Why I don’t like comic books

Why I don’t like comic books

[lead dropcap="yes"]I have to come clean. I don’t like comic books. I tried. I really did, but I had to give up.[/lead]

Let’s start at the beginning. When I was a kid, I loved comic books. What boy didn’t? I liked Superman and Archie and Richie Rich. I wasn’t a superhero-snob. I loved all kinds of comics. At one time I had a box of comics that stood two-feet tall and I would dig through it regularly reading and re-reading.

For some reason that bothered my mom. Maybe she thought I should be reading real books instead. (Maybe she’ll chime in here in the comments.) In any case, one day they were gone. I remember being devastated, but after awhile I got over it and I never picked up the habit again.

Part of the reason probably had to do with the lack of a convenient place to buy them and little money to buy them with. Back then they were pretty cheap, but even so what little money I had usually went to, yup, real books.

Fast forward a few decades. Sometime in my 30s, around the end of the first dot-com boom, it seemed like comics got big again and this time they weren’t just for kids. There were these “graphic novels” for adults because they had sex and violence, but also regular comics too, mainstream superheros and alternative anti-heros and all that. From my outsider’s point of view there was a comic renaissance, but I still didn’t get back into them, I think still because they were not convenient to buy. By this time, I was buying all my reading material at Amazon and places that sold comic books were not on my regular list of places to visit.[1]

But another big reason was that I hate jumping into the middle of stories, especially complicated story lines. I always feel like I’m missing something or trying to catch up. And all the comic books I would think about reading were like that.

Fast forward to two years ago. I had just got an iPad and was reading as much on it as I could, most Kindle books, but a few magazines as well. I’d heard about the Comixology app for iPad, which is a sort of bookstore and comic book reader, and I thought it was a cool idea. Then I heard about The New 52.

DC Comics’ was relaunching all 52 of its major superhero comic book lines, starting over completely from Issue #1[2] and rebooting the story lines from scratch. This was perfect! I could go back to reading my favorite superheros and not have to feel like I need to catch up on 30 years worth of missed storylines. Best of all, the first issues of the relaunch would be free to download. Like crack, your first hit is free.

So I downloaded Comixology to my iPad and then started downloading my favorite superhero comics. But then I ran into the first difficulty: Which “favorites”? For instance, there isn’t just one Superman comic, there’s at least two: “Superman” and “Action Comics”. The latter, it turns out, mainly concerns when he was just starting out, but I was never certain the story lines overlapped. Batman is even worse. There’s “Batman”, “The Dark Knight”, “Detective Comics”, “Batman and Robin”, “Legends of the Dark Knight”, “Batman and Red Robin”, and so on. Then there are the spin-offs: “Robin”, “Nightwing”, Batgirl“, ”Supergirl“, ”Smallville“. And then the crossovers like ”Justice League", where the superheros are creating new story arcs interacting with each. And even though it’s a re-boot, there’s still a history I’m missing to explain, for example, all of Batman’s sidekicks.

But I gamely tried to get into it. I reasoned that many guys my age who I respected for their taste were comic book aficionados and I should try it too. So I started with a handful of series: “Superman” and “Action Comics”, of course as Superman was always my favorite. Also, “Batman”, “The Dark Knight”, and “Detective Comics”. “The Flash” because he was always my second-favorite as a kid because, you know, running so fast. And then “Justice League” to round it out because I thought it would give me a taste of other superheros like Green Lantern, Aquaman, and Wonder Woman.

I kept at it for a while, almost a year in fact. Each month, I’d buy and download another handful of comics. And even though I usually waited until they were being offered for below cover price, it was still a little expensive. I was downloading at least 7 different lines per month and by end I’d added a couple more. Twenty dollars may not be a lot to some, but it’s not nothing to me.

More importantly, I realized I wasn’t enjoying it like I’d hoped. I was putting in the time to read each issue, but I wasn't getting out of it what everyone else seemed to. Each issue was so short that it felt like the storylines advanced at glacial paces. And even where they did advance I’d forget after a month what happened and have to go back and read to understand what’s going on in the new issue. Then add the complexity of three completely separate storylines for the same character, Batman (were they in alternate universes? I never figured it out), and I was lost.

And the comic stories themselves were unsatisfying. Maybe I’m more of a word person and less for pictures. I don’t spend time on each panel, but glance at the image to get context and then the words to get the story and move on. Perhaps, the fault lies not in the comics, but in ourselves. I’ll grant that.

Yet after a year of trying I realized it was time to cut bait and admit that comic books aren’t for me anymore. Which I kind of regret because in a way I’m letting go of a piece of my childhood. And I would have loved someday to share an interest in, say, Superman or Spiderman, with my own kids, which I admit could still happen. Nevertheless, right now, I admit defeat. I’ll stick to my novel-length ebooks and leave the comic books to their fans and just hope that this admission doesn’t mean the permanent revocation of my Geek status.

