There used to be a time when a comic reader could walk into a comic book shop with 20 bucks and walk out with enough reading to suffice his appetite for graphic literature the entire week. While the ‘90’s don’t feel that long ago, this chart is a startling reminder of how much the price of a comic has jumped over the years. Some may argue that the price is relatively reasonable given the quality of storytelling, artwork, and the product itself in today’s market as compared to then, but that isn’t an argument I care to have. As long as someone is selling comics I’m going to be buying as many as I can. And that’s what I do want to discuss: Getting the most mileage out of you comic dollar.
If you’re a wealthy collector with no limit to what you can spend on your hobby of choice stop reading right now, because this article isn’t for you. Maybe if you get bored from reading all those comics and counting all that money you can come back and give this post a browse, but, if you’re like me, you have to live on some sort of budget, and that means making some tough choices at comic shelves. I’ve developed some methods to help you get a stranglehold on your comics instead of the other way around.
Take an Inventory
If you’re not using some sort of system to track the books you are buying you should start. It’s not only a great tool to identify exactly what you are buying, but it’s just cool to keep track of your collection. There are several pay websites and applications available for this purpose, but I use ComicBookDB.com, have never had an issue with the site, and it’s free to use. They also let you create some great spreadsheets that delve deeper into your collection, and that’s the kind of info you need. Now you can track and see exactly how many books you are buying every month, see which books you are buying, and, more importantly, see the cover prices of all of these purchased comics listed all in one place. This a great way to see where your current comic book dollars are going, and you may just be a little shocked at how many books you are buying every month; I know I was! Now that you have an idea of what you’re spending every month, you need to make some decisions.
Set-up a Budget and Stick to It!
I am firm believer in having in place a detailed household budget for each and every dollar coming in and going out of my household, the same way a business would. It’s an important tool in controlling your money, instead of your money controlling you. Likewise, if you don’t have control of your comic books, your comic books will have control over you. Pick a number and stick to it.
Deciding on that number, however, is a difficult proposition. After you’ve created your list of monthly comics to pull, you have to either take the list as it is, applying the sum total of all the cover prices to your monthly comic budget, or, and the more likely scenario for the comic fanboy with limited funds, you have to trim some of the fat. It’s never easy to drop a comic book from your pull-list, but it’s often necessary to keep your hold-box from overflowing. The key is discipline and constant vigilance.
Stay Informed; Stay Critical; Be Proactive
Comics are constantly changing. Even if a writer stays on a book for years, that book is going to go through a lot of artists and usually an equal amount of story arcs that signify the beginning and end of a “chapter” of a title’s run. These are great opportunities to jump on new books or jump off stale ones, but you need to know when these things are happening to take advantage. Many websites, including this one, run news, preview, and review articles highlighting what’s going on and what will be going on within the pages of comic books from all publishers. Staying abreast of this news is the best way to find out what you want to buy before seeing it on comic shelves. The last thing you want to do is go to your shop and see something interesting that you weren’t expecting. It can throw the whole budget off, defeating the entire purpose.
Read your comics like a critic. If you don’t like a book you are reading you should stop buying it, and replace it with something better. There are simply way too many good books on the shelves, and not enough dollars in wallets, to continue to read something that is subpar. The question then becomes: How long do you stick with a title before you deem it bad? Some books require an issue or two or even three to really buildup, so it’s a tough call. My rule of thumb is usually “By issue #4, or 3 straight,” meaning if a book that starts at a #1 hasn’t convinced me by issue #4 I leave it on the shelf, and if any title isn’t entertaining for 3 straight issues I let it go and replace it with something else. There’s way too many fish in that ocean to live with something stinky, but it can be a chore.
Once you realize a book is not worth picking up any longer you have to stick by that choice. Drop the book from any pull-list you have and immediately replace it with something else. Doing so assures the book doesn’t accidentally end up in your box and become a temptation, while the addition of a new book to your list helps keep hope alive that something fresh, new, and interesting is on the way. You can’t look back, and you cannot surrender. Doing so may undermine the entire endeavor of keeping quality books in your stack, and making sure that wallet isn’t so flat. There are, however, ways to stretch that allowance a bit; adding some needed leeway to the budget.
Make Friends with Your Comic Shop Owner
Most comic shops are local, small businesses, and all of those shops have owners. Most of those owners work the shops they own, meaning comic book buyers find themselves in a unique position to get to know the middleman; the sole individual between the comic book reader and the comic book distributor. Additionally, just about every comic book shop has what is known as a hold-box; sort of like your very own P.O. Box at the comic book shop. Every week, the shop owner pulls the books from your list and puts them in your hold-box before setting the books out on the shelf. This not only makes it easier for regular customers to buy their books, but it helps owners better judge just how many books they should buy, a huge benefit for a small-business owner in an industry residing in such a deep retail niche. This grants so much of a benefit to shop owners that they often offer a discount on books purchased by customers who have hold boxes, although they usually have a monthly or weekly minimum purchase. But this is actually a great thing for the comic book reader on a budget, for two reasons.
It assures you will be given a pull-list, meaning someone else is getting your books for you. You don’t even have to approach the shelves in most shops; you only get what you asked for, and the temptation of browsing is severely reduced. The other perk to having a hold box is, and this works only if you get to know your shop owner, you don’t have to buy all the books in your box every single week. I’ve been known to keep over 80 bucks worth of comics in my hold box just waiting for that birthday or Christmas Season windfall, and most comic shop owners don’t really mind. Again, communication is always the key, and if you let your shop owner know that, even though it may take a few months, there’s a sale in that hold box just waiting to happen. And anyways, the alternative is those books sit on shelves with only a slim chance of being bought, with their likely destination being the bargain bin. No matter how long they sit in that box, they sell at full price, and comic shop owners would be silly to not let a good customer slide for a few months. Of course, there’s no surefire way to get your hands on EVERY book that hits, and that’s okay too.
Don’t Be Afraid to Miss Out
You can make all the lists you want, be as decisive as humanly possible, budget like a Wall Street accountant, and do everything else the right way, but you’re still going to miss a Preview, skip a book you’d otherwise not want to skip, or simply not take that chance with a book that looks promising. I missed out on Swamp Thing, Animal Man, All-New X-Men, Hawkeye, and scores of other great books just because I made a choice, and that’s alright. On the other hand, I ducked just as many bad books because, likewise, I just didn’t have the room on my pull-list, I made a decision, and I stuck with it. It’s a wonderful two-way street because I can just go back and pick up missed issues or buy the collected editions when those occasional windfalls or gift requests come along.
Doing anything on a budget is tough, and when you throw a passionate hobby with ever increasing costs in the mix, well, it’s almost too much to bear. It takes certain level of personal understanding and no small degree of effort to assure that you can continue to get the most out of your comic reading without breaking the bank. You have to identify the kind of comic reader you are, set a dollar amount on your weekly purchases, inform yourself on what’s hitting shelves, and critique each and every page of each and every comic you read. Yes, I know that sounds like a whole lot of work, and it can be, but it’s all part of getting the most bang for your comic buck. The work is totally worth the effort, however, if the payoff means reading more, better comics despite needing to stay on a rigid budget.