How long do comics take you to read?
The answer depends on the format, of course. A single issue of 20-30 pages can take anywhere from a breezy five minutes to a half hour. Some readers would say their speed depends on the density of the text – more word balloons means more effort. But does a wordless page necessarily flow so quickly? Shaun Tan’s The Arrival doesn’t contain a single word, yet each page rewards a close reading, as details of its city’s lives and rhythms are contained in its body languages, background props, and urban flow. For that matter, Adrian Alphona’s background details in Ms. Marvel often contain humorous asides that enhance the series’s goofy yet earnest tone.
Another factor in reading speed is the size of one’s to-be-read pile. If you have a dozen trade paperbacks and an omnibus checked out from your local library, with all their due dates staring you down, each book might feel more like a sprint than a deliberate jog, much less a wandering walk. A six-issue story arc might seem like an invitation to skim through six chapters to catch up with a story’s status quo. On the other hand, slowing down between chapters and taking a moment/hour/day to digest a story’s plot progression can bring out flavors from a comic that speed-reading would have missed.
Manga is open to these comparisons as well, considering most manga are first serialized in weekly magazines before collection in digest-sized tankobon. I read all of Osamu Tezuka’s Black Jack at a pace of one chapter per night, partly to make each book last longer but also to keep the stories fresh. I was concerned that binging on each volume as it came out would make Tezuka’s story beats more predictable and less special, even if Tezuka is difficult to predict. Saving each chapter for the end of the night, just before bed, ensured that I would begin associating each story with a tranquil-minded environment, and now I regard the series the way others wax poetic about reading Peanuts or Calvin and Hobbes on the living room floors of their childhoods.
I used a similar method for reading Green Lantern: Mosaic after receiving the entire run in single issues as a holiday present. Each issue felt like a separate gift, extending the life of the story and its inhabitants, including the banter and commentary of the letters pages (don’t get me started on letters page metaphors: dorm rooms, dissection tables, convention booths, or all of the above and then some? Just make sure you write to the creative teams you like, too!).
Then there are the books you all but refuse to read because they’re getting too good for you to allow an ending. Any week a new issue of Monstress comes out, I will probably read it last and in as “pure” a reading headspace as possible. I remember sitting on the sixth and final volume of Starman because I refused to turn over new pages of that series for the last time. I still do it now with Vinland Saga and Hellboy, only feeling the urge to push forward when the next volume is announced so that I know I can slam the brakes at the next stop.
These comparisons hold up across different media, too. Television shows are designed to keep audiences hungry for the next episode across a week or more, but Netflix and Hulu binges are becoming the norm as people cut their cable providers, moreso as original series land on the web with fully-formed seasons. Did the Daredevil viewer who marathoned Season 2 over its premiere weekend get the same experience as the slower viewer who turned over different conflicts and bits of dialog while pacing between episodes?
For my part, I can’t condemn any given speed of reading, though good art deserves more than a passing glance. Whether you navigate pages with a flick of a finger or shifting a brick of pulp, do yourself a kindness and let them breathe. As with a marinating roast or ripening fruit, time does favors for flavors.