  1. There was the one place in Salem that sold cigars and comic books, among others things, but my disposable income went to cigars in those days.  ↩
  2. Some lines had kept their continuous numbering since the 1930s.  ↩
  • To each his own, Domenico. There is a countless number of people who love comic books, but as with everything else, it simply doesn’t appeal to everyone. At least you gave it a shot!

  • It’s funny- I had almost the same experience.

    I started reading comics in high school, but only “Sonic the Hedgehog” ones. I liked superheroes, but like you, I hated jumping in when I didn’t know what was going on. I even tried a few times by picking up some collections at the library, ones that were dedicated to big comic events and had nice “preludes” to get you up to speed. It never worked though, because there were always about 50 characters I didn’t know and who were never introduced because you were supposed to already know them.

    Then I heard about the New 52 and I felt like it was a good time to jump on. I’ve always loved Batman and Superman, but I wanted to start out slow so (perhaps ironically?) I started out with the Flash. It’s been the only one I really continued, too- every once in a while I’d pick up a Batman or a Superman or something else, but never continued very long. I just wasn’t interested. Like you, I’d usually rush through it, focusing mainly on the text, and then on the re-read I’d look at the art (the Flash art was nice to look at.)

    But lately I’ve fallen off again, and I don’t think I’ll go back. When I heard they were changing the artists for the Flash, I just felt sort of relieved- here was a good excuse to stop. This is probably because my main problems with comic books were really showing up: 1) that nobody dies, or if they do, they come back, and 2) they never end, so there’s no real satisfaction. I’m glad I got off when I did, but I’m also glad I got the opportunity to be there for a while. I’m keeping the comics I got, but I think it’s time I cut out too! It was fun while it lasted!

  • I agree. The problem is that the format of single issue comics hasn’t changed in 80 years but the art and story telling have changed dramatically. Old comics had smaller panels with a lot more text, and often told an entire story from beginning to end in one issue. Anthology titles like EC comics in the ’50’s told 4 complete stories in a single issue! By contrast, comic book art and story telling today is much more “cinematic” with huge panels, two page spreads, little or no dialog (to set a mood) and movie-like story arcs that stretch out over 6 months to a year. The quality of the stories (in the books I read at least… almost all Image titles) and the artwork are FAR superior… but the single issue format isn’t suited to it at all. It’s like… imagine watching The Walking Dead on TV but instead of getting a 45-50 min episode once a week you get a 10 min episode once a month. That’s exactly what reading single issues is like. You get 10 mins of reading and yes… you have to re-read last month’s issue before reading the current issue because the last time you checked in with the storyline was a month ago. I guess the solution is to read graphic novels instead but even then (to use the TV analogy again) that’s like getting on 45-50 min episode every 6 months. It’s a LONG wait. But at least you can follow the story and really get into it. It’s hard to really get into a story and stay with it when it’s doled out in tiny bite-sized morels spread out over years.

  • Go back and collect the old comics you used to read as a kid and other titles and issues you missed from the same time period. Older comics are funner. You can but old collections in book form as well.

  • Yeah, I got sick of comic books. It’s normal for plenty of people to experience that. As far as the superhero characters go, I have Netflix Daredevil right now. Any comic book collecting by me is pretty much casual. For me as an individual anyways, I always liked DC Elseworlds, because they weren’t so exclusive in terms of how I could jump on to them. I have Kingdom Come, The Dark Knight Returns, Speeding Bullets, The Nail, as well as similar stories with Marvel as well. Yeah, everntually, I got sick of getting new ones, but it was fun while it lasted.

  • You know, I turned away from comic books and just got TPBs. You get the whole story that way. Plus movies and animation are cool too.

  • I agree with Ed; I mostly read TPB and graphic novels these days. I’ve been reading since Terra joined the Titans, and the All-Star Squadron was early in its run. So, so many re-boots ago

  • I still enjoy comics. There’s been another DC reboot and it’s fun, but at $3 – $4 a piece, I rarely buy new books. I look for sales or TPBs. Or I just reread some of the thousands of comics I already have. 🙂

  • The funny part is, I hated U.S. comics when I was a kid, because they’re all about superstuff. Then I grew up reading manga, although later I focused on Western comics, mainly European, when I found comics aren’t only about super… things. Lately, the only stuff I’ve been reading is from Vertigo (and webcomics), anything non-supernatural related. Maybe you had enjoyed comics if you had searched for something else and beyond superheroes. Image titles would be a great start.

  • I don’t blame you. It’s hard to get into that “Hey, kids! Comics!” gee-whiz mindset once you’re no longer a kid. That being said, I did enjoy the heck of Tom Scioli’s Transformers vs. GI Joe …

  • I have been reading comic books for a very long time. I have to admit they are just not fun anymore. What I think happen is they began to try to appeal to the adults, and not the kid inside the adult. The consequence of this is you get convoluted story lines, for me is too complicated. So I have to admit that I have to move away from the thing I really loved. To be honest I cannot even watch the movies, too much tragedy and over dramatic events. So i think comic books even Archie has been swallowed into the over powerful adult market to make a profit. This is too bad.