Jen Krueger: Binge Reading Comics
A friend of mine has multiple subscriptions at multiple comic book shops. He gets excited for every new issue, and has been consuming comics this way for most of his life. Try as I might, I just can’t understand this, though not because this fervor for comics is foreign to me. It’s the issue by issue thing that I’ve never been able to come around on.
Maybe some of this stems from the way I was introduced to comics. Years ago, I saw Neil Gaiman do a reading of short story and poetry material at the Printer’s Row Book Fair, and the first booth I stopped at afterwards had the The Sandman graphic novels for sale. It was the first time I’d seen the name of an author I knew on a graphic novel, and having been so entertained by that author only minutes before, I figured I’d give this foreign format of storytelling a shot. I read it in one sitting and couldn’t get my hands on the next trade fast enough. By the end of the month, I’d devoured the whole series and become interested in finding other comics I’d enjoy even half as much as I had loved The Sandman.
But even as a comic book convert actively looking for more to read, I just couldn’t bring myself to start with anything short of a trade or graphic novel because single issues of comics have always struck me as unfulfilling, just bite-sized bits of big stories. Of course the serialization is a huge point of the medium, and of course the writers and artists are telling their stories in these discreet chunks purposefully. But even with the intention there from the start that narrative arcs in comics stretch over multiple issues dispersed over several months or years, I still can’t help but feel my ability to immerse in a comic is almost nil on an issue by issue basis. With the beginning of an issue either establishing a world and characters to follow or having to remind the reader of what happened last time, and the end of an issue setting up something to be dealt with next time, I just never feel like there are enough pages total for the middle to really grab me.
And even if a single issue were able to really engage me, the length of the wait between issues dwarfs the story itself for me. While I can wait a week between thirty- or sixty-minute episodes of TV and remain immersed in the narrative arc of a show, waiting a month between 24-page installments of a story breaks the tension up too much. It also makes me anxious that by the time I get to the last issue in a series I will have forgotten a small detail from early in the run which will turn out to be crucial by the end. Whether or not that would actually be the case, it makes me wary of breaking up my experience of a comic story into anything short of a trade, since trades are at least collecting entire arcs in a single volume even if the series as a whole runs for years.
The longer I read comics, though, the more my reading tendencies are creeping past binge reading issues by only buying trades, to binge reading whole series by not cracking into those trades until the series is complete. When I started reading Locke & Key, Omega and Alpha were the only parts not yet released and I burned through everything leading up to them very quickly. Looking at a six month wait until the first issue of Omega would be released and realizing the last seven pieces of the Locke & Key story would be doled out over eleven months after that, I just couldn’t stand the idea of breaking up my reading experience so much. It seemed like the equivalent of watching the series finale of a favorite TV show in eight minute chunks with a week off between each viewing. I decided I wouldn’t read a frame of Omega until I could sit down to finish the whole series.
Perhaps with a longer series I wouldn’t have been able to wait so long after the release of a trade before reading it. I have to admit that the stack of The Unwritten on my nightstand has only one unread trade in it despite my previous intention not to read any further than the fifth volume when I learned a definitive end was in sight. But interminable as the wait until a series concludes may be, or the wait between trades for long-running and favorite series, for me there’s just no comparison to sitting down with an entire puzzle, or at least a large portion of it, rather than a single piece. My friend with the many subscriptions often tells me about things he’s reading that he thinks I’d like, so I have a long list of comics to check out once they’re released in trade. Guess I should make some more room on my nightstand.