I'm Not A Serial Guy

By | Wednesday, December 03, 2008 1 comment
Recently, Tim Callahan wrote this piece on why he prefers pamphlet comics over trade paperbacks. He talks about how he likes that Green Lantern and Ghost Rider are rolling around in his head a little more than Fables because he reads the former on a monthly basis and the latter in the decidedly less-frequent TPB format. Green Lantern is more top-of-mind because of the greater frequency.

He also notes that because of that, he's able to get into those stories more. They're more visceral. He feels as if he's exploring the world with Hal Jordan, whereas Fables has more of a flies-in-amber feel to him. That world, for him, is already over and done, and he just happens to be reading about it after the fact.

It's an interesting way of looking at his format preference, but he's wrong.

Well, to put it more accurately, he's not exactly right. He's connected enough of the dots to get a sense of what the picture is, but he's missing some crucial details.

"Kind of presumptuous to claim that a guy you've never met doesn't know his own opinions, don't you think, Sean?"

Oh, I'm sure he's fully sincere about preferring pamphlets to trades, and I've got no reason to doubt him on that. But he's wrong about why he's more in tune with Green Lantern than Fables.

The frequency of pamphlet books over trades DOES have an impact, to be sure. But, more significantly, fans TALK about the issues between releases. The latest issue isn't more visceral because it's any more current than a TPB, it's more visceral because, after you read the issue, you spend the next couple of weeks talking about it with everybody else who read it. As part of the Wednesday crowd, he's taking part in a community event. A shared experience.

New comics come out on Wednesday, right? A good percentage of comic fans dutifully stop by their Local Comic Shop on that day, pick up their favorite comics, and read them (or, at least, many of them) that day. At some point in the evening, or perhaps early the next day, they're online talking about all of the relevant story points. It's a visceral experience because it lasts considerably longer than the actual reading of the comic.

You read the comic. It rolls around in your head for anywhere from a few hours to a day, and you post your thoughts online. Soon afterwards, somebody else posts their thoughts. And somebody ELSE responds to your thoughts with new thoughts of their own. And so on. You're participating in an active community, discussing the life -- indeed, the whole universe -- of Green Lantern. There's a very active and social engagement there.

When you read a trade, though, it takes longer because, there's more pages there. You might not finish it the day it comes out. It might be reprinting material that was already published months, if not years, earlier. When you do go online to discuss it, your peers aren't necessarily going to be joining you on the same page. Maybe they read the pamphlet issues as they came out. Maybe they stayed up all night reading the TPB a week ago when it came out. Maybe they read the pamphlet issues, but missed one somewhere in the middle. It might be fresh and top-of-mind for you right then and there, but not necessarily for everyone else. So the discussion is slower. It's not as energized, as people struggle to recall specifics. Your interaction with them is less exciting as a result, and it becomes less of a salon and more of a soapbox.

"Hmm? Oh, yeah. Death of Jason Todd, I remember that. I think I phoned in to let him live. Or did I only mean to do that?"

It's not the immediacy in and of itself. It's the sense of community that you're a part of. It's the sense of belonging. It's the sense that, in this whole fucked-up mudball we call Earth, you're part of something that many people finding meaning in. That you're not alone shouting in the darkness.

Me? Not my bag. As much as I like engaging in discussions of comic books, I've had a long tendency of inadvertently stopping them cold. No real agreements or disagreements, just crickets chirping. I've long since come to accept that, though, and so when I read comics, I tend to focus on the craft of the comic itself. The messages it conveys and whether or not it does a good job of transporting me to that world for the duration of the story. The social aspect outside the comic never really worked for me, so I don't have a particular preference for the pamphlet format.

But for many people, the comic is absolutely MORE than the 22 page story they read every month. It's a 22 page story that they share with dozens, if not hundreds, of other people. And, although the publishers often do, it's not something to be taken lightly.
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Anonymous said...

Yeah, the community activity is definitely a "value-added" attraction to reading serialized comics, as they're published. I once wrote a little essay about why I liked serialized comics, and (I have just confirmed, since pretty much everything since the mid 90s is floating around in archive folders) I noted that as one of the reasons.

Ironically, within a year of writing that, I had significantly shifted away from the Every-Wednesday behavior pattern, and the accompanying online chitchat, and had begun favoring collections and OGNs. :)