Friday, February 03, 2012

Reading in a vacuum... and out of it.

I was thinking last night if I enjoy comics now as much as when I was a kid. I'm still thinking about it and I think I have to cover some history first. I grew up in the 60s and 70s about 50 SW of Chicago in a very small town. Comics were nowhere to be found. However, several times a year we would go to Grandma's house in SW Missouri.

The town wasn't big but it was the county seat and I could buy comics at Blues Drug, Woods Grocery or Wades Grocery. So this meant that I would save my money for these trips and walk all over town buying comics. I would normally end the trip with 50+ books piled in the backseat with me on the way home. Blues Drug was the best. His were on a spinner rack but the box .... the box, that half-price box with the top of the covers ripped off, that was the goldmine. (I learned years later he was getting a refund on those books and also selling them, thereby double dipping and breaking the law.) You could get a quarter 80 page giant for 12 cents. How could you NOT love a guy like that?

So I would grab up Superman, Action, Detective, Batman, Justice League, all the scary books I could find, Archie (cuz my sister made me do it), all the war books, but I hardly ever grabbed Marvel. Why? Because they had continuing stories and there was no guarantee that I was going to be able to get every issue. I was elated if I ended up missing only two issues on any title between trips.

Also, I had a deal with the barber back home. I gave him comics and he gave me Juicy Fruit gum. Of course I only gave him the scary ones because ... Well, because they were scary! And he gave me the monster family packs of gum. He ended with more business cuz he was the only barber in town with comics and that meant kids would be quite waiting for dad and siblings to get their hair cut.

Now imagine, I would go 3, 4 months with no comics and then I would gorge myself on them. I'd read them on grandma's porch, in bed, on the toliet (to everyone's chagrin), and then curled up in the back seat on the 8 hour drive home (I was reading trades before there were even trades available!) . The only way I had to know what comics were GOING to be available were the wonderful house ads. Reading the house ads would build up anticipation inside me and when I actually found a book that I had seen the ad for, well, I HAD to buy it.

Basically, I grew up reading comic in a vacuum. I knew nobody else that read comics, none of my friends did (because they couldn't get them and I wouldn't loan mine out). Everything I knew about comics were from actually reading them. If a book sucked, you knew it because you bought it, read it, and it sucked. If a book was great it was because you bought it, read it, and it was great.

Compare that to today. We have blogs telling us everything coming out, stores with posters heralding the newest release, online previews, solicits for upcoming months, forums, tweets, facebooks, heck probably even text messages telling us what's great, what sucks, what's a must buy, what's a 'wait for trade'. In some cases you can even get a PDF preview of an entire issue if you play your cards right.

Honestly, I find the information overload a lot too much. Take, for instance, All-Star Western #5. Hex and Arkham go deep into a cave  and the last page, a splash page, the big payoff is the cover for All-Star Western #6, which we saw 3 months ago.


Now just imagine reading that book, with no foreknowledge. You turn the page and


A giant bat right in Hex's face! Holy cow, that's awesome and it makes me want to grab the next issue no matter what because, ladies and germs, THAT'S storytelling.

So, let me know what you think. Do you remember reading in a vacuum? Do you think you got your money's worth back when you were an ignorant kid, or do you get your money's worth now that you're privy to all the ins and outs of the industry? Does the information build anticipation or does it lessen the impact? I fall on the side of trying to go back to reading in a vacuum and seeing if I can go back to being that stupid wide-eyed kid.

1 comment:

C.K. Dexter Haven said...

I'm younger than you, so my "vacuum days" were the mid '70s to mid '80s.

DC always had the best house ads. In fact, some issues became legendary to me. Jonah Hex #37 was such an issue, but it was Sgt. Rock #336 that defined the house ads' power., #336's cover showed Rock and co., swooping down on some Nazi airplanes while wearing these crazy "Icarus"-style wings! When I finally found the book many years later, I was hugely disappointed that the cover and the story within were totally different! I could have used the internet then, but I would have been deprived of a lot of imaginative daydreaming and "inspired" action figure adventures. :D

Viva the vacuum!