A Green Comics Experiment

By | Thursday, April 16, 2009 1 comment
With Earth Day right around the corner, I'm thinking a little more about environmentalism than usual, and I came up with an experiment that I think might be worth throwing out there.

Let's say you read some number of mainstream comics on a regular basis. Ultimate X-Men, Teen Titans, Trinity, whatever. But you want to do something more for the environment and there's some small, nagging guilt way in the back of your mind that you're encouraging the destruction of trees to feed your comic habit. My idea here is to allow you to continue reading those books without encouraging more paper being used, all the while still supporting your Local Comic Shop.

Now, your LCS orders comics based on how many he thinks he can sell. While new titles and independent books can be a little more risky, he's generally got a good feel for the mainstream books. So, he orders the books, they arrive in his store, he puts them on the racks with the other new issues, and he sells them for the next 30-ish days until the next issue of that series comes out. After that, he takes the one or two or three copies he has left over, bags them up and files them in his back issue collection, pricing them at or around the cover price. Those issues now no longer factor into his ordering for the next month. A guy who comes in and buys a copy of Moon Knight #15 out of the back issue bin doesn't change how he orders #32.

So what if you bought all your "new" issues from the back issue bins? What if you bought your books a month or two behind everyone else, after they'd been taken out of the main circulation and been moved into an LCS's "archives"? You'd be paying about the same price and reading the same story; you're just reading it a little later than most other people, which might not even be a concern if you read so much that you're perpetually behind anyway.

How does this help the environment, though? The comic retailing business model, generally, is set up so that current sales of new books direct production levels of future books. By reducing your purchases of new books, you're reducing the production levels of future books. Which means that fewer trees will need to be felled in order to meet that lower level of production.

See, while trees (collectively) can be a renewable resource, one tree (singularly) is most definitely not. Once a tree has been chopped down and turned into a comic book, there's no way you can turn it back into a tree. So comics that are already in existence, regardless of how often they're sold, aren't doing any more harm to the environment; whatever damage may have occurred has already been done.

For example, New Avengers #52 is slated to come out next week. Production levels have been long set, and there's no real chance to affect how many copies of that issue are printed. Those trees have been pulped. But if you buy that issue next week, your LCS is going to take that purchase and use it as part of a calculation for how many copies of #54 to order. (Production numbers for #53 have likely already been set as well.) If you don't buy #52 next week, that's one less copy of #54 that "needs" to be made. But in a month's time, you'll likely still be able to buy #52 from the back issue bin AFTER the orders for #54 have been finalized.

Now, if you do this on ALL your books ALL the time, I don't doubt most LCS owners will catch on and adjust their purchasing accordingly, effectively eliminating whatever environmental benefits you may have established initially. But if you only do it for a small portion of your overall purchases (especially if most of your pull list consists of smaller, independent books whose sales numbers you want to maintain to keep the books profitable) or if you switch between more multiple LCSes on a regular basis, spreading your purchase patterns out over several stores, that would, I think, be of benefit to the environment.

Now, I realize that sounds like a major pain in the rump and that's precisely why more people don't do more in the name of environmentalism. The reality is that convenience trumps social responsibility more often than not. It would ALSO mean that you'd be out of the loop with regard to discussions about the latest issue, and you'd be somewhat removed from conventional fandom -- which is a significant part of enjoying comics. I like to think I'm more green than most Americans and it would definitely be an experiment I might try if I were still buying pamphlet comics; it's the type of thing that caters to my sensibilities (which makes sense, since I thought of it and have spent all this time writing up a blog post about it). But since I haven't actually bought comics of any sort in almost a year, it's not something I can even attempt. (It's hard to cut back from nothing, after all!)

But if someone DOES give it a shot, I'd be curious to hear/read about their experiences. Was the "warm fuzzy" of saving the environment worth the extra hassle? What sort of logistical problems did you run into? How long did it take for your LCS to pick up on your new buying patterns (if they noticed at all)?
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Pj Perez said...

This is a great concept, and something I'd be willing to try. Problem is, I've experienced my local comic shops under-ordering most of the titles I read, so if they're not on my pull list, I'm SOL and there are no back issue stocks.

Because I don't even hit the LCS but once a month anyway.