Over here in America – even Alaska, where I live! – it’s Thanksgiving, a day that’s meant to mean a lot of things, but for me it’s really a day of eating, family and reasons to be thankful. Now, depending on who you are, not all of those are available or even obvious in 2020, the year from hell if there ever was one. It’s been a tough one for nearly every person, a year that has simultaneously felt eternally long and unbelievably quick, exhausting and a blur, and all kinds of other bizarrely opposing ideas.
That’s been no different in the world of comics, as 2020 has been a bewildering and challenging time for the medium and industry, even if there are success stories within. But in a year like this, fans have likely found great solace in the broader world of comics, and that’s doubly so when you run a comic book website and host a weekly comics interview podcast. In a stressful year that has made us ask big questions of the world and ourselves while removing all kinds of standard entertainment options from the table, comic books have been a constant for fans of the medium even if the distribution system disappeared for a bit. At least for yours truly, comics have provided an escape and joy in a year often lacking in both of those things.
So, for Thanksgiving, I decided to put together a modified version of one of my ten things columns. Don’t worry, the regular edition is still coming tomorrow. But this one is all about things I’ve been thankful for in 2020 as a comic fan, as each of these ideas or entities or platforms or whatever have helped amplify the goodness of this side of the world even when everything has seemed bad at times. Today, we’re talking about ten things I’ve been thankful for as a comic fan this year, and hey, let me know in the comments what’s brought you joy in 2020 from comics. I’d genuinely love to hear it!
Now, onto the ten!
1. Comic shops
The toughest job in comics in 2020 has been at comic shops. While many other industries are being told to stay home because of the pandemic, comics keep on coming. That means they still go in basically every day – depending on the shop – doing what they can to ensure that publishers get their comics out, creators get their comics read, and customers get the latest and greatest stories, even if it results in each of them being put at risk. That’s an amazing thing. While I do everything I can to highlight their work here on SKTCHD, that’s important to remember. Comics – at least the direct market side of them – revolve around retailers, and if they decided, “you know what, no thanks, we don’t want to deal with this,” everyone would suffer.
They haven’t let that happen, finding outside-the-box solutions to the problem at hand, succeeding with a mix of curbside service, delivery, mail-order, and when possible, in-store shopping. Has it made the job harder on them? Yes. Do they spend the same amount of time (or more) to often make the same or less money? Also yes. But they do it because they’re dedicated, passionate stewards of the medium. It’s been an incredibly impressive year by the people of comics retail, and I wish the best of success to everyone in that world as they keep grinding to help comics survive beyond the pandemic.
2. Top notch production value
Want to know the most common characteristic between the eight early locks for my favorite comics of the year list? Beyond the fact they’re comic books – obviously…come on now – it’s this: they all are delivered with top notch production value. Thick covers, lovely interior paper stock, thoughtful design, a cohesive looking overall package…these elements don’t make a comic, as the comic itself does that, but they can help turn a good comic into a great one or a great comic into something else entirely.
2020 has felt like a year where that has only become more important both for single issues – shouts to Crossover #1, the only comic I’ve ever considered continuing to read exclusively for its outrageous production quality – and collections/graphic novels. If we, the readers, are going to choose to pick an item out of the endless piles of comics out there in the world, something needs to make it stand out beyond what’s inside of its pages. And publishers have started to realize this, with even typical direct market publishers getting into the act more and more. I love this and would love to see this continue to build into the future.
3. Marvel Unlimited
On the flip side of that last point, what a year for yours truly and my ever-growing relationship with Marvel Unlimited! Marvel’s digital subscription service famously reduced its time to release after the print comics drop this year, but that’s not why it’s here. It’s because even compared to my relative heavy use in the past, 2020 has been a deluge of Marvel Unlimited reading for me. All of Jonathan Hickman’s Fantastic Four and FF run! Basically every Star Wars comic you could imagine! Gwenpool! Stilt-Man comics! Nextwave! Random X-Men comics! You name it! Marvel Unlimited is such a tremendous product that if a Marvel comic isn’t brand new in shops, the only place I will read it now is on this platform. I haven’t bought a Marvel trade in several years.
Convenience is a huge part of it, as it’s so easy to hop on and find any comic. So is the alternative options available to us, as Marvel’s production value is arguably worst in class when it comes to collections. But those don’t even matter. It all comes down to value and experience, and in terms of Marvel, nothing tops Marvel Unlimited. It’s been a godsend all year, and I’m sure it will be going forward.
4. Ingenious creators
When faced with a problem, a person has two solutions. Run from it or do what they can to solve it. And to the credit of the comic creators of the world, it seems almost all of them chose the latter when it comes to the problems the world of comics faced because of the pandemic. Whether it’s trying to improve the fortunes of the comic shops of the world – shouts to the Creators4Creators crew, who volunteered their time and valuable possessions to raise huge sums of money for shops – or attempting to find new ways to profit from the comics they make (additional shouts to Kickstarter, Panel Syndicate, and outside-the-box ideas like James Tynion IV and Steve Foxe’s Razorblades: The Horror Magazine), comic book creators haven’t taken this year of great change as a destructive force as much as they have a transformative one.
It’s been inspiring to see so many bright, talented people find new answers to old problems, improving their todays and tomorrows by embracing alternative solutions. I love it. Great job, creators of the world! Keep it up!