15 March 2006

COMMENT: Buying Habits...and How to Change Them

First, read Ed Cunard's post criticizing the Independents' Day campaign (read the comments, too), then read my intro to yesterday's On the Shelves. Both got me thinking about the comics I currently buy and enjoy, how they compare to what I was buying and enjoying this time last year, and offered a bit of insight into why my to-read pile is growing out of control.

In the comments to Cunard's post, I mention a conversation I had the other night:

...about the cyclical nature of comics buying, how some of us move from nostalgia/habit to experimentation to comfort, while others get locked into a particular mode, by choice or lack of awareness. Where I think I've been shifting into comfort mode recently, only buying comics I enjoy regardless of what genre or publisher, this Independents' Day is a great idea for those stuck in nostalgia/habit mode.
Ed and others have issues with the Independents' Day idea, some valid, some overly nitpicky. In the end, though, I'm a believer in taking action, and if there's a group of fan/creators who see the ID campaign as a rallying point that will inspire them to taking action, more power to them. IMO, it's similar to The Hive, except the ID campaign focuses on the Direct Market while The Hive is attempting to look beyond it. Both are valid concepts with great intentions, and you could nitpick either of them to death if you have nothing better to do, but they can really only be judged by their end results.

Anyway, the buying habits thing jumped out at me in the midst of all of this as I'm on the verge of drastically overhauling my pull list. Again.

When I started this blog, I was on the fringes of "nostalgia" mode, enjoying some of the stuff I remembered from my youth, but starting to seek out new things to read. Overwhelmed by the variety of comics on the racks every Wednesday, I did what I do in mainstream bookstores when I'm looking for something new: I browse until I find something that strikes my fancy. Sometimes it's the author; sometimes it's the back cover copy or a blurb from a writer I like; sometimes it's the cover image itself (though that's more often a turnoff than an inspiration, especially with genre fiction). It's certainly never the publisher. In fact, of my favorite writers -- Larwence Block, Matt Ruff, Carl Hiaasen -- I have no idea who publishes their work, nor do I care.

While I'm browsing the shelves, comic or otherwise, I'll sometimes come across a title or author I've seen mentioned in a magazine, or online somewhere -- a review, an interview, possibly even an ad -- and that ding of familiarity will combine with something about the book itself, as mentioned above, and I'll do the flip test, randomly turning to a page and reading what's there. If I like it, I buy it; assuming, of course, that it fits into whatever budget I've alloted for the purchase. There have been many instances where one book was left on the shelf in favor of another more interesting one, and when it comes to comics, such a decision often leads to a pull list adjustment, an occurrence I'd wager is way more common than not.

Over the past year or so, as I've made my way through the aforementioned cycle, the balance of my reading for pleasure has shifted drastically, from approx. 65/35 books/comics to the current 10/90 books/comics. Because comics are cheaper (by the unit) and quicker to read, and as I started writing more and more about them, my appetite grew voraciously, to the point where if I come home with less than 15 comics on a Wednesday nowadays, it qualifies as a "light week" and I probably picked up a TPB or two to make up the difference. As a result, the pile of comics I've yet to read is daunting -- especially when you add in the stack I picked up at the Con -- growing larger every week and sapping a bit of the pleasure from the experience as I feel obligated to plow through them as quickly as possible, despite not having the time to do so.

Back to the cycle -- nostalgia/habit to experimentation to comfort -- and I stress that it's a cycle, and probably should include abstinence, which many of us have dealt with at least once and can occur at any point in the cycle. The experimentation mode has lasted over a year for me, spurred partly by my not wanting to get bored with this blog by reviewing the same 10-15 comics every month, and later, feeling an obligation to be familiar with as much of what was out there as possible. Over that time, I've also started to receive more and more review copies of books which I feel obligated to, you know, review at some point, but simply don't have the time.

While I enjoyed the early stages of the experimentation phase, the exhilarating sense of discovery every time I stumbled across a Skyscrapers of the Midwest or Elk's Run or Runners, it's gotten to the point where it's just not as exciting as it used to be.

