Comics/Graphic Novels

Comics While Commuting: How I Changed My Comic Reading Habits

Alice W. Castle

Staff Writer

Sworn to protect a world that hates and fears her, Alice W. Castle is a trans femme writing about comics. All things considered, it’s going surprisingly well. She can be found on various corners of the internet, but most frequently on Twitter: @FallOfThePoets.

Reading comics is an intense hobby. To most of us, it transcends even being a hobby and becomes something of a lifestyle. We immerse ourselves in the world of comics, becoming a part of the industry and the artistry as a reader by following 24 hour news cycles about upcoming comics, fast-approaching events and the myriad of adaptations of our favourite stories into other mediums while connecting with the very creators of those comics on social media.

I started reading comics in 2011, but after a few years I found my pull list piles getting larger and larger each week. During the height of Marvel’s All-New Marvel NOW! initiative, I was pulling at least thirty titles a month from them alone, boosting that to over fifty when you factor in other publishers. Looking back on it, it was probably a bit unhealthy. I seemed obsessed to know what was happening in every series I possibly could.

For months, I was going to my local comics store (which is an hour journey, there and back) to buy a pile of books that was usually costing me over £100 at a time.

True story: this what an average week's reading was for me.

True story: this what an average week’s reading was for me.

Doing this for about half a year almost entirely burned me out on reading comics. After a while, I’d stopped reading the ever mounting piles of comics that littered my room and then, little by little, I just stopped buying them all together. The wide-eyed enthusiasm I’d had when I first started reading single issues back in 2011 had died down to the cursory attention I paid to the comic book news sites every so often after only four years.

Comics broke my comics-reading habit. Every other week, there was scandal about harassment in the industry or editorialising holding back the much-needed progression slow taking place at Marvel and DC. I couldn’t handle it anymore. Comics had been my safe place and yett he ever-mounting toxicity of the comic book industry had seeped into the very pages of the comics themselves and I was turning away from them.

Then something happened.

I work a full time job as a barista in a coffee shop that is a fifteen minute train journey outside of my town. After a couple months of commuting and trying to pass the journey with music or with podcasts, I finally decided to take the plunge and try Marvel Unlimited. I loaded up a bunch of downloaded comics on my iPad one morning and started reading on the train.

New Avengers Annual #1

New Avengers Annual #1, cover by Olivier Coipel, Mark Morales, and José Villarrubia

I found that I could read about an issue each way which caused me to start thinking about picking projects to read through and catch up on. I started with Brian Michael Bendis’ writing the Avengers and after about three months I’ve picked through years worth of material and am finally making my way through the ‘Dark Reign’ storyline.

This is something I’ve been meaning to read for, honestly, years and has plagued me every since I started to really get into comics. My problem was always that I never wanted to have a shelf of 30+ trade paperbacks of the full runs of the various Avengers comics Bendis wrote and the deluxe hardcovers were always out of print. Reading it through Marvel Unlimited afforded me to just download each issue, in publication order, and read them on the train to work. From here, my long dormant enthusiasm to read comics finally sparked once again.

Now, I’d been wary of digital comics in the same way I’m wary of most digital media. Unlike buying a print copy of a comic book, buying a digital issue doesn’t buy you the right to own that issue, it buys you the license to read it on a given platform. That’s something that always unnerved me, especially when it comes to an artistic medium like comic books.

The idea that one day something could happen to the comiXology servers and I could potentially lose comics I’d sunk a lot of money in was a paranoia I couldn’t overcome. This is the one reason I could never fully make the switch to a platform like comiXology. Despite their frequent sales, I could never justify paying full price for a comic on a release day that doesn’t really belong to me, that I can’t physically hold in my hands.

Marvel Unlimited, on the other hand, does not have the pretence of allowing the user to own any single comic. Instead, the platform licenses the reader access to the entire Marvel Comics backlog on an ever expanding basis with the sole downside being that new releases are six months behind.

That’s a payoff I can justify to myself because that cushion means I don’t have to worry about whatever nonsense is currently happening in the Marvel Universe week to week and only read the stuff I want to by the time it hits Unlimited. This is also one of the reasons why I would like to see a DC Unlimited service happen, but that’s not the point here.

The benefit of not having to actively keep up with the Marvel Universe like I used to is that it frees up my reading time to go back to series I had to drop and explore new series I would have missed. This is helped by Image Comic’s digital store, which allows you to buy the digital comic and then save a DRM-free format to your hard drive. With this, my paranoia that the comic I’m buying only exists on someone else’s servers suddenly disappeared. I could just keep a copy of the digital comic on my external hard drive and download a copy to my iPad and read it there.

I understand why most publishers would likely be scared to put their digital comics files out on the internet DRM-free, but as a consumer I feel like it places a whole lot of trust in me. I very easily could have found that very same .cbr file on a pirate website and stolen it, but I would have to live with the guilt that I was reading creative efforts of a group of people while depriving them of my financial support.

It puts the onus on me, as a reader, to support the comics I want to read by allowing me to read it in the method of my choosing should I pay for it. It’s a very mature move for a publisher, but sadly not one I think we’ll see form many others.


These two methods of reading have greatly boosted my enthusiasm to read comics as a hobby once again and not as a requirement to keep writing about them. For the first time in months, I’ve been reading comics simply because I’ve wanted to and not because I’ve needed to write something about it at the end. And cutting down considerably on what I buy and how I buy it has meant that my print comics budget has allowed me to start making weekly trips to my local comic book shop after work on Wednesdays.

It’s that small chunk of time, that ten to fifteen minutes to and from work every day that made a difference for me. With nothing to do except occupy myself with comics, I’ve been afforded the chance to pick away at reading projects that have long since languished in my to-read pile. I’m back to reading comics because I want to, not because I have to and it’s reminded me of exactly why I started reading in the first place.

If you’ve been finding yourself burning out on your comics reading, maybe it’s time to take a step back and think about when you can allot your comics reading time and what you focus on when you’re reading. Too much of a good thing can sometimes lead to you hating the thing you love the most.