I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m a comic book fan. Not that I really need to tell people. I just seem to exude the idea of a comic book fan when I walk in the room. By which I mean old school comic book fan, for the record. A proper comic book fan. Not one of these modern, Big Bang Theory loving converts who are ruining my conventions and going to the movies for all the wrong reasons. People whose favourite X Man is Charlie from Lost, when he turns up in Wolverine Origins. People who are waiting for the colour version of Sin City or think Lord of the Rings ripped off Harry Potter.
For the record, I still think Game of Thrones is just as guilty as Big Bang Theory when it comes to pulling mainstream outsiders into my geeky world and making them believe they belong there. I heard a group of them at the other end of the office this week, discussing dragons and snow vampire zombies like they were discussing Big Brother evictions. I had to stop myself marching over there and spraying water in their faces like you do with misbehaving cats whilst shouting
“No, no. Not for you.”
Anyway, I digress.
What I wanted to say is that I’m a comic book fan, but I don’t buy actual comics anymore. I gave up with expanding piles of monthly subscriptions a long time ago. They were mainly adverts anyway and then there was always the fun game of the staff letting their mates take what they needed from my pile before I got there. It all served to turn you into a greedy, snarling completist and it could bring on stress attacks whenever some new crossover or one off came out that you had to own to complete some storyline or event.
After a few years of pretending that buying your comics monthly was the purist form of fandom, I moved onto the far more sensible path of the collected versions. Yes, okay, it does mean that I spend a few hours of my life every so often justifying the term ‘graphic novel’ and they’re not the cheapest things in the world (£30 for a Batman collection, DC? Really? Ben Affleck asking for more solid gold ‘I’m Batman’ pens or something?) Still, they’re easier on the stress muscles and you can get some really decent ones if you hunt around. The Vertigo Absolute hardcovers and the Hellboy Library series are truly beautiful things.
Now, obviously, when it comes to graphic novels I’m not going shopping monthly. I couldn’t afford it. Instead, I go a couple of times a year. Normally to the closest place I have to a spiritual home, the wondrous Nostalgia Comics in Birmingham. I win the lottery, I’m either moving in there or buying the place. Just perusing through its shelves makes me feel like a better human being. It’s a true recharge for your geeky soul.
I normally go around my birthday and then towards the end of the summer. The only problem being, this year, all money is being fed into the monster marked ‘House Move’. Which is fine. I get that. It’s just, well…not to sound like a spoilt little only child, but I’ve had a crappy year and I know one thing that cheers me up. I’m being strong, though. I’m earning my gold star. I’m abstaining like some sort of monk. I’m on a vow of comic chastity (which sounds like a tagline for a terrible British comedy from the 60s, now that I think about it).
I do keep looking at them online, though. The latest collection of Saga. Some new Hellblazer collections. One of the aforementioned Hellboy Library Editions. A Luke Cage comic from the man who gave us Samurai Jack. The second hardcover omnibus of The Wicked and The Devine. Some of Warren Elllis’ work, either Trees or Injection.
I’ll go over them on Amazon and nearly relent to buying a couple, but then I’ll stop myself and piously exit from Amazon like Jesus walking out the desert.
Yesterday, sitting at my desk at work, I was thinking about the comics I wanted and I began to wonder what I liked more, the comics or the thought of buying them. There’s no denying that we can make ourselves feel better through a little indulgent spending. We’re treating ourselves. Like our parents might have done after we had a bad day as a kid. Only, once you’re earning, that impulse actually grows stronger. You cut the parent out the equation. Now it’s just you and the credit card. So, what did I want? Did I want the comic or the experience of finally buying it? Perhaps I was holding out for a trip to Birmingham at some point. I won’t lie, I love a shopping trip. It’s more fun than ordering online, let’s be honest. Some food and drink before heading to the shop. Some browsing, some conversation at the till. Taking your purchases home like a caveman coming back from the hunt.
“I have hunted, gathered and kept the receipts. Now bring me meat and fermented drinks.’
Thinking about this made me begin to wonder if there was something in particular I was singling out in these particular books. Was there some element I felt the need to read? A lot of them were leaning towards the darkly funny and the horrific. They were intellectual and emotional genre pieces for the most part. Something must have drawn me to those titles beyond the need to plug gaping collection gaps.
Which brings me to a point that’s been nagging at me since then: what if some of these impulses to spend are coming from us chasing after an expectation that’s already inside ourselves. It’s not unlike a night out. Sometimes I can get obsessed with the idea of going out and drinking a little too much. I’ll feel thirsty thinking about it. I’ll chase after people to come along. I’ll countdown on the hours until we meet at the bar. Then, once I’m out, I start thinking about going home. It’s stupid and pointless, but maybe there is a reason behind it. Maybe the expectation kills the reality when they don’t match. Maybe I need to find a way to engage with whatever is fuelling that desire, instead of the desire itself.
I’ve been struggling to express this idea since it hit me. This felt like a good place to thrash it out. Show my workings. I think that, whilst sometimes we will buy what we need, there is a more interesting relationship between us and buying what we want. I think, in some cases, what we’re actually chasing after is already in our head.
I have a bad habit of believing I need to read a certain thing in order to improve my writing. Acting as if self-indulgent spending is somehow research. Realistically, if I’ve never read the book I’m craving, then how I do know what’s in it? The odds are on it won’t satisfy that urge and, like many a night out, I’ll walk away from it before it’s over.
Whatever created that urge isn’t on those pages, it’s already in my head in some form or another. I just need to start finding a way to cut past the craving and look at what my mind is trying to stitch together in the background.
This sounds pretty good, but I also know the idea isn’t quite working yet. You see, after I went through all this at my desk yesterday I had one thought. Good for you, Chris. You should buy yourself those comics as a reward.