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Credit Crunch Special:

Ten Thrifty Comic Reading Tips

As Marvin Gaye sang on the album What’s Going On back in the early Seventies, "Money is tighter than it’s ever been". Some of us have been through all this before, but if this latest "credit crunch" is squeezing your pocket and spending budget for new comics and graphic novels, here are Ten Tips for Thrifty Comics Consumers that might help you save money and enjoy more comics more cheaply. Because comics aren’t a casual purchase, they’re a vital necessity - and being frugal doesn’t mean being Scrooge-like!

1. Wait For The Trade
It’s a commonplace truism but if you can resist the temptation to buy the brand new monthly pamphlets of American comics as they arrive each week (and I know that fix is addictive), it can work out cheaper once they have been gathered into a trade paperback. You get everything, usually, including the covers. And you don’t have to endure all those annoying interruptions from the adverts. And sometimes you get extra goodies like sketches and scripts.

2. Wait For The Paperback
Again, it’s so tempting to buy those hot new collections like All-Star Superman or Omega the Unknown, and the publishers know this so they put them out first in pricey hardbacks. But if you can hold off (I know it’s not easy!), delay that instant gratification a bit more, then there’s usually a trade paperback edition (TPB) along within a few months or so, maybe six, maybe nine, but it’ll come in most cases.

3. Resist Those Absolute Editions
Those over-sized deluxe editions can offer the very finest in presentation, it has to be said, and the remasterings and recolourings can really improve on the originals, as in the Sandman for example. But again, if you want to read the story, do you really need to splash out or upgrade to this? You could save the cash and opt for the regular edition. Or hang fire, as it’s quite likely that it won’t be long before those improvements they made to these so-called "ultimate" editions will filter through to fresh printings of the softback versions anyway.

4. Check Out The Comic Shop Sales
Keep a constant eye out for special offers and the reduced-stickered sections of stores. My guess is there are going to lots of bargains all year long as stores have to turn stock into moolah. After Christmas, the great Gosh! in London has been deep-discounting some first-rate titles, maybe not flavour-of-the-month or top-of-the-line, but it’s surprising how brilliant comics and graphic novels can go out of fashion or lose their appeal, just because they’re a year or two old. I picked up the first TPB of Brian Michael Bendis’s ace Alias, which I’m gradually catching up with, for a song, reduced just because it’s not grabbing readers right now into the latest big "Event".

5. It’s A Customer’s Market Out There
We’re all doing it, looking for the best price and often going online to buy graphic novels we’ve browsed and decided on in bookshops or comic shops. Fact is, it does pay to shop around and you can still find good deals on the high street. Also check out second-hand bookstores, charity shops/thrift stores and places like the Book & Comic Exchange in Notting Hill Gate, London, and of course online at eBay. And go hunting at regular Comic Marts near you, mostly admission free, for bargain boxes galore - they’re listed on my Events page. You can often find sets of comic books in story arcs or complete mini- or maxi-series offered together in packs cheaper than buying the graphic novel compilation.

6. Go For Big, Black-and-White Reprints
Want quantity and (in most cases) quality too? Why not catch up with some tried-and-tested all-time classics? For sheer good value reads, it’s hard to beat Marvel’s Essentials and DC’s Showcases, chunky newsprint giants of more than 500 pages. If you want to read Lee & Kirby’s Fantastic Four or Curt Swan’s Superman or Kubert’s Sgt Rock, go for these bumper bargain reprints where you can, instead of those $50+ hardback Archives or Masterworks editions. OK, so you might not like them being in black and white, but sometimes the recolouring in those $50 hardbacks is bright and garish and not that appealing. If you still want the colour, Marvel for their 70th anniversary this year have started issuing their Masterworks in cheaper paperbacks. On the downside, there are some wonderful series available so far only in the prestige hardcover format, like Kamandi, or Herbie, or Sgt. Fury, for instance, but if you’re prepared to wait they could well show up further down the line.

7. Swap Or Club Together
Groups of Manga fans have been doing this for ages, either clubbing together to share the costs of buying one favourite ongoing, long-running series they all want to read, like Naruto or Negima say, and sharing it among themselves, or each following a different series and swapping so they can get to read them all. Do you and your friends who are into the same comics all need to buy your own copies? If you’ve got all the pleasure you’re going to get out of a comic or graphic novel, why not let it go and swap it with a friend for something new? Or just lend them out to each other and get to try what they like and vice versa?

8. Go Online
Far be it from me to lead you astray but most people are aware of online sources of commercial comics to read on the Web or download as Bit Torrents for free, even within days of them showing up in shops (although I haven’t done this myself, honest guvnor!). Loads of manga are accessible too as scanlations by devoted fans. A wee bit more legit, there are also plenty of amazingly good original webcomics out there, mostly for nothing and serialising great strips and even whole graphic novels, one episode at a time, or whole archives of stuff. Save paper and read pixels instead!

9. Comics Are Free In Your Library
I know this is obvious, but I’m still amazed at how quickly my local library gets brand new graphic novels and manga onto their shelves, like the new Black Jack series, and what a good range they have. Here’s the perfect way to try something you’re not sure about buying at no charge and no risk. For instance, I just tried the first volume of Scalped from DC Vertigo, after lots of recommendations, and enjoyed it a lot, just not enough to want to purchase it. The question is, do you really, really need to own this book, and find somewhere for it in your place, or are you happy to be able to borrow a library copy, read it, enjoy it and return it? If they’ve not got what you’re after, it’s also possible to reserve a graphic novel which they have in their system and catalogue but is not on their shelves. You can even request that your library buys the one you want, if you enquire. Just keep an eye on the return due date to avoid any late fines!

10. Read, Or Re-read, Those Comics You Have Already!
If you’re anything like me and my buckling bookshelves and jam-packed comic boxes, you’ve got comics which you’ve not read in ages, so you’ve pretty much forgotten the stories and can enjoy them all over again afresh. And haven’t you got one or two comics and graphic novels that you’ve bought but never got round to reading or finishing? Well, now’s the time to look them out and give them a go. And even if you do half-remember what happened, all the comics and graphic novels you keep and cherish are designed to be read more than once. Like the best fiction, films or TV series, they can offer delights over and over with every re-reading.

Posted: January 18, 2009


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