During the depths of my comic book addiction, I’d spend over $100 a month on comics, half of which I didn’t even read. But I relished the days I’d go to the store, pick out a stack of books, bring them home, and then turn on a podcast as I took the time to caress them, flip around the pages, and slip them into a cardboard-backed plastic sleeve. At the time, I thought I loved comic books. While I have fond memories of many storylines and authors, I’ve come to realize that this wasn’t about Captain America or Daredevil; it was a ritual, one that combined several of my other obsessions: spending money, organizing stuff, and gushing over printed materials.
What I want to do with this essay is take a look at how an everyday activity is actually a series of smaller activities. I want to take apart the act of buying comic books so that we can better understand the intricate roles that our habits play in our lives.
I don’t know the exact science, and I don’t know which specific parts spill the endorphins, but shopping is addictive. And the entire process is another series of processes; you enter the store, browse the merchandise, select what you’ll take home, make “small talk” with the cashier, pay for the items, and then leave with a trademarked plastic bag. The shopping experience is itself a cocktail of blissful experiences, taking the whole “comic book shopping” experience from a Roman Coke into a full-on Long Island Iced Tea.
First, you enter the store and you’re hit with a combination of sights, sounds, smells, and textures. You look at the “New Releases” section and it’s an educational experience; any titles you don’t buy, you learn the names and story arcs for future research. And then, once you actually get to decide what items you buy, you start associating them with people. “If I buy this trade paperback, I could recommend it to someone else.” I don’t know about other book-buyers, but I keep thinking that I’ll lend out a dozen books in a week even though I’ve probably lent out a dozen in my life. I somehow feel like my purchase is going to benefit my entire friend group and that I’ll get to share this book, this experience, with dozens of people, potentially influencing their lives. Of course, that doesn’t happen.
And then you socialize, expend money from your credit limit, and take the merchandise, which has changed its legally binding status from “theirs” to “yours”. This isn’t a transaction, it’s a transformation. You’ve gained new members of the family, and you start to imagine the joy they’ll bring you in the coming days.