9 Ways to Stretch Your Comic Book Budget That Don’t Involve Five-Finger Discounts (at Least Not the Real-Life Kind)
1. Get a library card.
I’m very fortunate to live in a major metropolitan area that’s home to an amazing library system with literally thousands of graphic novels and comic collections up for grabs. You name it, it’s there: black-and-white reprints of early Silver Age titles, trade paperback collections of recently published limited series, books by independent publishers featuring avant-garde artists. And while I occasionally have to question the placement of certain volumes (Hellblazer in the Teen Lit section? Seriously?), I have definitely saved a lot of money (and shelf space) by taking advantage of one of the single best reasons to pay municipal taxes.
PROS: Um, it’s free. Duh.
CONS: Results may vary depending on the library system in your area. Waiting for a particular volume to become available can get a little frustrating, especially if it’s a more popular or recent title. And let’s not forget the subtle looks a librarian might give you for checking out a more suggestively titled comic (it took me weeks to muster the courage to check out Y The Last Man: Girl on Girl).
2. Learn to download.
I may or may not have used this method to find back issues of old titles that are next to impossible to find at local comic stores. I may or may not have found downloading to be an incredibly easy and economical way to review new titles. I may or may not have knowledge of the fact that thousands of titles are available online if you take the time to learn how to use a popular torrent program. That is all I have to say about this particular method, which I may or may not have knowledge of at this particular time.
PROS: It’s free, unless you factor in the cost of maintaining your Internet connection (and the cost of exceeding your ISP’s downloading limit, which can cost you plenty if you’re not careful). And if you can get past any ethical concerns you may have about accessing material without paying the people who create it, the tools to download and read digital comics are very easy to use.
CONS: Ahem. Technically, it’s illegal, so there is a small chance that doing this could cost you eventually. Downloading newer books (i.e., those books for which writers and artists are getting royalties based on sales) could also discourage the good writers and artists from putting out new product down the line. And there’s something about the heft and smell of a good comic that a computer screen just can’t replicate.
3. Buy digital collections.
This is an option for those folks who like the convenience of digital comics but don’t want to download them illegally. A great example is the Absolute MAD DVD collection, which features more than 600 printable issues of MAD for your viewing pleasure. The same company behind that collection also put out a series of DVDs featuring “the complete collection” of several top Marvel titles.
PROS: The price looks steep at first, but comparatively speaking it’s a pretty good deal. The Spider-Man collection, for instance, offers 575 issues of Amazing Spider-Man (from Amazing Fantasy #15 to just before the Civil War mini-series) and sells on Amazon for about $50. Compare that to the cost of, say, tracking down every one of those issues on eBay or in a comic shop. And think of all the storage space you’ll have in your home once you ditch the long boxes.
CONS: What I just said about heft and smell? Same deal here. Plus, these collections often don’t take into account the numerous crossovers that Marvel in particular is famous for — owning every issue of Amazing Spider-Man may be cool, but what happens when you’re one-third of the way through “Kraven’s Last Hunt” and realize the rest of the storyline continues in books that aren’t featured on the disc?
4. Web comics!
Then there’s the next logical step: comics designed exclusively for the Web. A number of independent artists have put their works online in search of fame (but not, as of yet, fortune). Even the bigger companies are experimenting with posting Web-exclusive content. About time, some might say.
PROS: Most of it’s free, and there’s no shortage of talent out there to enjoy…
CONS: … that is, if you can find them, which you might have trouble doing at first. And those of you who prefer the superhero set might have a hard time finding enough Web comics to feed your need.
5. Raid your friends’ shelves.
You do have friends, right? And no, Super Friends don’t count. OK, referencing The Simpsons, that was fun. Seriously, though, comic fans have a bit of a (not always undeserved) reputation for being loners in pursuit of their love of words and pictures. Which is a shame, really, because there’s a lot to be said about working with your friends to share the comic-buying workload. Unless you’re the type who must double-bag every book you buy and protect it from sunlight and grubby hands for all eternity, why not open your collection up to friends who would love to see what you have? They just might reward you with a look through theirs.
PROS: You get the fun of reading your books and discussing the plotlines with other like-minded fans…
CONS: …providing, of course, you can find some around you. And if you happen to be the guy in the room with the most comics to share, you may end up doing more giving than taking. And things could get awkward depending on how fussy you are about creases and jelly stains.
6. Learn to love Wikipedia.
No, the online encyclopedia is not the place to go when you’re looking for digital comics. It does come in handy, though, when you’re looking for information about a specific comic, and not the comic itself. Say, for instance, you’re picking up a recent Spider-Man book in which Spider-Man says he’s facing a villain for the second time, and you want to know how the first battle played out. You could track down the previous issue at a comic shop and pay for it, but chances are the villain has a page on Wikipedia (or another site, like the Appendix to the Handbook of the Marvel Universe) that will fill you in on the history of that character.
PROS: It’s fast, it’s easy, it’s every trivia nerd’s dream.
CONS: You’re at the mercy of other comic nerds who may not have all their facts straight, or the information you’re looking for is too obscure for even comic fans to put online. (No, I can’t say I’ve seen that happen yet, either.)
7. Browse the bargain bins.
By now, this list probably sounds a little anti-comic shop, what with the digital downloading and other ways to avoid paying back-issue prices, but that’s not what I’m trying to do here. I love comic shops, especially ones that are run well by people who enjoy what they do. One of the ways to tell? The really great ones recognize the value of a well-stocked bargain bin for tightwad customers who aren’t that fussy about the condition of their books. Many is the day I’ve spent happily combing through 25-cent or 3-for-$1 bins in search of obscure titles from the ’80s; I think one of my happiest moments was finding an almost-complete run of ‘Mazing Man in a Halifax comic shop that gave up trying to sell some of its older stuff and offered hundreds of books for free. Um, sold!
PROS: Are you the adventurous sort who derives pleasure from finding hidden gems in unexpected places? If so, happy hunting!
CONS: Looking for a specific book? Good luck with that, since most bargain bins are lucky to know the concept of order. Plus, a lot of shops don’t really place a priority on proper ergonomics when it comes to bargain bin placement, so be prepared to do a lot of stooping, reaching or kneeling while combing through the boxes.
8. Do your homework.
Obviously, bargain bins and the quality of their offerings will differ from one shop to the next, but the same can be said about any other part of the store. To get the best bang for your buck, do your homework on what different stores offer before you head out. Does your neighborhood store offer a free bag and board with every new comic purchased? Does it mark down the older trade paperbacks that aren’t moving? Does it have regularly scheduled sales events throughout the year, like an annual half-off sale during the week after Christmas? Can you sign up for a subscription service, where the store owner will reserve new books for you every week and offer a discount? There are ways to save if you take the time to compare.
PROS: Doing the legwork rewards the comic shop owners that put an emphasis on good customer service, ensuring more of the same.
CONS: If you’re in an area where the comic-shop competition isn’t that great… well, good luck with that.
9. Find new ways to enjoy what you’ve already got.
Maybe the issue isn’t figuring out how to buy new comics but what to do with the books you already have. As fun as comics can be, they can put a serious strain on your your household storage capacity once they start to pile up. Telling yourself to stop buying new books is a start, but what do you do when the urge to splurge comes back? Re-reading the books you already have is a start, but that can get boring after a while. So be creative. Find a new way to organize them. Do an inventory and figure out which specific issues you need to complete sets. Start a blog based on reviews of old back issues or any comic-related topics that come to mind. Hell, how do you think this list got started in the first place?