This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on February 23, 2017.
Every week in a new installment of “Leading Questions”, the young, lantern jawed Publisher of Comics Bulletin Mark Stack will ask Co-Managing Editor Chase Magnett a question he must answer. However, Mark doesn’t plan on taking it easy on Chase. He’ll be setting him up with questions that are anything but fair and balanced to see how this once overconfident comics critic can make a cogent case for what another one obviously wants to hear.
So without any further ado…
Why should we read monthly ongoing comics?
We need to read monthly ongoing comics to prop up an industry shackled by a ridiculous distribution system and dominated by publishers with no vision or achievable, long-term goals for growth.
Oh, wait, sorry. That’s the reason we are continuously told why we need to buy monthly ongoing comics. It’s also a bullshit reason that is focused on maintaining an unhealthy status quo. I don’t mean to say that we should burn down the current program and hope a phoenix rises from the ashes, but arguing that it’s better to keep things in a current bad way than risk anything with change is the very definition of bullshit, in my opinion. But you’re not asking about why we should buy monthly comics or even why we are told why we should buy monthly comics. You’re asking about why we should read them.
There is a difference between why we buy media and why we consume media. We buy media to support it. We buy media to own or control it in some facet. And, legally speaking, we buy media in order to consume. The act of purchasing does not answer the why of the purchase though, assuming we are obtaining comics or anything else through legal means. It’s really just a matter of the how, and that avoid the most important issues of the matter.
So why do we actually read these things called comics on a monthly basis?
Considering the vast majority of people reading this right now show up to their local comic store on a weekly basis to collect, among other things, at least a few staple-bound sets of paper with superheroes or other adventures inside, that might seem like a silly question. But for many of us it’s a routine. You go to your store on Wednesdays, talk with the regulars, and get your books because it’s what you do on Wednesday. For someone like myself who has been doing it since before he was in high school, it’s just a part of life like attending church on Sunday or going to work on time.
You just do it.
That’s true right up until the moment you don’t. You’re on vacation or an unexpected event calls you away or you forget, and suddenly it’s Thursday and you don’t have any new comics to read yet. There’s no reason to ask the question why until you recognize the routine isn’t necessary. Nobody dies when you don’t get your new comics. No business suddenly disappears. No creator cries out for your attention. The world spins just fine and you don’t need these comics. So why the fuck do you go back on Wednesday?
For some people the answer is that you don’t, or you do it with less regularity. You might drop one ongoing series or switch to trades or realize it’s time to read some more fucking books. And you really should read more fucking books. If you need a recommendation, check out Stamped From The Beginning. It’s okay, you’ll survive without pictures.
Anyway… when you actually stop and recognize you don’t need these monthly pamphlets, it can be easy to step away because no one actually needs these things. That’s true right up until the moment you do.
I know what you’re thinking. It’s something like “Chase, you’re drunk. You just spent the last few minutes making it clear nobody needs to read or buy or do anything with monthly comics. So what do you think you’re doing saying we do now?” Thanks for asking that question imaginary version of Mark Stack because I have an answer.
We need food. We need shelter. We need healthcare. These are things we truly need. But they’re also the basics of survival. You can’t deny them to someone without being a literal, actual monster. So when you compare something like monthly comics or any form of art to those, it’s easy to say no one needs them. But have you ever tried just surviving on the actual bare essentials? I’m talking absolutely nothing else, not a glance at the TV or newspaper, not even some friendly chit chat at the store. That’s some real bullshit right there.
The truth is that we need more than what our bodies require to survive. We have to be engaged or else we start to die, if not on a physical level than another one that is no less important. That engagement isn’t something you can eat a couple times a month like a scheduled excursion for a nice meal. Engagement is constant and we seek it wherever we go and whenever we’re awake. That’s one shared explanation behind the rapid proliferation of the internet, mobile technology, and social media. They allow us to remain engaged, satisfying curiosity and connecting with others, on a constant basis.
That’s something monthly comics can provide as well.
Sometimes you take a Wednesday off because life gets too hectic and realize you didn’t need what was there. But sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you get to the weekend and realize a new issue of Saga or Hip Hop Family Tree dropped, and you need to pick it up. It’s not because you’re starving or hurting, but because you miss it and it gives you something not as obvious as a burger, bed, or even a joint.
You find yourself wanting to learn more about how Public Enemy put together “Fight The Power” or how a family of refugee aliens are surviving together. They’re stories you find hitting you in a place that counts. It makes you feel smarter or just feel. More importantly, it makes you feel this more than once. You get a taste and it boosts you, and then there’s the promise of more to come. There’s a continued release filled with chapters, characters, and cliffhangers.
That doesn’t make these monthly installments more valuable than a single piece like a novel or film. There’s something valuable to be discovered in reliability that isn’t there with a story told in a single segment though. You get to return to something that is simultaneously familiar and new. There are expectations delivered in style and characters, but the story itself is new. It can offer strength or reassurance or something else altogether when the week is long or the day is hard, and it’ll continue to be there month after month.
There’s no reason you need to read monthly comics, but if you think you need to read one, then you probably do.