What makes a comic ‘worth it?’
In the comments to my introductory column, a lot of readers seem to gauge the value of a comic by dividing the time spent consuming by the amount of money spent. There’s nothing wrong with that formula; it’s one that I use all the time myself. Under that formula, the comic I decided to purchase this week–Warren Ellis, Declan Shalvey, and Jordie Bellaire’s Moon Knight #4–is a terrible value proposition.
It’s also possibly the best book you could spend four dollars on.
Reading this month’s issue of Moon Knight–or really any of the current (and sadly soon-to-be-concluded) creative team’s run will not take you much time. Like a lot of books on the stands, if there’s a line for the register, you can probably read all of it before the end.
But comics aren’t just words to be read. They’re visual, and how much value we place on those visuals are where the cracks in the aforementioned formula start to show.
The subjective nature of art makes it impossible to have a definitive answer–and I have no aspirations to be definitive about anything–but is there anything all that different between an illustration hanging in a gallery that people will pay hundreds of dollars for and the art in every panel and page of a comic book? It’s a tough question, but the art team on Moon Knight is worth every penny.
Shalvey and Bellaire’s work has been a consistent delight to pour over, and they’re bolstered by Ellis’ spare scripting, which leans on the artwork to tell the story–previous issues would often barely make sense if the reader only gave the art a cursory glance. Like a song with intentionally obscured lyrics, the book’s visuals hide layers of story in its lines and colors.
It also helps that writer Warren Ellis has been using the book to show off his mastery of the short story–you’d be hard pressed to find a more satisfying collection of one-and-done stories on the stands right now. And this month’s story, a psychedelic mystery about a recurring nightmare pushing the patients of a sleep clinic to madness, is Ellis’ best yet.
Part of it has to do with the story potential opened up by the revamp–by brilliantly repositioning Marc Spektor as a literal white light in darkness, the series has opened up a story direction that is surreal and unique unto itself.
“Dreamers are people who travel at night,” says Spektor. “That is my specialist subject.”
And much like dreams, which are fleeting yet heavy with meaning, Moon Knight shows just how much you can hide away in twenty-two brief pages.
Addendum: Why I Left Out Webcomics
A lot of commenters brought up something that I probably should have addressed from the start: why no webcomics?
Make no mistake, if you’re someone who just likes sequential art as a medium and aren’t attached to paper or characters, publishers, or creators that have brand recognition, webcomics are where you want to be. The amount of incredible work available for you to read for free is absolutely stunning, and if you want to find people to talk about them with, they’re usually only a scroll or click away from the strip you just read.
Don’t let money keep you from comics. The good folks at io9 compiled this list of 51 excellent webcomics worth checking out–of them, I can personally recommend Evan Dahm’s Overside stories in general and Rice Boy in particular.
If you’re craving something more substantial, Si Spurrier, writer of the recently-concluded, extremely idiosyncratic X-Men Legacy (one of the best books Marvel put out over the last two years) has been working on Disenchanted, a weekly webcomic with a whole wiki of supplemental materials to mull over.
Also, I’ll occasionally talk about digital exclusives, as most of them run for 99 cents, a much more fair price for a serial publication. But I’ll rarely go into the same depth with a digital comic, since the agreeable price point negates the kind of approach I take for these reviews. If, for example, an issue of the absolutely excellent High Crimes isn’t friendly to new readers or doesn’t necessarily tell a complete story given its intensely serial nature, I won’t care as much. My criteria for what’s ‘worth it’ changes, and the sort of review I’d give it is the kind you could probably read anywhere else.
This column–by design–heavily prefers print comics. Print comics are a perfect storm of bad economics that most comics media doesn’t deal with. I want to wrestle with that problem here. I don’t get review copies of anything. Every comic discussed here is paid for with my own money. I’m not sure that I’ll always be happy with what I get, but making impossible choices is part of the deal. My goal isn’t just to discuss comics, but the difficulties of being a comics consumer.
So help me out: before next Wednesday, June 11th, tweet me @jmrivera02 with the most satisfying single issue purchase you made this month–and why. Tag your responses #OneAndDone, and I’ll select four winners who will receive a free digital copies of one of the four Moon Knight issues I’ve purchased so far. I’ll include your recommendations in next week’s column.
As always, support your local comic shop if you can, patronize your local library if you have one, and say hi on Twitter if you like. See you next week.