After a year reading digital comics almost exclusively, I visit my local comics shop—and come away a renewed customer.
2015 was the year that I decided that I had enough of comic book shops. I previously frequented two stores for my comics—a small establishment within walking distance from my home for regular purchases and a larger one in a neighboring city for more specialized items—but after a couple of unfortunate (though ultimately minor) customer service incidents at the latter location in 2013 and 2014, I finally made up my mind that digital was the way to go. Of all the comics I picked up last year, only two—the first two paperback volumes of Vivès, Sanlaville, and Balak’s Last Man series (which I picked up during a visit to Portland’s Floating World Comics)—were of the physical variety.
Here’s the funny thing, though. After several months, I found that I missed reading comics in print. Reading comics on a screen felt like an adequate but nonetheless incomplete simulation of the real thing. Maybe it’s nostalgia on my part. Or maybe my experience was reflective of what a group of Norwegian researchers found in a 2013 study: Readers tend to comprehend and remember less when they read a multi-page linear narrative on an electronic screen, compared to when they read the same thing in print. (The researchers hypothesize that spatiotemporal markers—actions such as turning the pages and the sensation of weight, paper textures, and other stimuli unique to the print reading experience—reinforce and strengthen the reader’s engagement with the material being read, leading to better comprehension and retention.)
I also missed the social aspect of buying comics in a shop. I’m not one to linger in a store, but the five to ten minutes of small talk with store employees and fellow customers who share my deep-rooted and longstanding love of the medium is satisfying in a way faceless, pseudonymous interactions on blogs and social media are not.
For the new year, I decided to go back on my previous decision to go all-digital with comics. I’m going to keep on reading and purchasing digital comics, of course, but they will be a supplement to my physical reading list, not a replacement.
This past weekend, I walked into my local comics shop for the first time in over a year. The staff welcomed me like I hadn’t been gone a week. The place was much, much more organized and well-lit than I remembered it. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who had made a comics-related New Year’s resolution.
I browsed for a bit and talked about the new Star Wars movie with the shop’s owner and another customer. I couldn’t find anything on the shelves that interested me, so I went up to the counter and put in an order for the third Last Man volume and the first two volumes of the English-language edition of Hajime Segawa’s Tokyo ESP. The staffer at the counter had a very pleasant and approachable demeanor and just as importantly, was quick and efficient in looking up the titles I wanted and writing my orders down. I remember the staffer being a young teen when I first started going to the shop regularly several years ago, and I found out from a casual comment from the shop’s owner that she was now engaged to be married. This little fact made me feel old—kids grow up so fast these days, it seems—but it also made me feel like a part of a small local community whose lives intersected through our shared love of reading comics.
I stepped out into the brisk Sunday afternoon air, looking forward to the familiar phone call telling me that my books were in.