TANGENT: I don't know why exactly, but I'm suddenly reminded of something I read a couple of years ago, about Christopher Columbus' final days, in Eduardo Galeano's MEMORY OF FIRE: I. Genesis:

The ocean will not be called the Sea of Columbus; nor will the new world bear his name, but that of this Florentine friend Amerigo Vespucci, navigator and pilot master. But it was Columbus who found dazzling color that didn't exist in the European rainbow. Blind, he dies without seeing it.
Not sure where that fits in, and I'm certainly not comparing myself to Columbus, but it came to me so clearly just now that I had to throw it out there.

/TANGENT

My favorite part of Ed's post, and the part I most agree with, is this:

Maybe it's getting older. Maybe it's losing passion. Maybe it's my slow slide towards cynical entropy. Maybe Tom Spurgeon, bad influence that he is, helped me decide that I don't have to support a comic book just because it is self-published or from a small press when he wrote about the "Team Comics" mentality in The Comics Journal #250.

Or, taking it more in the glass half-full way, maybe it's because I am seeing success stories--books like Black Hole doing well in the bookstore trade and at certain comics shops; NPR features on Persepolis, R. Crumb and Dan Clowes; seeing First Second ads in almost every Publisher's Weekly newsletter I get (and not just the comics-related ones); films like A History of Violence and the upcoming Art School Confidential that show others are getting hip to the idea that "comics" doesn't necessarily mean "superheroes," even if the vox populi of online fandom doesn't voice it; manga and graphic novels becoming a major force in mainstream publishing (even if some still maintain that manga isn't comics, for whatever reason).
Familiarity really does breed contempt, sometimes, and I've found, particularly in the comics blogiverse, that the longer one's been writing about comics, the more likely they are to come off as cynical, sometimes even contemptuous of...well, everything. It's one of the main reasons I got out of the poetry scene: I'd become so cynical that I couldn't even find much joy in the things I liked. (And no, I'm not saying that's where Ed is.)

So, nostalgia/habit to experimentation to comfort. I'm making the shift into comfort over the next couple of months and, as a result, I'm sharpening up the pull list axe. Who lives? Who dies? Who gets pushed to trade only? Find out next month!

Seriously, though, if you've read this far, all four of you, where are you in the cycle?

8 comments:

Mark Fossen said...

Over that time, I've also started to receive more and more review copies of books which I feel obligated to, you know, review at some point, but simply don't have the time.
I just got added to my first comp list, and got a nice little packet of books for review. I could do with more of that. :)

I don't know where I am in the cycle. I know that getting back into gaming has made my budget much tighter, and I revise my pull list weekly, it seems. Every week I have the debates I wrote up in my post about this week's books.

On challenge on my pull list is constantly remning myself that I need to buy books for myself first and foremost, and for the blog second. I know I'm not going to blog about Ultimate Extinction, and I'll probably get a post out of Skyscrapers .... but if I turn comic buying into a job (or a jihad), that's the quickest way to kill the love.

I just ranted in Ed's comments about Independents' Day, so I won't duplicate myself here.

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez said...

Mark: I just got added to my first comp list, and got a nice little packet of books for review. I could do with more of that.

and...

but if I turn comic buying into a job (or a jihad), that's the quickest way to kill the love.

Be careful what you wish for! ;-)

But yeah, I think the main problem for me right now is that comics is starting to feel more and more like a job, and I already have a job I hate, one which at least pays me for my troubles!

I have a tendency to not be able to passively enjoy things that I have a passion for, though, thus the blog, PCS, the panels at NYCC... One of the main reasons I'm bringing on an M.E. at PCS is so I can lighten my load a bit and get back to enjoying comics first, writing about them second.

Unless, of course, someone wants to throw some money my way... ;-)

Erech said...

"Seriously, though, if you've read this far, all four of you, where are you in the cycle?"

