in them. Then I found your art, and loved it. I read Trilogy and loved that too. I figured if I loved your art and your writing, I would probably at least like your comic. So, I started reading D101. Actually, I pretty much devoured it. My weeks started to revolve around the days D101 was updated. I was hooked. I read every webcomic you posted a link to. And then I read every comic those artists linked to. In high school, my friends started reading Manga, and I only read what I could borrow from them. Now I'm in college, so I buy a lot more. I don't have a massive collection yet, and my books still vastly outnumber my comics, but I definitely have a healthy love for them. Now all I long for is a good local comics store. No such thing in my area. They don't have comics at my library either, which would be awesome. Oh well. At any rate, I just wanted to say thank you Faith, for starting me on a lifelong and expensive addiction. <3
Aw, I'm very flattered I'm the cause of your addiction! I mean, I'm very sorry to have cost you so much money. ^^

The lack of a good local comic shop is a lament I hear from a lot of people, but at least there are good online options like Amazon. I was never a huge online shopper, mostly because I really like to have an idea of what the comic is that I'm buying before I do (why is why the library is so important to me), but I'm sure if I didn't have Strange Adventures here, I'd be buying my Urasawa fix that way.
I'm really envious of your collection. Due to space, I've to cut my collection down over the last 4 years or so.

Local is probably my new favorite read. I keep telling myself I don't need to get more books, but there it is, staring me in the face.

Getting into Comics

I was born a comic book reader (both mother and father read comics and in 1978, you could freely buy them from Convenience stores like "7-11".

American Superhero Comics are a wonky niche (albeit "my niche"). Even I get annoyed by how difficult it can be to track a complete storyline. The trade paperback reprint editions try to fix this a bit, but you still get stuck with plot threads that spin off into the ether. This has got to be a limiting factor with DC and Marvel drawing more readers.

But, after you get away from DC and Marvel, things are more sane.

We have sort of a lit-snob culture in the states. In order for a comic to be "respected" by "grown-ups" it must be something dour and literary like Maus. But, again, Marvel and DC's saturation of the market doesn't help the perception.
I won a polybag of old comics at a carnival in 6th grade. It had a Kirby New Gods (weird, didn't understand it, but it still stuck), a Gene Colan Daredevil/Black Widow (too many words, but strangely sexy), one of those massive JLA/JSA crossover issues that ends with Red Tornado sacrificing his life to save everybody else (he was fine the next issue, though I didn't find that out for 20-30 years), and a Teen Titans featuring Wonder Girl.

I kept them for years, though it never really occurred to me that I could buy more. Then one day, in 1976, I was looking at magazines in the drug store, and one of the very front comics appeared to be about an anthropomorphic duck in a suit, running for president. So I started buying that. Then the next year there was a really, really crappy adaptation of Star Wars, so I started buying that. And Ms Marvel came out, starring a girl who liked beating the crap out of people. And then there was an issue of X-Men at the quickie mart that started with a massive fight between two teams of completely apeshit people who might or might not have been human beings.

And then we got a comics store.
Hey! You have 20CB #12 and my local Chapters hasn't even got #11 in yet! No fair!

I also spotted Cross Game and Planetes -- bravo!

Older but no better school

I got into comics... Jeeze I'm going to sound ancient... See back when I was a young girl gas stations didn't take credit cards or ATM (what's that?) cards. So when you went in you got to see all the other stuff to spend cash on. My brother and I being stuck in the back seat for hours (and days) would need entertaining so mom would buy us each a 3 pack of comic books at every gas stop. My brother got superheros and I got the old Disney comics, little Lulu and other favorites. Being military (Coast Guard) we lived on base and I had friends who were much more worldly travelled and I was exposed to Asterix, Doremon and others. Neither my brother nor I have ever stopped reading them since.

Btw finding a girl-friendly comic shop I's like finding a unicorn. Seriously.
If you like fantasy and strong female characters, you have to read Castle Waiting. All that's been published is now collected in two handsome hardcover volumes. It's really funny, looks gorgeous and has lots of interesting backstory to reveal.
I used to read my mother's Asterix and Lucky Luke comics as a kid, and the European Mickey Mouse and Duck Tales comics and such, and later (pre-teen to young teen) horror comics, but kinda wandered away from it again. Then I stumbled over Elfquest in the bookstore and was hooked. That was around the time the first manga series in Germany were published in pocketbook format, and I picked them up, too. (All three of them! Dragon Ball, Ranma 1/2 and Oh! My Goddess!)

When more series were published, there used to be quite a bit of mutual lending with folks at my school, so not one person had to buy all series. XD

My first trip to a real comicshop (to see if they had any English-language Elfquest comics that hadn't been translated yet) was quite an adventure. If anybody would like an impression of the display of artbooks they had there, do an image search of "Art Fantastix" (that'll be NSFW).

I tried following Marvel comics for a while, both the main line and Ultimate, but dropped it again. Part of it was the treatment of female character, but what was way worse were the "events" every half year that would have more or less forced me to keep following ALL OF the series. And the one in Ultimate got gross with the overblown gore and killed too many characters I liked. I added hardly anything to my permanent collection apart from the Runaways collections.

I don't read as much as I used to, partly because I'm running out of space for more books. I'd love if German publishers got their act together and started selling manga as ebooks.