I never had to overcome any type of barrier in order to read comics. My mother has never really read any, but my dad was a subscriber to the journal of Tintin as a kid, Pilot and Métal Hurlant later. So in the house where I grew up, comics were just books. They happened to have images, but they were not a subgenre or lesser in some way than prose books. And since France does not do anything but hard covers, even the way of buying them was similar. Of course there are specialised comic book stores in France (and some really amazing ones). But any bookstore, even back then, had a comics section the same way there is a poetry one or a historical fiction one. There were good comic books and bad ones like there are good prose books and bad ones.
Similarly, I never considered myself a “collector.” I was just buying books and reading them and also happened to be unable to ever part with anything I had ever read. But somehow when people stumbled across my comic book shelves I was labeled a “comic book collector.” And even today when I buy single issues, I don’t chase first prints or variant covers. I just have bookshelves full of books (some of which happen to be comics). And interestingly enough nobody ever said: “Oh your book collection!” to refer to the prose ones. This is just another reflection on what makes you a comic book reader. What I find interesting is how fast some people are to dismiss the idea that they themselves read comics. In particular, I know a lot of people who read webcomics and completely deny that they are comic readers.
I have once been asked by someone who had both an xkcd strip taped to their office door and who was drinking out of a PHD comics mug why I liked comics. To which I replied: “Why do you like them?” and pointed out that there were a few external signs that they were indeed reading comics. The reply was an immediate:”Oh these? They are just things I like on the internet.” And it is not the only time I have encountered that reaction.
Ding, ding. Webcomics are comics!
Webcomics are actually the way I got into North American comics. Before I had ever set foot in a proper comic book store this side of the pond, I was religiously reading a few webcomics including Dinosaur Comics. They were built into my daily routine as much as checking my emails. So why would people who sometimes check Dumbing of Age or Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal every single day still maintain that they do not really read comics? I even encountered people absolutely shocked that webcartoonists go to comic conventions to meet fans.
Part of it is probably that in a lot of ways, webcomics are the new newspaper strip, a gag a day format that takes a few minutes to get through in the middle of the rest of your daily internet browsing. If you are at all curious about the topic, there is an incredible documentary: Stripped. Watch it if for nothing else, Bill Watterson is one of the people they interviewed, and just hearing his voice gave me chills!
But webcomics are also so much more than a gag a page form. Some comics like Gunnerkrigg Court and Sam and Fuzzy have been telling long form stories, one page at the time, for years. Being a successful webcartoonist entails a lot of same skills necessary to be … a good cartoonist! A lot of people see the art skills as directly applicable to “other comics,” but the writing skills translate too. People who made their start on the web, like Ryan North, Danielle Corsetto, and Kate Leth, are glorious examples that good writing in webcomics makes for good writing in “paper” comics, which is an excellent argument not to discount webcomics, if you want to enjoy all comics have to offer.
So I still don’t know why people are so defensive of being comic readers when they clearly are reading comics. Search your feelings, you know it to be true—you are a comics reader!
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