Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Comics and tactiles

Yesterday I received a new batch of comics from Marvel. Digging through the latest releases, I found an ashcan comic amongst the wares. The ashcan is printed in a format smaller than a normal comic book, on cheap, pulpy paper and in black & white. Because this ashcan hasn't been made available to the public yet (it's for a convention) I won't discuss the title or contents.

After opening my Marvel packages, I thumb through the entire pile to see exactly what I've received. On the second pass through, I begin arranging them in the order I'd like to read them in. Sometimes, I read a book more than once when I'm particularly impressed. After reading them, I sort them out so I can take a few notes, then sort them again to be filed into my collection.

The ashcan sat atop the pile of books when they came out from the package and arrested my progress instantly, simply because it looked and felt differently from everything else. And every time I came across that book in the act of sorting, I stopped for a few seconds to rub my hands over the cover.

You see, everything else from Marvel Comics - and most comic book publishers at present - comes in a slick, glossy package, printed on paper much like a magazine's. The ashcan really stood out for being on supposedly "poorer" quality printing materials. It really gave me pause to consider what comics may have lost in the advancement of paper quality. While reading another comic in the pile, I was struck by how garish the colouring seemed and reflected if it had been printed on duller paper - essentially running it through a gray filter - it would be more pleasantly subdued for my eyes.

I know every time someone brings up the question of which paper comics are printed on, the publishers consistently champion the paper they're using right now, pointing out switching to rougher paper wouldn't affect the cost of their books (since fans usually bring up paper quality while asking "why are comics so expensive?"). I wonder: could we set aside the question of price for a moment? Rough, "cheap" paper feels cool. How about printing more books on that quality - books which would benefit from a rougher tactile experience and faded colours? Would it suit a "retro" pulp thriller like Ed Brubaker's Criminal?

The comic itself was pretty good too, but I won't say more for about two weeks...

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