I buy too many comics. And yes, this is something I've said at least once before, but this time I'm talking about it on a strictly month-to-month basis. I still buy too many trades and old back issues, and I still buy too many digital comics, but now I feel at a crossroads regarding my pull list. I gotta trim it down, but sometimes that's the hardest thing to do.
How much is too much? For me, I try to keep my pull list at 35 titles a month, which has lately ballooned up to 40. Some of you reading this will think, "Is this guy surviving on Hot Pockets and store-brand soda? He spends all his money on comics!" Some of you reading this will think, "Forty books a month? What's he complaining about?" Every comic book reader has their personal limit, and it helps to know what that limit is -- especially with the embarrassment of quality books on the stands right now. I reckon my limit is well under 40 books a month, but it's hard to get this habit under control.
I've been at my breaking point for over a year now, for sure. To explain, imagine that you have a portion of your brain devoted solely to keeping up with ongoing comic plots in-between issues. Right now that part of my brain is divided up into 40 different sections, meaning each comic only gets 2.5% storage space in my noggin. Basically, I forget what's happening in books on a regular basis; thank God for Marvel's recap pages (and why don't you have them, DC Comics?). I feel like if I cut down my reading in half, that would double the amount of brain power I have to put towards remembering ongoing plots. It's a theory I want to put to the test, especially with comics like Jonathan Hickman's "Avengers" needing triple the brain power just to unpack. It helps that it comes out twice a month, but I think that just takes away brain power from the once a month books.
Dropping books is a necessity. It's part of collecting comics and it has to be done. Buying books you don't like gives publishers no inkling that anything is wrong. They really only have sales to go by, because publishers do not read comment threads and Twitter feeds. If a comic sells, it will keep getting made regardless of if half the readers are hate-buying it.
Bad comics aren't even fun in the same way that bad movies are fun. There's something uniquely bad about a bad comic, something truly painful that every other bad form of media just doesn't touch. Maybe it's because bad comics usually mean reading characters I love being treated horribly, or maybe it has to do with the fact that a bad movie like "The Room" can -- and should -- be enjoyed in the company of others, whereas comics are a relatively solitary form of entertainment. Whatever the reason, I just can't stomach bad comics like I do bad movies.
How I've forgiven myself for not letting me drop all the X-Men spin-offs as they one-by-one took a nosedive in the late '90s, I'll never know. I do think, though, that the rage I felt towards books like "Generation X" and "X-Factor" as they drifted further away from the characters, status quos, and creators that I loved has given me a little bit of insight into why we keep reading books we hate. Every month after a new issue of one of those books sent me into a hissy fit, I would think about how much better they would be if I was writing them. Yes, I believe that reading bad comics back then boosted my ego without me having to do anything to prove it. I thought I could write better than that, and feeling arrogant and smug about a comic I didn't like gave me a weird validation, one that was much easier to achieve than actually writing down something creative. While I don't think that all critique stems from this desire to have one's ego boosted, I think it definitely plays a part in why we keep coming back to bad books month after month. There's really no other reason to keep reading something you actively hate, right?
Well, there are, actually, and now that I'm in the position where I like 40 titles a month -- despite my memory problems -- it's become harder and harder to cut the bad ones loose. I have to choose between truly great comics and truly good comics, and that gets tough. I'm thankful that I no longer suffer true trash, but those lower-tier yet still solid books keep me sticking around for all the old reasons. I'm convinced they'll get great, or a new creative team is just around the corner, or it's about to tie into a crossover that I'm interested in, or it's going to be canceled in a few issues anyway. All of these reasons are keeping me reading numerous books right now. They're books I enjoy, but now I'm wondering if I shouldn't be devoting that brain space to my absolute favorite books -- or, you know, things that aren't comics.
In addition to making it easier to try out new comics, the digital revolution has made it easier to drop comics that I realize don't need my attention right this very moment. Before, dropping a book you wanted to pick back up later meant coordinating with trade releases, or devoting a lot of time at cons to finding newer back issues. The fear of dropping a book was much more real back then; saying goodbye meant saying goodbye. Now dropping a book is more like saying, "see ya later!" It's helped me thin my pull list in the past, but then the comics companies have to keep putting out more new stuff that attracts my attention. Can we just put a freeze on all the new #1's until at least a few more of the current series call it quits?
I should have come to a concrete answer or revealed a methodology that I plan to adopt going forward regarding my pull list, but I think this week's entry is more of the "admitting you have a problem" variety. I know I've cured myself of buying comics I dislike, and that's something that I hope every one of my readers has learned over the course of time as well. But it's these good books, these books that are a-okay and mean well and, really, need my support that I just can't bring myself to let go of. So I'll go to the store tomorrow and pick up my stack of comics and, maybe more this week than any previously, I'll really take another look at just what I'm buying.
Brett White is a comedian living in New York City. He co-hosts the podcast Matt & Brett Love Comics and is a writer for the comedy podcast Left Handed Radio. His opinions can be consumed in bite-sized morsels on Twitter (@brettwhite).