I'm at the end I think. I go through it every few years, buy lots of stuff, get burnt out, stop buying. I think I've bought maybe 2 comics this year, well 3. 2 were by friends though, so I don't even know that I would count them.

Marvel and DC did their best to push me out of buying anything they do, with the Crisis and House of M etc etc stuff - and I'm not really interested in reading indie superhero stuff for the most part - it just always strikes me as stuff not good enough for Marvel or DC, ya know? Of course there are exceptions to this, but yeah.

I dunno, something will come along sooner or later and get me back into it - but lack of too much I want to read right now, plus that feeling of having to read stuff to review def. killed any desire I have to get too involved lately.

That and the comics inturweb, actually.

Kurt said...

I'm somewhere in the middle of the cycle I suppose, but my interests outside comics tend to act as a governor on my buying habits.

I’m buying pretty much the same amount of monthlies now as I was when I returned to reading comics 18 months or so ago. What has dropped off is my TPB purchasing, largely because I’m pretty close to caught up on all the various titles I want to be.

One of these days I’ll post my long-winded thoughts about how the economics of attention affect comic book reading/buying. Pretty relevant to this discussion.

Ed Cunard said...

If I had to pick one of those points in the cycle, I'd say I'm between experimentation and comfort. I'm not sure where I'd fit, exactly. I buy books I know I enjoy, and once I stop enjoying them, I stop buying them. I'll try new things that might appeal to me, based on budget--that money first goes to books I think will be good, and then it goes to books I think I may like.

Scott said...

Honestly, I find myself caring less and less about who or what publishes a book and more concerned about the content. That's ended up resulting in some experimentation with manga and OEL lately but also has driven me to things like Paul Moves Out or Scott Pilgrim in the last year-- a couple of excellent books. Actually, there are a number of smaller publishers that I'll seek out but more on that later.

I've tried to write about Speakeasy a couple of times in the last few months and find that my interest in them really amounts to nothing. The only book of theirs that I was interested in was Rocketo and they did absolutely nothing to promote that book, one of the hottest things to come out of San Diego last year. That was a buzz book during the summer and then what? Nothing.

All these publishers coming and going mean nothing if they don't know how to run a business. I'm getting to like some of the smaller boutique publishers-- Top Shelf,Ad House, Oni, Boom Studios and even some of the OEL from Tokyopop. But these studios are attracting the talent that I'm interested in. They get the talent pool that draws me in more than Speakeasy, Alias, Dreamwave and whatever other minor publishers have tried.

As for the cycle, I'm in experimentation right now. Tonight I'll hopefully be reading the trade of Rocketo and the OGN Tales of Colossus, two books I've been waiting quite a while for.

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez said...

Scott: That's ended up resulting in some experimentation with manga and OEL lately...

Manga is definitely something I want to do continue my fledgling experimentation with, even as I settle into comfort mode overall. There's just so much out there it's kind of intimidating trying to figure out where to start. I don't trust my browsing instincts quite as much with manga.

Jason Martin said...

Guy, I'm one of the readers, good to see you're taking some time to recharge if that’s what you need.

As for cycles, I agree with you on that, and if I had to pick my spot on yours, I'd say experimentation, but tempered by the fact that I don't have the time and money I normally would devote, with most my comics attention on publishing.

Regarding your touching on the IDC and interpretations of it, I look at it as a movement to highlight small press, something anyone who enjoys books beyond the big publishers should be able to get behind. I'm not sure anyone can find a valid argument that a concerted effort to do this wouldn't be beneficial in light of today's corporate driven market. My 2 cents any way.
I know as you mention, there are other efforts, such as the Hive etc, and did bring PCS to the attention of the IDC founder JBL. It’d be great if we could bring all of the separate efforts to a focus, or at least something along those lines.
I’ll have to check out these other points of view you mention, from what I had read, it sounded like they were misunderstanding the thrust of the IDC, but your comments make me think there’s more to it…

Also, I believe I'm one of the "review pile" folks you may or may not get to, but if/when you do, I'd still love to hear your thoughts on the book (as in Super Real).

Take care,
Jason