Nathan's Laserium: Comics 101 Issue 3

I completely forgot the whole reason the Vampirenomad herself invited me to write for her site - I was supposed to be the Comics 101 guy, sharing my love of comics to the masses. I did two posts, which were surprisingly hard, and then my contribution to this site morphed into my Laserium and I tossed Comics 101 into the Drawer of Forgotten Things.

Writing about comics is hard for me for a couple of reasons - the first is that, my whole Comics 101 course would go like this: "Comics are awesome. You should read some." The second is that, there are many fine comics websites and podcasts and who am I to set myself up as some sort of grand guru of sequential art? Do you even draw, bro?

My only credential is that comics have been part of my life since before I could read, and I have loved them (if not always completely faithfully) ever since. Indeed, one of the first words I remember reading is from the cover of ROM #2, which said "Lethal Laserium!!" Or maybe there were three !!!s. I wondered what it was, a laserium. And do you say Lay-ZEER-e-um or Lay-zer-EE-um? Well either way you now know the secret origin of Nathan's Laserium.

Back in those days everyone got their comics from the spinner racks at drug stores and gas stations. "Hey kids, comics!" they said. Sadly those racks are pretty much extinct. Nowadays you can get your comics anytime, in a plethora of formats physical or digital, but you can't get them at the 7-11. Hey kids, the future!

If you want to take part in the weekly festival of New Comic Book Day (ie Wednesdays- #NCBD on Twitter) you pretty much need to have what's called a pull list at a Local Comicbook Shop. That is, if your town or city is lucky enough to have one. A pull list is like a subscription service- you tell them what comics you want to buy and they pull one out and put it aside for you every week. I love my LCS, and the community it provides. When I recently took my daughter to the emergency room for dehydration, it was my comic shop guy who texted me to see if everything was ok. You don't forget stuff like that. There are downsides though- some comic shops are not friendly to new customers, or women, or I dunno people who might like to give them money so they can stay in business.

The biggest downside for me is what to do with all the comics that accrue week after week. Most serious collectors ritually "bag and board" them - put them in collective mylar bags with cardboard backers to keep them from flopping over - and then store them in longboxes, special cardboard boxes made specifically to keep comics in. And there they sit, year after year. I still have that copy of ROM #2 that I mentioned- and all the other comics I've bought over the years. They're not worth anything, and I'll never have time to reread them, but I still can't bring myself to get rid of them.

An obvious solution is to go digital. I actually do read comics digitally, and I can say that it's a pretty decent way to go. Although on phones it's not as great- you read one panel at a time which is alright but not ideal. Perfect for tablets, however. If I had the attention span to actually sit and read on my desktop I would, since comics look amazing on a huge hidef screen, but all my open tabs keep beckoning me away so it takes forever to read one comic on my iMac. Anyways, the Comixology app and website is my preferred digital comics service for new comics. New issues are released same day as physical comics (floppies) and they cost the same. Downside is DRM management and you don't really own a file like an mp3 on your hard drive. This for me is actually a plus but it does bother some people. Most publishers have their own apps, but Comixology carries the biggest selection. Dark Horse Comics being one major exception, they are only available on their own app.

Another digital service that I really like is Marvel Unlimited, which is a sort of online archive of over 14,000 Marvel comics covering everything from the dawn of the Marvel Universe in 1961 to books that are roughly 6 months old. Bit of a lag but if you can wait, you don't even really need to buy new comics. There's a small monthly fee, but as long as you use it regularly I think it pretty much pays for itself. Downside - since it is a paid service I find the occasional slow load times and downtime to be a major frustration though this doesn't seem to be happening lately. It would be nice if DC had a similar thing, but as of this writing they do not.

If digital isn't for you and you also don't want to have hundreds of floppies cluttering up your living environment, you could go with collected editions, typically soft cover collections of 5,6 or 8 single issues. There are also fancier hardcovers which typically collect 12 issues, and then all sorts of Collector Omnibuses and Super Expensive Editions and so forth. Comic shops sell them and the major online retailers like Amazon do as well. They look nice on a bookshelf, and even better- many libraries carry them in their collections so you can read them for free and not have to keep them.

Lastly I want to mention Comic Book Movies and cartoons as a perfectly legitimate way to enjoy comics. There's a lot of great cross-fertilization going on there, with new fans hopefully being drawn into reading the source material. It might only be 1/1000 or 1/10000 but anything that brings in new readers is ok by me. Because comics are awesome, and you should read some!

- Nathan Waddell