A Year of Change

My reading habits have been shifting, and it seems this pandemic year has only accelerated that trend.

JP Jordan, a purveyor of comics at Dublin, Ireland’s finest comic shop, Big Bang Comics, recently asked me an interesting question for SKTCHD’s monthly mailbag. He wondered how my reading levels have shifted during the pandemic, or if there was an impact there in general. While I believe JP meant this as a volume question – am I reading more or less? – it led to some real contemplation of what 2020 has meant to me as a reader. I’m often spending so much time thinking about what all of this *gestures wildly at the world* means to Comics with a capital “C” that I sometimes fail to consider what these things mean to me, a relatively ordinary reader. 1

And what I discovered was as much as my weekly column The Pull may indicate how little my reading has changed, 2 2020 has been a year of immense change for my reading habits and what I connect with the most, albeit one that was already in the works. You see, all of this wasn’t new. It was just happening slowly. What 2020 has done is accelerate that existing shift, pouring gasoline on the fires of change in how I engage with comics.

That might be best reflected in my favorite comics lists from each year in the past, something I thankfully – perhaps regrettably – have been doing since 2009 in some public capacity. 3 When you look at my Best of 2009 feature at Multiversity Comics, you find a reasonably broad list of titles – Jason Aaron and R.M. Guera’s Scalped, David Mazzucchelli’s Asterios Polyp, and Karl Kerschl’s The Abominable Charles Christopher were amongst the big winners for the year – but its structure reveals something specific in regards to how I thought of comics then: it was ordered from least to most important categories from top to bottom, with Best Graphic Novel near the top and Best Series (or ongoing) at the very bottom. Even more than that, the bulk of the featured comics were from Marvel or DC, albeit a fair few coming from the Vertigo branch of the latter.

All of that reflected how I looked at comics then. Everything oriented around single issue comics and the Big Two, with some interest on the periphery of other books, albeit mostly in fairly obvious picks. 4 Graphic novels were a separate category altogether, as if they weren’t comics themselves. All of that has changed as my own interests and experiences have evolved. Now my lists don’t have categories at all, I don’t rank anything, 5 and the composition of the list is far more diverse in terms of story types, formats, and publishers. This year might be the biggest change yet, as the first draft of my rankings had eight locks, none of which were from Marvel or Image. That is almost certainly the first time that’s happened.

Now, part of that is a product of my own interests shifting. But 2020 impacted that dramatically, and it came at one crucial pivot point moment: Diamond shutting its operations down for about nine weeks between March and May. That moment exacerbated this trend in two main ways.

First, it made it so single issues were effectively unavailable. Because of that, my only options for new comic reading 6 were graphic novels, webcomics, platforms like Webtoon or Tapas, and beyond. The faucet was shut off, and I was left with reduced – or at the very least different – choices if I wanted to read something new.

Second, because of how the shutdown – and shelter-in-place orders around the country – affected comic shops negatively, I wanted to do whatever I could to support them. Since then, I’ve ordered comics from at least seven comic shops, although I’m almost certainly forgetting someone. With no new single issues, it left me one main option, and that was graphic novels. So I started to buy releases I had been interested in previously but may have skipped in the past because of the endless wheel of single issue comics.

This has led to a wildly different year of reading for me, and that last sentence is crucial to how it happened. To steal an idea from Daenerys Targaryen, 7 2020 has broken the wheel of single issue comics for me, setting me on a slightly different path than what preceded this year. Single issues are no longer my primary reading method, or at most, they’re the co-lead in my comic story.

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  1. Heavy emphasis on relatively.

  2. i.e. I still read a lot of Marvel comics!

  3. It has happened each year since then, half on Multiversity Comics and half on SKTCHD, with a portion of them only existing as podcasts on Off Panel. Each of them, again, perhaps regrettably, are available for reading on the internets.

  4. Look at me! A radical! Loving Asterios Polyp!

  5. Outside of in my year in review podcast with my pal Brandon Burpee.

  6. It’s important to note that, as I certainly could have read old comics instead.

  7. Or Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen, the First of Her Name, Queen of the Andals and the First Men, Protector of the Seven Kingdoms, the Mother of Dragons, the Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, the Unburnt, the Breaker of Chains.