Comics: To Bag ‘n’ Board or Wait for Trade? Or Door Number 3?

So I went to the local comic shop yesterday, Capitol Comics 2 (I prefer the original down on Hillsborough Street, but that’s way outta the way). As a recovered comic addict, this is a lot like a person with a drinking habit heading down to Cheers and sitting next to Norm. Yeah, bad idea.

Batman and Etrigan kiss and make up, from Detective Comics 603I used to have six or eight “longboxes” stuffed full of comics, each one carefully placed in a bag with a backing board, then taped shut. Taped! How many of us collectors ruined a comic by letting the comic get snagged on that damn tape? Dumb idea.

This was in the early ’90s, and each Friday I’d be at the local comic shop in Iowa City, where I went to college, waiting with the other diehards for the comic shop in the Hall Mall to open. Great store, full of comics, posters, figurines, and more, with all the back issues stored in another store down the creaky hall.

It was at that store that I first got my sense of being an intruder in the comics world — my “gateway drug” were the Star Trek comics, not the superhero comics (though I’d read those when I was a kid, and loved the Superfriends comics on TV growing up). So I always felt like a poser, coming into this secret society.

And for a while, I got caught up in the addictive capes-and-tights comics — Batman, of course, and the Flash, along with the Justice League and then the X-men. But the comics that really spoke to me were Gaiman’s Sandman series and Delano’s Hellblazer, and all the other similarly dark comics that would become Vertigo, an imprint of DC.

I kept up with all these comics for a couple years, fairly obsessively, even after I graduated college and taught school for two years. I remember not having much money for food while I was in school, but I always found money to buy $15 to $20 worth of comics each week. Food for the soul!

Finally, though, I couldn’t keep up. And I met a girl — the ultimate comic-collecting killer! By 1996 or so, I was pretty much done as a collector, and I kept away from the local comic shop out of fear of slipping back into the obsession.

But you can’t avoid comics these days — movies, TV, and other media pay a lot more attention to comics than they did 20 years ago. Plus, I did that webcomic thing recently with Zuda, and got hooked all over again.

And now, comics are going digital. Actually, a lot of them are already there.

This is a good thing. A really good thing for people like me, who aren’t interested in collecting again, but are hungry for STORIES about their favorite characters.

While I was in the comic shop yesterday, still feeling a bit awkward and out of place, I picked up a handful of numbered comics, wincing at the cover prices of $2.99 and $3.99 (I remember when they were a buck fifty!!). I was also wincing at the thought of all these loose comics cluttering up my house. I knew I didn’t want to buy another big white box for storing comics, which I’d feel compelled to bag and board all over again.

That’s where digital comics are going to make a killing, I think. Being able to read the newest storyline on my laptop or iPhone (or someday, when I can justify buying it, on my iPad) instead of buying all the various issues, will pull a LOT of comics readers back into the comics world.

I’d be happy to read the new stuff in digital format every Wednesday when the new comics come out (I sorta hate that they don’t come out on Fridays these days — ah, nostalgia!). And then I’ll buy a trade paperback of the comics I really enjoyed, for rereading. Or I’ll simply “wait for the trade” as a lot of people do these days.

So no — print is NOT dead. It’s not going anywhere. It’s just not going to be the lone superpower in the publishing world anymore.

With digital comics, it’s the intersection of easy-to-buy download, with the promise of and end to the clutter and waste (save a tree!) that comes with tons of comics lying around the house, that makes digital comics so appealing.

And that’s how places like Comixology,, and Longbox are gonna make a pile of money, for themselves as well as the comics companies and (we hope!) the actual comics writers and artists.

Especially if these distributors make comics available for all platforms and devices — Windows, Mac, iPhone, iPad, and all the other readers coming out in the next year. Fast, easy, and a reading experience just as good — if not better — than holding the paper comic in your hands.

And those nice trade paperback collections sure do look nice on my shelves…

The only drawback is that I think comics shop will suffer the most from this transition. I’ll probably read individual comics digitally, and order trade paperback through Amazon, because of the discounts. Sorry guys! Guess I really am a comics poser, after all… 😉

(Oh, and for those of you keeping score at home, the comics I picked up were Batman 700, The Return of Bruce Wayne 3, Batman and Robin 13, The Avengers 1, and a trade paperback of Y: The Last Man, part 3. Somehow that all added up to $37!! Whaa? Someone stop me before I go into a shop again!)

2 thoughts on “Comics: To Bag ‘n’ Board or Wait for Trade? Or Door Number 3?

  1. That’s just it! I love reading, but don’t want to give up buying the actual books. It’s different reading a book printed than off a screen…and yes, I too like how the books look on the shelves. Someday I will have my own library…someday 🙂


    1. Speaking of, I still have one of your books, Bebe! Of course, I haven’t read it yet… Need more hours in the day.

      And yeah, you gotta have your own library. It’s the best. Paper won’t be replaced by pixels any time soon. There are just more options these days.


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