Well. Ho, ho, ho my foolish friends and welcome to this, the last edition of FoolBritannia before Christmas. Pull up a mince pie, and take a seat. I’m trying hard not to rant.
I shouldn’t have promised not to talk about Batman, I really shouldn’t.
But more of him later.
Long standing* readers may recall that I’m not, in the general way of things, a big fan of Christmas. Never have been really, I’m more of a New Year’s kind of guy. The trouble with that is that if you tell people you don’t like Christmas you tend to get treated like Scrooge or the Grinch, and I’m neither of those people.**
As a result, year after year I “make the effort”. In my day job, I make sure that my classroom is appropriately decorated*** and when the people I love do the Christmas stuff they do, I join in without a trace of visible scepticism. Some may say that this makes me a hypocrite, but as I post this on Christmas Eve night (because although I’m getting better, I’m still a little late…) I prefer to think of it as being a decent human being with an ability to empathise with the priorities of others.
Which when you think of it is a large part of what Christmas is all about.
Anyway, it seems to me that whatever the original intent of the festival, for most people one of the things that Christmas is about is over indulgence****, and in the spirit of that I want to use this festive column to consider the issue of comics over indulgence. Is it a bad thing?
You see, after rather a long period of time in which I’ve been buying comics but not actually getting around to reading them***** I have a rather large pile of unread floppies reaching back well over a year in the case of some titles. That is, I’m sure you’ll agree, rather a lot of comics. Of course, now that things in my life are getting back on what passes for an even keel, this affords me a great opportunity.
As the Christmas holidays free me from the daily grind****** suddenly I have a big stack of comics and a lot of free time in which to read them. Seriously – there have been times in my life when I would’ve given my right arm for such a turn of events!******* But, in the “glass half empty” kind of way my world view seems to have turned over the last few years I have to ask. Is this really as good as it sounds?
And, as is customary in my world, the answer seems to me to be more complicated that you’d think.
On some – perhaps even many levels, the answer is a straightforward “hell yeah!! I mean, seriously, c’mon! Did you just read the situation? Lots of comics and lots of time? How perfect is that? What could be better?******** Back in the day I would have considered that there was nothing to surpass such a circumstance.
And yet, and yet…
If this situation is so all fired perfect, how come I’ve never engineered it before? I mean, it wasn’t a conscious choice to let this backlog build up – it just happened because a specific set of circumstances beyond my control dictated that I just didn’t have the time to read them as they came out and so, inevitably, the pile of unread comics got larger. At no point in that process did I think “oooh goodie! At some unspecified point in the future I can get down to some serious binge reading!”
Quite the contrary, in point of fact. As month has followed month, and issue after issue joined the ever growing pile, I did not experience anything even approaching a sense of anticipatory joy. I was in fact filled with the sense that I was missing out on something – I was out of the loop. I was unconnected.
This I think is fundamental to the way that mainstream comics work – they are episodic in nature. Love ‘em or loathe ‘em, your regular “floppie” comics are simply not designed to be read one after the other with no break in between. They are paced to be read one issue at a time, one month (or whatever – I’m the last person to get on his high horse about deadlines) at a time. When you read them all in one go, as a rule this messes up the pacing and makes the reading experience less satisfactory. What you need is the regular, episodic dripping of story followed by a period of time – it doesn’t have to be a month, a week is probably sufficient*********. Just enough time to reflect on the last episode and to try to work out what will happen next.
This phenomenon is not, of course, restricted to graphic narrative. It is the norm for many (if not most) TV dramas, the old RKO style movie serials, even some sequences of novels, Harry Potter springs to mind, but if you’re feeling more intellectual that that, A Dance to the Music of Time would also be a good example. The point is simple, narratives have their own pace, and you mess with it at your peril. Now I think about it, this is probably why whole I’m perfectly happy with original graphic novels, I’ve never really taken to the trade paperback format.
So, doing what I’ve just spent the last three days doing – reading several months worth of Batbooks********** one after the other, is not the best way to indulge yourself this festive season. That kind of binge reading is not good for your appreciation of the narrative. Having said that, I’m no reading purist, and while I wouldn’t recommend any kind of over indulgence in single issues of new titles, a good old reading binge is perhaps my top tip for a bit of yuletide relaxation.
The trick is to remember that comics are not like alcohol. Mixing your drinks is truly a recipe for vomit and hangovers, but mixing your comics is absolutely the right thing. If you’re reading new comics, then read a wide range of titles and you’ll be fine. Mind you, so far as binge reading goes comics do have something in common with booze, in that they get better with age. New comics are all very well, but of you’re going to settle down for a couple of hours comfort reading you can’t beat a big stack of back issues form one of the more obscure corners of your collection.
Indeed, at this time of year you might even want to consider digging our some of the Christmas issues you’ve picked up over the years. I know they’re hokey, sentimental and pretty much unreadable at any other time of the year, but there’s something in the air at the back end of December that seems to make them work.
So give it a go. Grab yourself a good old armful of comics you haven’t read for a while (or, if you’re new to the whole graphic narrative thing, borrow an armful from somebody else) pour yourself a large measure of the beverage of your choice, turn off your ‘phone, put something festive on the stereo and dive in. The perfect antidote to the madness of this time of year.
I’ll be back here next week, in that strange limbo time between Christmas and New Years. In the meantime, whether you celebrate it or not, FoolBritannia wishes you and yours a very happy and peaceful Christmas.
*or should that read “long suffering?
**not least because both Ebeneezer Scrooge and The Grinch both learned to love Christmas, while I remain stubbornly unimpressed.
***although to be fair, my tree is black and has a skull on the top…
****yes, I know, I know, but don’t look at me, it ain’t my festival!
*****don’t ask. A subject for another time. Or, more likely, never.
******as the old joke goes, the three main reasons for taking up teaching are “Christmas, Easter and Summer”…
*******although to be fair I should note at this point that I’m left handed…
********well, yes, OK, world peace, and end to hunger and poverty leading to a new era of brotherly cooperation amongst the peoples of the Earth would be a little bit more awesome, but I do like to remain within the realms of the possible where I can…
*********indeed, a week is the norm for UK comics such as 2000AD, and has been for as long as modern UK comics have existed.
**********Obviously I’ve been reading the Batbooks. I think that the same would be true of any type of monthly comic.