Catching Up on Comics Trades vs. Book Series

I don’t usually invest in a series of books for three main reasons: 1) I quadruple check to make sure I’m reading the books in order, which makes me anxious; 2) I’m awful at remembering what I read in previous books and how it might relate to what comes next; and 3) I don’t like waiting for my stories to continue. Which is why it came as a bit of a surprise for me, once I started purchasing and collecting them more seriously, that I enjoyed reading comics.

I have a bad habit of purchasing both books and trade paperback collections of comics in bulk, whenever my paycheck allows. I save up online carts and wishlists and Goodreads to-read shelves until I can’t help myself (or I get a coupon). I then convince myself I’m absolutely going to read the latest shipment of books just as soon as they get to my doorstep. But then there’s undoubtedly another book I’m already reading, or work to be done, or a social engagement to attend. I fall behind and forget what I was planning to read next. And then a slew of the next season’s books catch my eye…

Recently, I spent a weekend catching up on trades. I barely made a dent in the stacks of comics waiting to be read, but I still managed to get through nine volumes of recently purchased trades. Some were one-offs or the first volume in a series I’ve been meaning to read, but more were continuations of stories I picked up months—if not years—ago. And as I found myself staring down volume 2, 3, or even 7 (looking at you, Saga, you beautiful beast), I realized that I didn’t quite remember where the heroes had left off.

Now, here’s another fun fact about me: I’m lazy. I don’t always remember what I read in the last issue or volume, but I also won’t go back and reread. On my last catch-up-a-thon, I literally had all the resources I needed (i.e. earlier volumes) stacked up right beside me, but I just frowned at them and then dove into the new trades, confident that the pertinent details would come back to me.

As I began reading, I found that I did remember most of the previous stories, or at least enough to understand what was going on. And I started thinking about why that was—and why I was more willing to give a comic series a shot when I find book series so overwhelming. Before reading volume 7 of Saga, I didn’t really remember what happened in volume 6 any better than I remembered what had happened in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince before diving into Deathly Hallows when it first landed in stores. But that didn’t stop me from reading, understanding, and being utterly broken by the continuing adventures of Alana, Marko, Hazel, and the rest of their motley crew.

It seems to me that, when it comes to comics, it’s more palatable because it’s simply the nature of the beast. The medium is presented in issues (or collections of issues). The issues land once a month (or every few months) and trades show up a few months to a year after the fifth issue or so. That’s what we get to work with. A book series might only be a trilogy while a comic series can run for hundreds of issues. Yet, for me, the comics—spanning years in publication time, though perhaps only months in story time—feel less terrifying.

I think there’s also a certain amount of pride that goes along with being able to think back on your weekend and realize you caught up on 35 issues of assorted comics. That can mean you got to enjoy 35 different stories. Some people might be able to read 35 books in that same amount of time, but I’m definitely not one of them. So I’ll just keep hacking away at my list of trades, and maybe once I’m caught up on those, I’ll finally undertake a great re-read-a-thon.

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