Long Live Print, Brick, and Mortar (Part 1)

Like a lot of post-grad English majors, I make very little money. Laughable amounts. Laughable as in if you laughed in the direction of the small stack of bills I make monthly, you could blow it all away with the sonic energy emitted from your vocal chords. Added to this problem is the fact that, like a lot of people, I like nice things. Food for instance. My wonderful housemate and I work up some pretty stellar meals, each of us spending about twenty-five bucks on average every week on groceries (half of what I used to spend when I lived in previous living situations), which keeps me out of junk food and crappy restaurants. In addition to said food, rent, beer, and five dollar thrift store trips, my major regular, and definitely luxury expense, are print comics: light of my life, and occasional fire of my loins.

I’ve been buying print comics weekly since moving to the small town of Corvallis, Oregon for grad school a little over two years ago. Before then, I had only occasionally made my way to a comic shop when I lived in Houston for four years, and before that my mom sometimes generously bought me a comic on trips to the grocery store, never experiencing the glories of having my very own subscription list. When I made it to Corvallis, and found Matt’s Cavalcade of Comics, the only local shop dedicated to selling comic books as well as other indoor kid keep stuff (cards, models, board games and the like), I felt like there was little excuse not to become a regular customer other than the fact that, again, I had very little money. Deciding early on to limit myself to two to three comics a week, the weekly bike excursions to the comics shop located in a shopping center next to an always busy nail salon became one of the foundations to diminishing grad school stress whenever term papers, conference deadlines, and boring committee meetings swirled around me.

Even though I have a great love of comics, and have only grown to love the medium more since becoming a regular visitor to Matt’s, the weekly purchase has continued remained a source of minor guilt for myself that required frequent self-justification as to why the expense was worth it. After all, at 6-8 bucks weekly for two comics, I’m spending a solid $416 a year on weekly comics, not counting trade paperbacks and the occasional hardcover collection or graphic novel. Therefore I’ve put my mind on overdrive to come up with a list of justifications for why these purchases are worth eating out infrequently, going on fewer day trips, and only ever buying three buck chuck wine. Every other day until I run out of reasons, I’ll be writing a bit on a reason for my continued comic purchasing habit in an effort to maybe open a bit of a dialogue on the pros of print comics, and hopefully source new healthy reasons to continue my addiction given that some of the ones I currently have are motivated by self-flagellating feelings, my specialty on the emotional spectrum.

1) Not Another Screen

On an average day, I spend eight hours looking at a piece of glowing glass whether that’s my broken phone, or dirty laptop screen. Print comics therefore give me a break from pixels whenever I read them while still providing pretttttty colors, and text. Sure, there are books of all sorts everywhere in the house I’m living in plus the library two blocks away, but comics are unintimidating in presentation compared to the novel I’m supposedly in the middle of or the literary journal that’s innovating form or some blah, blah, blah. I pick up a comic that’s about 2 ounces, gaze at the cover (comics unquestionably have the best covers of any print genre. Seriously, you’re crazy if you think otherwise.), and dive in, feeling confident that in fifteen to twenty uninterrupted minutes I’ll have progressed a few steps along an engaging story.

Even though digital comics have improved a great deal in the past few years for improved user interface (especially on Comixology) that better replicates the print reading experience, I’ve been unable to make the switch that would allow me to access my comics collection anywhere so long as I had my computer or phone. Part of the reason is that digital comic readers still haven’t figured out how to recreate double page spreads, which throws off the pacing comic creators intended. Whenever I read a comic, and encounter such a spread, it’s like the moment a scratched DVD skips over two seconds in a pivotal scene. Sure you still know what’s going on, but the moment of interruption is long enough that you’re required to reset those parts of your brain that will get you reinvested in the story’s narrative. It’s an annoyance that I’m not able to ignore, but also one that I’m certain all comic apps will soon figure out if people like me keep whining about it.

More than that annoyance though, I just love the feel of a print comic in my hand. With comic book design and print quality at an all time high, it’s tough to not take notice of the artistic effort put into every facet of the most impressive comics on the market. Take Brian K. Vaughn and Cliff Chiang’s comic Papergirls as an example. It’s a comic that looks and feels unlike many others with these stunning character portrait covers that exhibit heaps of style in its lettering, illustration, and print quality. Walking by Papergirls on the shelf at Matt’s, it’s design functioned as a siren song, yanking me in its direction beyond the long boxes and discount comics. I look it now on my coffee table, and feel that my house is more beautiful for its presence.

Papergirls #1 by Brian K. Vaughn and Cliff Chiang

The fact that comics are printed on paper that’s often fragile also provides tactile information that I am not touching a device that I can be productive with. It possesses neither the hardness or metallic feel of my laptop and phone, the main tools I use to compose writing or screw around, and my fingers are immediately reminded that they are capable of much more than responding to student papers, scrolling through IGN articles, or writing crap drafts of stories, poems, and blog posts. Touching an issue of Papergirls makes me feel as though a vital document is in my hands, my own Dead Sea Scroll to examine and stare at in awe. A print comic sends a signal to my brain that says, ‘we are no longer working. we cannot work right now with this in your hand this is relaxing. you are relaxed. you are not a piece of shit. you are perhaps decent. you are perhaps loved.’ And although I’m provided that feeling by so much else in my life, it is truly a gift to know that for twenty-two pages worth this thing can give me that feeling as well.

That’s it for this week. Check back again soon for part two of this exploration in financial irresponsibility!!!!

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