Green Comics

By | Wednesday, January 07, 2009 2 comments
An issue that rarely gets openly discussed in comics circles is that of being green. Green as in "environmentally friendly" not "the color of the hero's costume." Oh, there's issues which talk about pollution (I still find John Byrne's environmental take on Namor rather inspired) and you get token stories like in an upcoming Betty and Veronica. And those are all well and good, but they almost universally ignore a major problem within comics' very own direct sphere of influence. Namely, that the publishing industry kills hundreds of thousands of trees every year.

Now let me clarify something right off the bat. I am not what you'd call a "tree-hugger." I am of the opinion that acting in an environmentally responsible manner can be more efficient and, therefore, more financially profitable. Yeah, I get a "warm fuzzy" by driving a hybrid car, but I bought it because it's cheaper than driving a gasoline-only vehicle. (Since I bought the car in 2002, I've driven 177,000 at an overall average of about 45 miles per gallon. Even if I were driving an efficient all-gasoline vehicle, I'd have used about 2,000 more gallons of gas over that period!)

Estimated comic sales in November totaled about 6,168,000. Assuming 16 individual sheets of paper per issue, that's 98,684,400 pieces of paper. And since one tree can yield about 8,333 sheets of paper, that means comic sales in November were the direct cause of 11,843 trees getting chopped down.

Almost 12,000 trees every month. Just for new pamphlet comics.

Now, granted, there are easily more obscene uses of paper in the world. Comic fans at least hold on to their comics, and they don't end up in landfills. An average U.S. office worked wastes six pages of paper every day! Newspapers have been getting thrown out in much larger numbers and for many more years than comics have even been around! And what about the wrapping paper business! The comics industry, by comparison, is much more environmentally friendly than many other paper-based industries.

BUT that doesn't absolve us from responsibility.

I'm sure I don't need to tell you to NOT throw away old comics. But does every issue in your collection need to be bagged in a non-biodegradable mylar sleeve? Yes, they're supposed to be non-biodegradable precisely so that you can keep it forever, but c'mon! Does anyone really even want their copy of NFL SuperPro #9 to last that long?

How about this? By buying new comics, you're contributing to the problem. But if you buy older comics, you're keeping already-pulped trees from going to complete waste. Plus many of them anymore are cheaper than new comics! Admittedly, you're not going to get a copy of Action Comics #1 for less than this month's issue, but I see even Mile High Comics (who tend to price things a little high online) is selling most of the issues in the 700 range for less than $1.50 -- half the price of a new issue! Heck, I even found a reading copy of #439 circa 1974 on their site for $1.15.

Frankly, I don't know the environmental impact of producing comics. Beyond just the paper, there's the inks being used, the clay coating put on the paper, the energy spent in the printing process... The publishers themselves have been pretty quiet on the subject, probably knowing full well that, unless they go to 100% post-consumer, recycled paper and all soy-based inks, they're not going to provide a very satisfactory answer. Although, to be fair, comic fans have by and large been completely ignoring the environmental issues staring them in the face, so very few people have even tried calling the publishers to task. (In fact, the ONLY instance I know of such a calling out was one question my buddy Dave asked Dan Buckley in a Q&A panel session a few years ago.)

Again, don't get me wrong. I'm not advocating that comics should go away so that we can save a few thousand trees. I'm just saying that I don't think the comic publishing industry on the whole is being very responsive to the problem at all and, coupled with their collective reluctance to try much of anything online, I think they're going to get hit hard in a few years when environmental changes start being more closely regulated by the U.S. government. I don't even pretend to have answers here, but it's high time someone got the discussion started.
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Anonymous said...

FWIW, it seems like I've seen a few concerns over comics' environmental impact, recently... and speaking as an environmentalist, I think it's really a minor issue, if any.

I mean, the fact is, in the U.S., comics are a super-tiny niche market. It seems funny to take a pause from constant hand-wringing about that market dwindling away completely (let alone the paper comics death watch) to get concerned about all the trees gobbled up by said tiny niche market.

Trees are, fortunately, a renewable resource. Which isn't to say that comics publishers couldn't do more to ensure sustainably-sourced paper; they probably should (especially at $4 an issue, eh?!).

But, really, even if comics were printed on 100% virgin rainforest wood paper, their contribution to deforestation would be tiny. There are probably better priorities, even for the concerns and energies of comics fans interested in the environment.

That said, yes, hooray back issues. :) Embrace the value.

Laura Hudson wrote an article that touched upon this a while ago, but its well-worth reading: