Monday, August 11, 2008

Why I Buy Certain Comic Books

After two weeks and 8 bloggers worth of guest posts, it's finally time to bring this series to an end with my own reasons behind why I buy certain comic books.

Before getting on to my own reasons, I just want to thank each and every guest blogger for taking the time participate. I had a lot of fun reading your reasons for buying the books you do and, based on the number of responses in comments and email, I'm sure all of our readers enjoyed hearing your thoughts as well.

If anyone missed the original posts, be sure to check out the convenient index page with links to each of the guest posts by clicking here.

Like my What I Think DC Is Doing Wrong post, I've included several choice quotes from the reader comments over the past two weeks. While I couldn't quote everyone, I've tried my best to represent everyone's thoughts and opinions in the quotes, but there are obvious space concerns and I want to let everyone know that I did, in fact, read your comments, even if I didn't reply to or quote everyone.

That said, hit the jump for my reasons on why I buy certain comic books!

Why I Buy Certain Comic Books
by Kirk Warren

Is it the creator?

I'd almost go sixty-forty, art-story. If one or the other falls apart the whole is weaker for it.
- Dave  
In all honesty, I don't think creators are the reason behind why I buy the books I do. Sure, I end up buying a lot of titles from the same handful of creators, but their presence isn't the deciding factor.

For instance, I loved Nextwave and Thunderbolts, but I could care less for Warren Ellis' Astonishing X-Men or some of his creator owned work. Similarly, Darwyne Cooke is one of my favourite writers / artists, but I had no interest in his The Spirit and couldn't even get into it.

Conversely, bad creators make bad books and I routinely try to avoid those types of books due to the creator. People like Rob Liefeld, Jeph Loeb, Adam Beechan, etc.

[On the importance of art] To have an image to pop in your head is well over the worth of the cover price.
However, even when I know the book will probably be bad or know that those creators are attached, I still end up picking up the odd book featuring them, like the recent Batgirl or the first issues of Hulk and Ultimates 3.

While I say an individual creator doesn't really influence my decision, I typically will buy a book based on the story and writing first, artwork second. I'm of the mind it could be written with stick figure drawings on a cocktail napkin and I'd still buy it if the story was good. The same can't be said for a beautiful pin-up art-like book with god awful writing *coughUltiamtes3cough*.

The Company/Publisher?

Who publishes the book doesn't really affect my decision to buy a book or not, but I did grow up reading Marvel books first, particularly Spider-Man, and feel I have some sentimental attachment to the characters and universe.

Astonishing X-Men was far from my first comic, but it was my first X-Men comic -- not counting the crossover with New Teen Titans back in the 1980s -- and I picked it up because it was Joss Whedon.
- Kelson  
While I don't buy the book because it has that big 'M' on it, I do have a general preference for the 'realistic' Marvel characters with their real life problems and toned down power sets. This doesn't stop me from picking up a Blue Beetle or Batman or any other DC title, though.

One thing of note is that I'm fairly prejudiced against Image, Wildstorm and other 90's startups. While I love me some Walking Dead and Invincible, among the other odd book here or there, I can't help but look at a lot of Image or Wildstorm books, like Gen 13, Spawn, etc, and see the cheap 90's cash grabs with all style, no substance - even when I've never read these books. I know these titles have changed over the years, but still refuse to really give them a chance based on some twisted logic.

However, I'm not opposed to picking up a new title from these companies whenever one catches my eye, such as the previously mentioned Invincible or Walking Dead.

The Genre (space, super hero, crime, street level, etc)?

There's no real genre that stands out as something I have to own. Typically, it comes down to a combination of the writer and genre, though.

There's also the cross-referencing - having read Thunderbolts, I wondered what other stuff Ellis had done, and dug into Nextwave - which in turn gave me some experience of Stuart Immonen and thus clinched whether I would buy Ultimate Spider-Man: Death of the Goblin.
- Salieri  
I've never been a fan of crime fiction or cosmic level stuff and wouldn't really say I'm a fan of those genre, but put an Ed Brubaker on Daredevil, Criminal or Gotham Central and I'm in heaven or put Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning (Nova, Guardians of the Galaxy) or Geoff Johns (Green Lantern) on a cosmic book and I'm sure I'm going to love it.

This might make it sound like the writer is the reason I'm buying the book, but Ed Brubaker on Uncanny X-Men with his cosmic Shi'ar story and everything else he's done on that title has been dreadful.

Similarly, many of Brian Bendis' detractors loathe him for his New & Mighty Avengers, but refuse to acknowledge his street level and dialogue oriented works, like Alias, Powers or Ultimate Spider-Man, and simply choose to ignore them in favour of bashing his higher selling work.

That's their right, of course, but the point I'm trying to make is that combine a writer in his genre of expertise and you'll get good stories and that means I'm going to be buying the book, regardless of who is writing it or what character it is. Why else would I buy a book about a 70's kung-fu artist (Iron Fist) who runs around in yellow booties if the writers weren't good enough to make that work?

Is it something to do with nostalgia (first comic you ever read, character you grew up reading, etc)?

I grew up with Batman: The Animated Series, X-Men, and Spider-Man: The Animated Series, so those were my main portals into the comics world.
- IslandLiberal  
As I told the guest posters when I was asking these questions, the first comic I ever read was Spider-Man and it was the first comic I ever collected, too. Much like Greg Hatcher with his love of Batman, regardless of how bad his title gets, I always feel like I have to know what's going on with Spider-Man. It's like a preconditioned response to look at the Spidey titles or previews whenever I'm at the shop or online.

While I hated JMS's magic totem origin nonsense and am displeased with the current OMD / BND continuity, I still find myself wanting to go buy Amazing Spider-Man even though I know I'll hate it.

He has a point about characters that he grew up with. I'm the same way with Spawn. I just have too big of a history with the title to ever drop it.
- Andrenn  
There aren't too many instances of this nostalgia factor taking over and I do try to resist the temptation, but when it hits, it's usually hard to ignore. One instance of nostaglia trumping common sense was with the resurgence of all the 80's cartoon properties, like Transformers and GI Joe. While the Dreamwave Transformers stuff wasn't terrible, looking back, I feel like I bought it almost entirely based on nostalgia.

Do you ever feel like you are buying a book out of obligation?

[On buying for obligation] I was lured [into Infinite Crisis] by the fact that I was promised seeing all the DC characters show up and having their moments.
When I first started reading comics, dropping a book was out of the question because it would break the run. I was reading Amazing Spider-Man and I wasn't about to have random missing issues whenever a bad run came along.

In fact, a lot of my early comic reading habits were dictated one way or another by the collector mentality. I couldn't justify trying out new books simply because I had to have that random one-shot or mini-series of Spider-Man or, later, X-Men and so on as the number of books I collected increased.

Similar to Eric, I quit reading Spider-Man, and comics in general, midway through the Final Chapter. While many claim the Clone Saga was the lowest point in Spider-Man's history, the Gathering of Five, Final Chapter and subsequent relaunch under Howard Mackie was about as low as you could possibly go and put the nail in the coffin of my comics buying youth.

While I had quit reading, my collector mentality kept me checking in periodically to fill out 'the holes' in my collection. I'm not sure what sparked my return to comics, but after a couple years of university and down time, I came back with a newfound appreciation for the books and the whole idea of 'breaking runs' or collecting books based on characters, regardless of quality, seemed ridiculous to me and I couldn't believe I ever used to do it.

Long story short, the act of buying a single issue used to be like an "until death due us part". I refused to branch off into other comics simply due to the fact I wouldn't / couldn't drop a bad book without breaking up my run.

I don't have a pull list; I don't subscribe to anything; I simply walk into a comic book store on Wednesday, read through what's new, and then buy whatever I really enjoyed.
- mq1986  
These days, I'm able to try out a random new title and drop it after one or two issues if I don't like it. While I get caught in that collector mentality once in while (that's my excuse for buying 52 issues of Countdown), I try my best to just drop bad books or books I don't enjoy and move on to new and better things.

The other major problem I have with my 'obligations' to buying comics is with a) the desire to know what's going on and b) the desire to sometimes review books I think other people want instead of the books I actually buy.

The first one can be summed up pretty easily with the collector mentality, but I do feel like I should be reading Secret Invasion or Final Crisis or whatever other major event is going on simply to know what's going on in comics. Sure, I can read Wikipedia or forums, but it's not the same for me. This habit leads to stuff like Countdown and many of its tie-ins or a large chunk of the eleventy billion Civil War tie-ins from a few years back.

