I have been reading comics solidly for 6 years, and on and off for 20 years, but never has anything since the introduction of the Comics Code Authority challenged the comics industry such as the Coronavirus outbreak of 2020. Distribution froze, shops closed while the need for content rose – people were locked in doors needing a distraction! Though this did mean that creators could focus wholly on their work, with some creators taking the opportunity to completely change the way that they produce their work – Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, for example, who made the move from releasing monthly comics to releasing periodic graphic novella, or the many creators turning to Kickstarter and GoFundMe to fund their projects. It also meant severe delays to books, storylines, and the cancellation of conventions.
Quite simply, it was unprecedented. This is why I wanted to start this column, to understand and shine on light on the impact the pandemic has had on comic readers, creators, store owners and the industry. In this first instalment, a year after the first lockdown was enforced in the UK, I will tell you tell you my COVID & Comics story. In future instalments will dive deeper into the effects that COVID-19 has had on the comics industry and well as interviewing regular comic readers, creators, comic store owners and more.
How have you been during the pandemic?
I have been relatively lucky during the pandemic – I have been able to leave the house to go to the office as I work for the NHS and I have started running 3 times a week to keep fit! A few family members and close friends have caught the virus, but thankfully they have all fully recovered.
Can you tell us your “comic origin”?
I have always been aware of comics and their characters – I had seen the Burton and Schumacher Batman films and been a fan of the X-Men animated series, but I had never actually picked up a comic to read. Then the first Spider-Man movie was released in 2001 when I was 12 years old and I fell in love with it. I cannot tell you how many times I watched that movie, but it inspired me to seek more Spider-Man stories. A quick Ask Jeeves search on my school computer (YES THAT OLD!) told me that there was a comic book shop a 20-minute walk or a 5-minute train journey away in Camden Town – a store named Mega City Comics. I went there with lunch money I purposefully saved and came out with an issue of Ultimate Spider-Man (issue #22 I think). I was hooked from then. I went back and bought the preceding issues and made the 20-minute walk to Mega City Comics every Wednesday. I would go to the corner shop for my grandmother who would give me £1 a trip and save this money up for my Wednesday trips after school.
I started with Ultimate Spider-Man and Ultimate X-Men before branching out into other lines – Amazing Spider-Man, Spider-Man: Legend of the Spider-Clan, Marvel Zombies, Civil War, The Ultimate’s, Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk – I was a complete Marvel zombie! After about 4 years my interests took me in other directions, and I stopped collecting comics regularly. Instead, I would pick up the odd graphic novel or manga here and there – I picked up the entire Sin City collected editions and a lot of Naruto volumes during this time.
It was not until 2016 that I got back to being a Wednesday warrior. I saw the Spider-Man/Deadpool book advertised and though it would be a great book….it was not great, but it wasn’t bad either! Since I have been back my reading has expanded, and I am picking up more DC and indie books. As I have matured, so has my taste and comprehension. I was able to read Watchmen for the first time as an adult and appreciate it much more than I would have at 12 years old.
How has the pandemic affected your comic reading? Are you reading more – if so, what of? Are you reading less – again, if so what of?
The speed in which the pandemic spread and put a halt to everything in the world was scary. It was like something you would read in a comic book, but our heroes were those who were keeping hospitals, supermarkets and other essential businesses running. In the early days of the Lockdown 1.0 there was a complete halt to comics for a few weeks. Not picking up my weekly books did however save me some money, which I went on to spend on collected editions. I had stopped reading weekly comics completely for a solid month and in that time, I had binge read the entirety of Saga and a few complete editions of Invincible.
Then comics started to return but it wasn’t quite the same. There would be issues of books I was reading that would not arrive at UK stores – Alienated #6 for example. I have searched everywhere for this issue and still am unable to find it in the UK. I found this very difficult to deal with, but realised it was also partly my fault – if I had a subscription or pull list at a shop it would pretty much guarantee my books. This was one of the first lessons that I learnt during this time.
I have cut down on my reading list and am now signed up with a comic shop to receive my pull list every 2 weeks – shout out to Ace Comics! I also wanted to make sure that small businesses like a comic book shop can continue to stay open during this time and was happy to be able to support this. Most comic shops are small businesses, with an exception of a few chains, and there was a very real risk that these stores could have gone out of business during the lockdown stages of the pandemic. These stores still needed to buy their products but had no in store customers to sell to. Many stores in the UK had to adapt, reverting to a click and collect service. I am intrigued as to how stores will recover an dhow many have or will not. Will some just continue as a web ordering service, or will they welcome customers back?
My current pull list is below:
- Beta Ray Bill
- Demon Days
- Immortal Hulk
- King in Black
- Orphan and the Five Beasts
- Star Wars: War of the Bounty Hunters
- Strange Adventures
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles The Last Ronin
- That Texas Blood
You can see there is a lack of main line DC comics. I had to take stock of my old list and really think about what books I was enjoying, and unfortunately the DC books I was picking up were cut. I also had X-Men, Thor and Guardians of the Galaxy on my list but decided to cut these and pick them up in trades. I have learnt that I don’t need to have the comics I read straight away each and every Wednesday – I have learnt to be patient, and also to avoid online spoilers! I don’t see myself going back to shops every Wednesday, which is a strange but freeing thought.
What has been getting you through the pandemic and lockdowns? Comics, TV, movies etc.
Most recently I have been reading collected editions of Kill or Be Killed and Criminal by Brubaker and Phillips, and I have now almost finished the entirety of Scalped by Jason Aaron and R.M Guéra which I highly recommend. It is a brutal, tense and incredibly emotional story with fantastic art to go with it.
I remember the week lockdown was announced was pretty much the same week that Disney + was released in the UK. Initially I re-watched The Mandalorian season 1 and then binge watched a few different show – 10 seasons of Task Master UK, every season of It’s Only Sunny in Philadelphia and Schitt’s Creek. I also did a full Star Wars re-watch in chronological order, including spin off movies and TV shows – Mandalorian (again) and Clone Wars.
I also had a Football Manager phase and took my local 8th tier team to the Champions League and Premier League! One of my favourites was to dig out my Nintendo DS and play through Pokémon Soul Silver again.
I have been running a lot, and while I run, I listen to podcasts instead of music. My favourites include GYCO Podcast (of course), iFanBoy, The Comic Crush, The Comic Conspiracy, Arseblog Arsenal Podcast.
I am currently mid-way through a chronological MCU re-watch while also watching the new MCU TV series WandaVision and The Falcon and The Winter Soldier.
What are your top comics of 2020? Top 3, 5 or 10!
- Immortal Hulk
- That Texas Blood
- Bog Bodies
What are you looking forward to in 2021?
For comics I am looking forward to see where Daredevil goes next (pun intended) and the climax of Immortal Hulk. Heroes Reborn has just been announced which I think looks like fun, and I am hoping that Saga and That Texas Blood return at some point. I have really been enjoying Tom King’s Rorschach and I cant wait to see where that story leads.
Television-wise I am looking forward to all the Marvel Studio TV shows and the Star Wars TV shows on Disney+.
Mostly I am looking forward to spending time with friends and family, in our homes, pubs and parks. Comics as a medium is a great form of escapism, but nothing beats discussing a book, TV show or movie over a pint with friends. We are so close, WE CAN DO THIS SUPER FRIENDS!
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