I relayed yesterday my visit to Comics for Collectors. It was the first time I'd been in a comic shop for over a year with the express intention of buying comic books. My last experience in a shop did result in a small purchase, but this was the first time in a while that I was actively looking for comics to buy.
Most of what I had been purchasing regularly when I was last frequenting shops were moderately independent books (by which I mean that they were from publishers you'd probably heard of -- Viper, Oni, Avatar, etc. -- but no one who sold in the top 100), many of which have ended. As I'd already had reasonable runs on them, I didn't want to buy collected editions (I'd already paid for most of the issues once) but it had been long enough ago that the store had either sold out of or stored the back issues.
All of which means that I essentially "needed" to look for entirely new material, as if I were just buying comics for the first time.
That proved to be an interesting experience for me. I had been buying comics for so long that every month was just another part of the never-ending saga. For all intents and purposes, there was no "before" and every conceivable "after" was the same as "right now". I'd always been reading comics and fully intended to always continue.
But since I did stop buying comics, and there was now an "before" and "after" that looked markedly different, how do I step back into that world without committing myself to again in perpetuity? I certainly can't pick up any random issue of anything Marvel or DC publishes, as those are clearly the thrust of that continuum I was trying to avoid. Much of Dark Horse and Image are out for the same reason.
Nor do I want to pick up any random issue of one of those moderately independent titles because, even though they're more likely to be more finite, I have no real means of obtaining back issues or following along future ones.
The answer, of course, lies in the trade paperbacks and graphic novels. This is precisely why they're selling relatively well; people can pick up a complete story without searching for back issues or trying to follow some byzantine continuity. As noted earlier, though, I do want to be careful not to purchase something which I've already purchased to some degree in pamphlet form.
I actually deliberated on the subject for some time. I certainly did want to buy something, but I really wanted to make that purchase count. I eyeballed a few things by Warren Ellis, the recent Simon & Kirby collection, some Ditko-drawn Archives, a Neal Adams Teen Titans hardcover... I spent a while rummaging through the quarter bins, thinking that I'd be more than happy to accept a lesser perceived quality at that price point.
Ultimately, I opted for paperback editions of Joe Sacco's Palestine and Mat Johnson's Incognegro. I was well aware of the content of both, but had not actually read either. I knew both works were entirely self-contained, and were ones I'd had on my "I'd really like to get around to reading them" list since I'd first heard of them.
The decision on which books to purchase was likely a lot more difficult for me than it might be for most people, given how much I've devoted myself to the medium over the years. Although by no means do I want to slight the addictive power of alcohol, I did find myself making comparisons to recovered alcoholics. Once you've quit, it's obscenely easy to start back up again and I wanted to make damn sure that I wouldn't find myself tempted to say, "Well, what's one more issue?"
I still love the medium as a whole, and I almost always enjoy the experience of actually reading through a comic. Even the bad ones give me an excuse to exercise my brain, trying to figure why exactly it's so bad. And I'm still reading any number of strips online (see the list at the right) but those pamphlets are dangerous things. Certainly more dangerous than I'd realized before last week -- as evidenced by the fact that I also bought RASL #2-4.