by KC Carlson
About a decade ago, I started seeing something unusual while helping out at the local comic store. After finishing up my duties for the day, I would head out to the parking lot. I began to notice that I was being watched. It turned out not to be creepy — these were just fleeting glances, and then folks’ heads nodded back down. Eventually, I figured out what was going on.
They were reading their newly purchased comics in the car.
It didn’t matter what time of year or what the outside temperature was, there were always a few customers in their cars, reading their favorites. I didn’t understand this behavior. I preferred to drive home, have a nice dinner, and break out the new comics while sitting in my comfy chair. Secretly, I admired the fact that these folks still had this gotta-read-it-now attitude, as such feelings had fled me a decade or two earlier, when I had probably outgrown comics, but my brain refused to acknowledge it.
Later, after asking the store’s owner, I discovered that some of these guys weren’t reading out there in the cold because of their excitement. Some of them were trying to hide their comic reading from their wives or girlfriends. One of them had actually told his wife that he had given up the habit, so he would read the whole week’s comics in the car and then throw them into the trunk, where she wouldn’t discover them. Apparently, there were months and months’ worth of comics in the trunk.
I should also note here that the shop had several female readers/fans, none of whom I ever saw reading comics in the car.
This was also not the most unusual place I saw people reading comics. In fact, I started out reading comics in strange places.
IN THE CLOSET
When I was really young (like eight), I read comics in my closet. I filled up the closet floor with pillows and blankets and rigged up an electric light overhead. I would often spend hours and hours in there reading — and occasionally falling asleep. Thinking back today, it’s amazing that I didn’t burn the entire house down.
My other reading trick stemmed from being a lazy kid. I hated having to actually hold the comic books while I was reading. So I would flop over the edge of my bed or the sofa on my stomach and read hands-free, leaving the comic books on the floor. I was eventually dissuaded from doing this after several incidents where I (again) fell asleep in this position, until I was awoken by the screams of my mother thinking I was dead. I also injured myself a couple of times trying this position on the porch hammock with unexpected (at least to me) consequences. Hammocks are not to be trifled with.
I used to take a certain amount of crap from bullies in junior and senior high school for my comic book reading, which didn’t bother me too much after I started realizing that many of them probably had problems reading. Also, for some reason, cute girls started “borrowing” comics from my locker (and leaving me notes), so I thought that was a pretty fair trade-off for occasionally being shoved or tripped. Eventually, when I became the editor of the school newspaper, I could read comics in the newspaper office when I had free periods.
WHO HAS TIME TO READ THE DAMN THINGS WHILE YOU’RE EDITING ‘EM?
One of the big perks of working at DC as an editor was getting complimentary copies of everything DC was publishing, including collections and Archives. We were told it was important for us as editors to keep up with everything that DC was doing. At the same time, it was frowned upon to keep these books in the offices, so I ended up hauling backpacks full of comics home at least three times a week — because we were also getting all the Marvel output (during parts of the 90s, this was 300+ books a month), as well as books from other publishers. I soon discovered why they wanted the comics out of there — some editors just took their bundles of comics and stacked them up on the radiators in front of the office windows. Some of those piles got so high over the years that they threatened to block out all natural light — and were also major fire hazards. Many staffers joked that DC moved their offices so often just to force the editors to throw out their towers of comp comics.
Others had more creative ways of getting rid of their comps. They would read them on the subway going home at night — and then just leave them there for other people to read. (If any of you NYC readers ever benefited from this, you have editors like Kevin Dooley and Dan Raspler to thank.) I think most of us at the time came to DC as comic book fans and collectors, but the sheer tonnage of free comps thrown at us cured a lot of us of the collecting bug. Not me, but I paid for it. Hauling all that stuff home screwed up my back and shoulders for close to a decade.
Other office comps were donated to the military or hospitals. Today, this problem of mega-comping doesn’t really exist anymore due to companies cutting back their programs (or because they started hating each other and halted reciprocal comp swapping?).
DON’T I HAVE BETTER THINGS TO BE EMBARRASSED ABOUT?
I never really overcame my hesitation about reading comic books in public. Probably because I’m still addicted to the superheroes and slightly embarrassed to be displaying the oft garish covers (and these days, frequently excessively violent or raunchy covers as well). I’m pretty sure that there’s some deeply buried personal embarrassment in there as well, as I know there’s much better material to be reading.
Some things I have no problem reading in public (especially in medical or garage waiting rooms) are the new wave of deluxe comic strip collections. The elegant Peanuts volumes are great for this. I’m frequently asked about where the books can be obtained. I’d also love to be seen reading things like Bloom County or Pogo in public, but their larger size occasionally makes this difficult. The new Barks Library volumes (Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge) are the perfect size for carrying and reading, as are Fantagraphics’ new EC Comics compilations. Archie Archives (Dark Horse) and IDW’s Archie collections also occasionally leave the house, and I always have several of the digital-only Archie comics on my iPad. I do occasionally read some classic superhero comics in public — via the hardcover DC Archives and Marvel Masterworks — but only after carefully removing the slipcovers.
READ COMICS IN PUBLIC
I’m just now finding out that there’s a yearly “Read Comics in Public” day — August 28 (Jack Kirby’s birthday). It was created by Brian Heater and Sarah Morean at the now defunct Daily Cross Hatch website. The event’s Mission Statement: “Let strangers see you reading a piece of sequential art. It’s not shameful to read comic books. Comic books are excellent.” There’s more information at Facebook and flickr. And Twitter hashtag #readcomicsinpublic.
FLUSH WITH SUCCESS
In conclusion, I do realize that the #1 Family Feud answer to the question “Where are comic books most frequently read?” would most likely be “On the toilet, Richard!” But I was really hoping to prevent this from descending into potty humor. Well, too late for that.
KC CARLSON: As a kid, I actually invented a comic book reading device that would allow you to read “no handed”. It consisted of a baseball cap with a big clip taped to it. Unfortunately, I neglected to come up with a device that would automatically turn pages for you. (Actually, I did, but I caught a bad cold from sitting in front of the fan.)
It’s actually pretty amazing that I’m alive today, isn’t it?
Photo of the child reading comics came from here.