The Immediacy Index

We all read comics. But when do we read them? Here's a look at the system I use to decide that.

There’s a subject that maybe comes up more than anything else when I talk to readers of SKTCHD and listeners of Off Panel. It isn’t complicated nuances of the industry or insights into creators or their works. Instead, it’s far more basic, and arguably more crucial, topic than that. What is it?

“When do you read the comics you buy each week, and how do you know when it’s time to move on from a series?” 13

That sounds like an easy pair of questions to answer. It isn’t, really! It’s actually quite tricky. That’s because in an ideal comic book ecosystem, we would all read everything that interests us, ensuring everyone — readers, creators, publishers, retailers, etc. — wins. But that’s complicated by the fact that we’re in an era with perhaps more comics than ever, with ample competition existing in every comic shop, bookstore, and mobile device in the world. With that has come a commensurate increase in comics worth reading. That makes this premise difficult, especially at a time when entertainment options are more easily accessible than ever. Comics aren’t just competing with a maximum number of comics; they’re competing with effectively the entire history of narrative storytelling.

For that reason, quality isn’t necessarily the key to answering the above question; it’s time. That’s why the “when” of the question is so important here, both because of what it says about your feelings towards certain books, and what it means to continue buying them. While this might seem like a slight concern, a title getting its hooks in readers and creating a sense of urgency to pick up whatever comes next is crucial in this era of advancing attrition. It’s no longer an effective course of action to assume readers will keep buying any title in perpetuity. You must give them a reason. And while crafting a good comic is a valid goal, if readers don’t stick around to find out how excellent it is, no one wins.

Confronting attrition is not what this article is about, though. It’s about the rationale behind one reader’s decisions, and my full answer to the previously mentioned question, even if it isn’t a universal one. It might be difficult for some to answer in a way that seems remotely useful, but the good news for those who ask me it is I am a man of systems. 14 As one of those, even my comic reading has a systematic approach to it, one that governs my reads, albeit in a mostly subconscious way.

While my system had never previously been formalized, it has existed in practice, with each week’s releases immediately being split into different piles that act as an unofficial hierarchy to my reads. It’s always been there, operating as the framework of my comic reader order of operations. But today, we’re going to define that system, making it real in a way it never had been before.

My friends, please let me introduce you to The Immediacy Index, or how I approach my weekly purchases, and what those decisions mean for the future of my readership of each.

Before we get into specifics about these individual tiers — which is where the differentiation truly lies — I wanted to talk about how this is executed. While there are five tiers in The Immediacy Index, there are three in practice. Each week, I split my new buys into three piles: high, medium and low interest. Each of those is high interest in practice — after all, I was interested enough to buy these comics — but it’s more about creating order to a pile of releases. High is entirely comprised of Tiers 1 and 2. Medium is Tier 3, with some bleeding between the ones above and below. Low is Tiers 4 and 5, with time and frequency helping decide the migration a title takes from the former to the latter.

You might look at this system and guess that quality is what decides the position a title falls in. That’s not actually true! My upcoming end of the year list perfectly exemplifies that. There will be Tier 4 titles that show up in that coverage. The possibility also exists that entries in Tier 1 won’t feature in said rankings. Tier 1 is not “better” than Tier 4. It just comes later.

That’s not to say “quality” isn’t a factor. It’s just that my purchases are more indicative of a perceived belief in quality of each release. I wouldn’t intentionally buy a comic of poor quality. That’s to be assumed to some degree. Instead, here are the key factors in the incredibly complex yet organically deployed algorithm that governs The Immediacy Index, ordered from most impact to least:

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  1. It’s rarely exactly this but often variations of this formula.

  2. No wonder I get along so well with Jonathan Hickman!

  3. That said, I do love my backmatter, and good versions of that can push a title up a tier.

  4. But even when it does that, it comes off with a massive screeching sound.

  5. I have definitely harmed a comic freeing it from a bag to the point a CGC lifer would cry if they watched a video of said opening.

  6. It was bolstered by being near the end of its run, and it reading better in chunks than in single issues. I elected to see it through to the end, and was happy to have done so.

  7. This is true for TV shows these days as well, particularly ones on streaming services. The “it really gets good after three episodes/issues” argument is an increasingly difficult one when there is so much to watch or read.

  8. Complete stories are just often more satisfying than singular chapters.

  9. Sometimes literally on the latter, thanks to Marvel’s Infinity Comics line.

  10. Which, if I’m being honest, sometimes slips to Tier 4 because it scares me and I don’t want to read it right before I sleep.

  11. Which gets a healthy bump thanks to Doc Shaner.

  12. As well as the inconvenience that my shop’s tape represents.

  13. It’s rarely exactly this but often variations of this formula.

  14. No wonder I get along so well with Jonathan Hickman!