Part b) is a recent occurance where I sometimes find myself 'sticking with' a book longer than I want to simply to review it for people. Secret Invasion or Batman RIP are examples of this. I feel like I should have dropped these titles by now, but both combine the event / need to know part a) with my desire to review it for the blog in part b) since a lot of people want to know what these books were like.

Do reviews or friends or message boards ever cause you to buy a book you'd regularly avoid?

I'm a reviews hound. Its not that I don't venture out on my own and check stuff out if it peeks my interest, but I'm not gonna buy and continually follow crap book by crap artist by crap writer just because I'm interested.
- mrpeepants  
Rarely do reviews ever sway my opinion on a book. I know what I like and, I'd like to think, why I like it and a review won't change or invalidate that for me.

However, I do read and use reviews and opinions, like those from the many guest posters from the past two weeks, as ways to discuss the books I'm reading or to gauge what new title or back issue I should pick up.

For a recent example of this, Geeked's review of I Kill Giants sparked me to have my shop order in a copy for me. We all have different opinions, likes and dislikes, but, in general, I've learned each of these people's tastes and how they line up with my own and know whether or not the book they are gushing over is something I'll like or not and if I should be picking up that trade they keep talking about or not.

So, yes, I do read and use reviews, but they do not dictate my purchases and a lot of the times, they end up being more for my own desire to have someone else's opinion in which to discuss my favourite books more than an actual review to know if I like the title or not.

Similarly, what makes you not buy a comic?

I try to find people (or websites) with similar tastes and look at what they're reading and see if it sounds any good, which is how I've become hooked on Manhunter.
- Bill  
I've mentioned a few things already, like certain creators, but one thing I didn't mention is how trades affect my purchasing habits.

Did you know I'm a huge Vertigo comic reader and collector? You wouldn't know it because I don't buy the monthlies. I own dozens of trades of Vertigo comics, and other indy imprints, from such titles as Fables, 100 Bullets, Y: The Last Man, Sandman, Lucifer, and the list goes on and on.

However, I don't buy them on a monthly basis because it's a) expensive and b) they don't read nearly as well, in my opinion, in monthly format. Most of these titles are what I'd define as graphic novels - not graphic singles. Reading Fables on a month to month basis is painful for me. I just can't stand the pace and waits between issues and it kills the momentum and story for me.

There's also the cost and presentation to speak of. While I don't mind shoving Random Super-Hero #293 into the longbox or paying the $2.99 a month for, I actually enjoy getting my indy titles in the nice trade format and stacked neatly on my shelf and the price, usually under $10 for six issues, can't be beat.

So, while I'm willing to give bad creators - yes, even Jeph Loeb - a chance every once in a while, ultimately, the trade format and the high costs of monthlies is what really stops me from buying a comic these days.


I hope you all enjoyed this series of posts where I, and other comic book bloggers, answer the question of why I buy the books I do. I originally came up with the idea while thinking about why I was buying certain comics during one of my recent pull list cullings and couldn't figure out why I had some of these books on the list other than to fill out gaps or what have you.

I really enjoyed finding out why my fellow bloggers and comic book reading commenters buy the books they do and it was interesting seeing how some people focus on writing while others art or how some buy certain characters based on what they grew up reading and so on.

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Ampersand said...

I agree with pretty much everything you just said. Another great post.

I only buy trades nowadays (today, as a matter of fact, i bought the latest Nova and Thor collections) and i have to admit i feel bad about doing so because i know good books (like Nova) may be canceled because of low single issues sales. I'm guessing that's where the majority of profit for comic book companies come from, because of the advertisements. Which makes me wonder, would people buy paperbacks with advertisements? Maybe offer two versions, a cheap one with advertisements, and a more expensive ad-free one.

I honestly have never discussed this topic with other comic buyers. Just an idea, but maybe you could run a poll/discussion here, see what other people think.

Dave said...

Great post! Thanks for the quote. I pretty much agree, too.

I'm leaning more toward the trade paperback, myself. Very few titles tell a really good done-in-one. I keep reading phrases like "padding for the trade", or is it "pacing for the trade"? Well, if you're already heading there, maybe I'll head there, too.

Andrenn said...

Hey Kirk, thanks for quoting me.

This was great, it's always cool to see how reviewers get their start, and I especially enjoyed reading why you read comics.

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