How I stopped collecting comics and learned to love the trade paperback

Up until early 2006, I spent £100 a month on comics. This is why I stopped doing it.

The year is 2005, and a younger, angrier version of me with less facial hair is reading DC’s Infinite Crisis without the faintest idea of what’s going on. Up until this point, my younger self had been following the event intently, picking up issues of all kinds of books here and there to build up an overall view of the happenings within this universe. I even read Bob Harras’s Breach. Did anyone read Breach? No! I just wanted to keep up with everything. I kept looking on DC’s website to see what was coming up, and to plan my purchases accordingly; it was like playing the world’s most complicated strategy game.

The problem is, it was a whole lot of build-up for nothing. It cost me a fortune to read comics in this way, and since I worked in a convenience store at the time, the lack of pay-off in Infinite Crisis struck me as tremendously disappointing. It’s not that I hated the event comic, I just that I didn’t feel anything towards it. I felt like I was reading a book of DC poster art, as more and more characters were poured into this wadge of scattershot narrative, while relatively new DC Universe readers like me got lost in the shuffle.

Meanwhile, a friend of mine, who occasionally visited the same unbelievably depressing comic book retailer with me at the time, was being educated in the way of comics – I’d lent him a bunch of stuff, including Batman: Year One, The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen (though he never read the latter – it got lost under a pile of Zoo Magazines for months, which I can only assume is a far superior read).

You know what I noticed? He was having a far better time with comic books than I was, yet he was spending a tenth of the cash. At the time, I seem to remember him reading the Ultimate Secret part of Marvel’s Ultimate Galactus trilogy, while I waded through the dozens of Infinite Crisis tie-ins. At some point, he mentioned how he much preferred the idea of reading comic books in trade form, which made me realise that I wasn’t actually enjoying myself at all. About 70 per cent of the titles I was picking up were absolute garbage, while another 20 per cent hovered around mediocrity and only 10 per cent were actually good.

With up to £100 a month disappearing down the drain, up to this point, to very little satisfaction, I began rapidly scaling back my reserve order from the comic book store, instead reigniting my interest in videogames, as my enjoyment of the entire comic book medium had been soured by the cycle of publisher events. DC’s weekly experiment 52 was starting, at the time. I just ran clear of it. Eventually, I stopped going to the comic shop altogether, picking up trades on Amazon for titles I really liked, such as Green Lantern, Daredevil, Batman, American Virgin, Y: The Last Man and Buffy Season Eight. I don’t really go to comic book shops any more.

You know what, though? In retrospect, it was all a perfect education in comic books. Spending over £1,000 in a year on comic books gave me a crash course in everything about the medium, from the indies to licensed books to events to the classics. Single issues are not a cheap way to read them, but they’re definitely the best way to feel like part of something greater. Nevertheless, in terms of pure storytelling and value, I don’t think there’s a better way to read a title than through trade paperbacks. I don’t regret being out of the monthly loop – I think my friend was right about collected editions all along.

Breach is good, by the way. Get it on eBay. I guarantee you nobody else will be looking for it.