Managing My Comics Reading/Pull List

Let’s talk about managing your pull list, what are you going to buy, what will need to be cut back?  We’ve all been there, you need to trim back on what you’re reading.  For me, since I pre-order my books when they are solicited in Previews each month, it’s not just a matter of deciding what I pick off the rack at whim, I specifically decide what I’m going to get a couple of months in advance.

Why have a pull list?  If you still read physical comics and like stuff a bit off the beaten track (meaning not just the most popular super-hero and licensed books from the big publishers) having a pull list is essential because I don’t go to the comic shop right when they open every Wednesday. If I didn’t have comics saved for me I’d miss them altogether, as the really cool ones may not be ordered by the shop at all for the rack, or else be bought by someone else by the time I go to the shop on the weekend.  If not ordered in advance, there’s really no guarantee that I’ll ever see them at a comic shop.

As an aside, if you’ve “gone digital” the idea of a pull list is obsolete.  At best a digital pull list is just a reminder that a book has come out and is available to buy.  There is no concept of the local shop not ordering it or it being sold out before you got there.  Digital books are always in stock and available to purchase.

BUT, I’m a dinosaur and I like my physical comics.  AND I enjoy a lot of things that are not at the top of the sales charts, so I need to maintain a pull list to order stuff in advance to ensure I don’t miss what I like to read.  That benefit comes with a downside.  Since I order the books in advance, I’m essentially buying them sight unseen and need to make a decision about them based on the advance solicit materials and what I can find on the internet (which is why I do a solicits roundup on the ComicSpectrum site every month).

What deserves to be ON my pull list?
I don’t know about anyone else, but comics I buy monthly are ones that I love to read and feel like I want to read them “right now”.  Even though actually reading them right away may sometimes be overtaken by events, because life happens, I still WANT to read them right away.  I might bend the rules for a creative team I am REALLY in love with (like Neil Gaiman on the recent Sandman: Overture series with J.H. Williams III), in that case after it became clear that it was not going to be coming out regularly, I made a “virtual collected edition” out of the series.  I just let the issues stack up on my “to read” pile and when the last issue came out, I read them all in a row.  So that is a special case.  I am willing to give some creators/characters a lot of leeway because of a creator-reader relationship we’ve built up over time.

What about new books?

Symmetry_CvrA BlackJackKetchum01_Cvr_upd
CREDIT: Image Comics

I order new #1 issues every month.  I order based on a track record with the creator(s) but I’ll also try lots of new stuff that looks interesting.  BUT…Publishers need to meet me part way.  I really like to see interior art from issues not just the flashy covers by popular artists brought in to put a nice show for the comic rack.  I really like that Image Comics will often put several pages of interior art into the Previews catalog for new #1s.  It really helps me make a decision.  In the October Previews this helped be decide to order Symmetry and skip Black Jack Ketchum.  The art on Black Jack Ketchum wasn’t bad, it just didn’t really appeal to me personally.

Replica1 Insexts1 SuperZero1
CREDIT: Aftershock Comics

Then there is the new publisher Aftershock Comics in the October Previews catalog. They have lots of “big name” writers (at least ones I am very familiar with), but I’m not familiar with their artists and they only have images of covers in the catalog, not necessarily by the people doing the interiors of the issues.  In this case, I needed to do some digging on the internet with my friend Google.

200AD Andy Clarke

CREDIT: 2000AD / Andy Clarke

OK…found a nice page by Andy Clarke from 2000AD.  I dig the art, so Replica #1 is on my list.

Logan Legacy

CREDIT: Marvel Comics / Ariela Kristantina

Found a sample of Ariela Kristantina’s art from Logan Legacy (not a book I read).  Nothing wrong with it, but it’s not setting off the “I love this art!” section of my brain.  So I’m skipping Insexts #1.  I’ll check out issue #1 if I see it on the rack at my LCS, maybe her art will look different on this book.  Sure would have been nice if Aftershock could have shown some interior art as part of their full-page ad for this issue.

What Takes a Book OFF my Pull List?
As I said above, I like things on my pull list that I want to read RIGHT AWAY when I get them. What makes me want to take it off?  3 main things:

  1. Continual churn of the creative team – I like some stories, I don’t like others.  When creative teams are like a revolving door with series restarting at a new number one sometimes multiple times a year, I have a hard time sticking around for the monthly books.  This is one of the reasons I tend to favor creator-owned books, at a minimum they’re not going to be rotating themselves on and off the book.
  2. Stops being enjoyable to read – Sometimes I feel like I’m struggling to make it through a comic.  A little voice at the back of my head just waiting for the issue to be over as opposed to me enjoying the read.  When that happens, I know it’s time to step awayt from the series.
  3. Lack of story momentum -When a monthly series ships really sporadically, is late, or is canceled & re-solicited, that kills the momentum of the series, I stop being able to recall what’s going on and follow the story.  I’ll maybe pick it up out of a back issue bin, as a collected edition, whatever….if and when they manage to get a full story published.  If I often feels like it’s something I don’t need on my pull list.  This is related to problem #1, because creative churn kills momentum for me also.

Ultimately, both of these are things that drive me (and I assume others) AWAY from picking up comics as periodicals and favoring instead deciding to read them in collected edition format instead (or not reading them at all).  This kills a regular revenue stream for the Publisher and translates it into maybe an ongoing sale capability if people buy the book at some point down the line.  They totally lose any compelling reason for readers to buy the collection right when it comes out.  People can buy the collected edition any time (or never).

Publishers need to consider the affect that losing momentum with readers will have. Coming out of the gate with a property I am not attached to, it’s a really bad idea to not be able to get comics out on a regular schedule until you have me hooked.  And what about comic shops who need to order your books?  Do you think comic shops like allocating funds to books they order that don’t show up on schedule to be sold to readers so they can make money?

Afterlife7Sabrina 4theshield4a
CREDIT: Archie Comics

Archie has elements on both sides of this.  Their horror line (Afterlife with Archie and Sabrina) are both chronically late.  BUT, the issues they did manage to get were ones I loved so much that the “relationship” with these books was fast tracked in my mind and I’m happy to wait for the issues as they come out.  They also seem to read in a fairly self-contained way issue after issue when they come out.  On the flip side is Archie’s “Dark Circle” imprint.  They started talking about The Shield a year ago (October 2014) with an “early 2015” debut.  They are soliciting issue #4 for December and we STILL have not seen issue #1.  It has been cancelled and re-solicited, and they have built up zero confidence with me about them being able to get this series out.  I’m done ordering it.  I hope they get their house in order with their Dark Circle imprint, but for now they’re going to do it without any pre-orders from me.

Managing My Pull List
This is what it all comes down to.  Cuts need to be made:

  1. Drop books that fall too far away from the “I really want to read them NOW” factor.  If I have 5 or 6 issues piled up in my “to read” pile that are not there on purpose making up a virtual collected edition, then I can safely stop getting that series.
  2. Drop books that are “yet another reboot” that don’t look outstanding/compelling to me for some reason (creative team, “high concept”).  Ultimately, over the many, many years I’ve been reading comics these end up in $1 bins down the road more often than not.  Sure, sometimes I’m going to miss out on the “next hot thing” but I can’t read everything.
  3. Be selective about adding new #1s. Creators RULE!  I add what I like, and this is a combination of writer PLUS artist.  Publishers can help me make the decision to pre-order by giving me information to make a decision, especially including samples of interior art, not just flashy covers.

Bob Bretall: Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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