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?