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Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Priceless Candy Bar -- I really enjoy The Simple Dollar, a daily blog about how to live more frugally. I've reduced or eliminated a lot of my bills over the past three years or so, but I'm not obsessed with frugality, so a lot of the penny-pinching blogs don't hold my interest. The Simple Dollar's philosophical approach and excellent writing have kept my attention since the first time I found it.

Today's post on a three-dollar candy bar is a great example of where the blog's thoughtfulness about spending meets the intangible value that can be found in something that seems too expensive. It's a wonderful post on its own, but it also reminded me of one of the most intelligent things anyone has ever written about the value of comics. Tom Spurgeon:

"I usually don't criticize anything for simply costing a lot. The only comics that are too expensive are shitty comics."

People who buys piles -- literally piles of mediocre superhero comics every week because they are "keeping up their collection" and "don't want to miss an issue" are usually the ones that complain about a comic costing "too much."

I remember when IDW began publishing their line of comics at a base price of $3.99, and some people felt that was "too expensive." But if it's too expensive, don't buy it. Nobody holds a gun to anyone's head and forces them to buy funnybooks.

What I think they really mean when they say that is, "I want to add this to my giant mindless pile of crap comics every week, but it costs a buck more than most of the other crap." I remember when IDW hit the ground running with quality titles like 30 Days of Night (I speak of the excellent, original mini-series here, I can't say anything about the sequels as I haven't read most of them), that featured not only outstanding storytelling but top-notch production values as well. Another title I've sampled from IDW that met that standard was Supermarket. I liked the first issue enough that I decided to wait until it was collected as a graphic novel, and if I recall correctly that compiled three issues for something close to twenty dollars -- more than the cost of the individual $3.99 issues, but the added benefit of being a sturdy book I can put on my shelves made the price worthwhile for me.

No comic can be objectively "priced right" or "overpriced." I've picked up Free Comic Book Day releases that were a ripoff for free, factoring in the time and effort to find and read (or attempt to read) them. Multiple publishers have tried 9 cent, 10 cent and 25 cent stunt releases. Some, like the 25 cent zero issue of Conan by Kurt Busiek and Cary Nord, convinced me to continue on with the monthly title, which would have been a bargain at four bucks, or even five, because it featured quality storytelling and adventures that stand up to multiple re-reads years later. The vast majority of current series set in Marvel and DC's universes aren't even worth reading for free, as that recent V survey of comics downloaders definitively demonstrated.

Obviously if you're struggling with money, if times are tight and every penny counts, you should not be dropping 75 or 100 bucks on a Marvel Omnibus or an Absolute Edition from DC. In fact, if money's really tight, you hopefully eschew wasting money on entertainment until you can right your faltering financial ship, to brutalize a metaphor.

But if you've got a good job and a portion of your income can comfortably be devoted to pursuing an artform you love, then hopefully you're buying comics you truly enjoy. Comics that engage your mind and thrill your senses and will amortize their own expense by providing you with years and years of repeat enjoyment. I never get tired of re-reading Watchmen, or Love and Rockets, or The Authority, or Eightball, just to name four titles that I have bought in single issues, trade paperbacks and expensive hardcover collector's editions. "The only comics that are too expensive are shitty comics," Spurgeon said, and by now he's probably sick to death of me bringing up the quote whenever the opportunity strikes. But it's true, and it speaks to far more than just comic books. The money you make is the direct product of time from your life that you've given up and will never get back.

Whether it's a gourmet candy bar shared with your family in a moment of mad glee, or a comic book good enough to totally immerse yourself in, its wonders to behold -- think about your spending, and whether its rewards will be returned to you in the future. Memories like that candy bar, or a great story, will provide a lifetime of joy. Is that what you are spending your money on? If not, why not?

Total coincidence, Zen Habits also writes about materialism and spending habits today.

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