Comics are expensive.
It’s something everyone knows about our favorite hobby, but not many people bother to engage. Reviewers may bring it up when a story is particularly bad, or if a publisher decides to raise the price of a book without adding much perceived value. But that’s about it.
“The economics of comics is bad,” John Rogers, co-founder of Thrillbent Comics, told me in a recent interview. “No other entertainment form has increased in price adjusting for inflation harder than comics. It’s $3.99 right now for a comic. Which is 10-15 minutes worth of entertainment–which is hard.”
Most basic discussions of economics mention the concept of opportunity cost fairly early on–the notion that making one choice precludes any number of other possible choices.
Even in a big, expensive city like New York–where I am based–if you’re careful, four dollars can land you a decent breakfast, or a subway ride, or admission to a museum, or several slices of pizza. When merely existing in a place is so costly, you become painfully aware of things like this–every dollar you don’t spend today buys you a little more time to live in reasonable comfort later.
Sometimes you need those four dollars. Sometimes it’s really hard to justify buying a comic book.
Because comic books are serial, in buying one you’re introducing a new monthly expense to your budget for however long you decide to read a book. Maybe you stick around for a story arc–six issues ($24). Maybe you’re buying because you like a particular creative team—let’s use two years as a benchmark for a good run($96). Or, God help you, you want to follow a certain character—that’ll be $48 annually times however many comics that character is in.
This of course, assumes you only choose to follow one book.
For a very long time, I had written off comics—something I have known and loved for as long as I could remember—as a rich person’s hobby. When every comic on the stands is hitting you over the head with unending more-ness of the medium, and the cost adds up so quickly, it’s easier to just shut down.
Yes, there are alternatives to buying comics monthly—some of them make shelling out for floppies seem downright foolish. Marvel Unlimited, while a bit janky on the reading experience, is an incredible value. Trade paperbacks are almost always more affordable than buying monthly, and even more so when ordered online. And digital comic sales and promotions across all manner of digital storefronts are frequent and plentiful.
And then there’s my personal gateway drug: the local library, and the inter-library loan system, without which I could not have read many comics at all.
But there’s an opportunity cost. Most of it involves waiting. You have to wait for trades, wait for sales, wait for libraries. But there are others. You can’t support a local shop with digital sales. You can’t loan or give a friend one of your digital comics, hoping to show them why you love the medium so much.
But perhaps the biggest thing you give up on is the culture. From the letter columns to the fanzines to the websites like The Beat, comics have always been about conversation. In sharing how much they mean to us, talking about how much we love or loathe what happened this month—it makes the 30-day waits and delays bearable, because you’re not alone in them.
However, staying current is costly. It’s easy to get burned. It’s hard to take chances.
I want to help.
Because I believe there is value in telling stories in this strange fashion. In twenty-two pages, delivered thirty days at a time. In anticipation as a tool for great storytelling–and not just a crutch for lazy storytellers. In writers and pencillers and inkers and colorists that work together in ways that are layered and profound and moving. In comics.
And so I’m going to write a different kind of review. One that treats your time and money as precious. I will only review one comic per week here–what I decide to spend my money on out of the wealth of comics that come out every seven days. Very rarely, I’ll cover two. Once you get around three or more, you approach trade paperback prices and your money is probably better spent there.
I believe that when you come to comics with this approach, you look for different things in a book. If you didn’t value art or layouts before, you do now–if you’re only getting one book a week, you want the art to be something worth staring at and turning over in your mind, preferably hiding away further layers of story in its lines and colors.
You want each book to tell a complete story, and not just a fragment of a long one. You’re friendly towards first issues, hard on second ones, and have no patience for tie-ins and crossovers. You’re constantly weighing and measuring, trying to determine if a book is worth the monthly cost or better off purchased as a trade or on sale or borrowed from a library or friend.
You start to love comics even more.
Because comics are expensive. Ridiculously so. But that doesn’t have to mean they can’t be worth it.
[Joshua Rivera is a freelance writer and journalist whose work has appeared in Kotaku, Fast Company, and The Daily Beast.]
The Elite Beat Staff is a trained squad of ninja masters.