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Out From Under the Covers: A Desperate Quest to Be Current, Part Three

It always happens this way.  I go weeks, sometimes a month without reading a single comic book.  And then something snaps me out of it (usually it’s an unexpected day off from work) and I grab up a copy of—well, this time it was She-Hulk.  And I read five issues in a row, and then I move onto Hawkeye where I read four issues, and then I’m like good God, what have I been wasting my time on instead of reading these beautiful, beautiful things?

In a (long ago) previous post, I confessed that one thing to know about me is that I’m tragically behind on my comics reading.  But now I must reveal another important tidbit, which is that I’m one of those pathetic, deplorable creatures known as commuters.  The great thing about having to endure two very long commutes via train every day is that you get a lot of reading done … right?  I bet you would think that.  Ha ha.

In the past month of train rides to and from the day job—that’s twice a day, five days a week—I have read exactly … three comics.  A number that I think is actually up from the previous month.

Why so few?  Myriad reasons, but let me just give you the top few.

First, you can completely discount the morning ride in each day—it may as well not exist, because it’s really not “reading time” so much as it is “pass out and drool onto your own shoulder” time.  We’re talking six thirty a.m. here.  (“There’s a 6:30 in the morning now?”)

So that’s half of my commute gone.  The second opportunity—my way home each night—is a rush hour train.

A rush hour train out of Boston.

A rush hour train out of Boston that is FRIGGING JAM PACKED.  Also, frequently quite smelly.

Now imagine having to board this FJP train at a stop where it is already insanely full—usually beyond any level that could conceivably be deemed safe—by the time it reaches you.  Imagine being stuck without a seat.  Or, better, imagine getting a seat that is inevitably wedged between two other people, who are very large.  I say very large because, in comparison to my small stature and unless we’re talking about toddler passengers, everyone is always going to be bigger than me (I’m a short one, as everyone likes to remind me, constantly and forever, incase I’m somehow unaware).  Thus my fellow commuters are always taking up more space, leaving me just the smallest sliver of seat cushion and area in which I might be able to actually … I don’t know … expand my diaphragm enough to breathe.  (Although, in the summer when it’s 90 degrees and the air condition isn’t working—which is more often than not—and everyone is sweating profusely, it’s sometimes better to try NOT to breathe.)

That’s the scenario.  Imagine trying to pull out and read a floppy comic like that.

Okay.  Let’s say I make it to this part of my day, and things are looking better than normal.  Maybe it’s a Friday before a holiday weekend, and most people have left early, so my train isn’t as horrifying as it usually is.  Maybe I even have a seat all to myself!  There’s SPACE around me!  I can move and swing out my elbows comfortably and actually hold a book!  I’m a commuting champion!

Except that, to even get to this stage, I’ve first had to find a method to package my wares in such a way as to make them safe for the rigors of daily travel.  That acid-free bag with backing board and the manilla folder I had my comic all filed and tucked away in?  Yeah, not gonna cut it.  I learned things the hard way after returning home one night with my Fables trade paperback all turned up in the corners, spine partially wrinkled, and I went to sleep that night crying tears of shame and regret.  It’s a trade! I’d thought.  It’ll be fine!

Thankfully, after scouring my LCS for a solution, I found one of these bad boys in a copy of Previews and ordered one online.  Are you aware that these exist?  I wasn’t.  It was perfect.

Or so I thought.  I believe the binder lasted about two weeks in my bag before it cracked and unhinged.  I chalked it up to a fluke, and ordered a second … which has thus far lasted through a year of use along with a trip to Boston Comic Con.

Okay.  So, our storage/transportation problem is mostly resolved, but what of the actual physical act of reading on a train?  Aside from the aforementioned discomfort of the packed ride, there’s another unfortunate matter to contend with:  lighting.

Those glossy pages?  Not so easy to read in the harsh fluorescent lighting of the commuter rail.  You’re basically stuck with this:

Page Glare

Can you make out Kamala Khan somewhere in here?
“Too bad,” indeed.

Hence I have all but given up in my attempts to read in this situation.

Now, I can guess what you’re thinking.  Comixology is my friend, right?  Why am I not downloading comics and reading them digitally?  Who doesn’t own a tablet these days?

That’d be … me.  I do not own a tablet, nor do I desire to own one, because:

1.)  There is nothing a tablet can do for me that my iPhone doesn’t already do.
2.)  I don’t want to buy a tablet JUST for the sake of reading comics, and
3.)  I don’t enjoy reading comics digitally.  Husband says I am a luddite.

Digital comics are really a whole other topic for a whole other blog post, but that’s the quick explanation of my aversion.

Ultimately I have come up with a couple of work-arounds.

One is that I have only been carrying collected editions or OGNs—most recently, Becky Cloonan’s By Chance or Providence.  This was especially great because the pages aren’t glossy, so I didn’t have to contend with glare at all, and the book is fairly light and easy to carry.  I kept my bag mostly empty that day so as not to damage its lovely exterior.

Since I still do the majority of my collecting in floppy single-issue format, when I want to dive into my giant stack of backlog, the best solution I’ve found is to bring them with me in the aforementioned binder and, rather than read them on the train, I’ve been using my lunch breaks at work as reading time.  I used to avoid doing this—since I work on a computer all day, I typically like using my break to get out of the office and give my eyes a rest—but I’m finding lately that on especially stressful days, it’s a huge help to just escape into a comic.  And if I read, say, five comics every day during my one-hour break, that’s twenty a week … times four weeks is a hundred a month.

So I should be caught up in no time, right?

… Right?

 

Sigh.

 

My fellow commuters, do you read comics on your daily journeys? Anyone else experience their own awkward challenges during travel, and have you found solutions that work for you? Sound off in the comments!

 

 

9 Comments

I bought an iPad just to read comics and it was totally worth it. It’s the best way to read Marvel Unlimited, and I was able to start at Heroes Return and read straight through to the present over the last year or so. Besides just comics, I’ve found that I prefer to use tumblr and facebook on an iPad than on a desktop or laptop.

I actually bought an iPad to read comics, too, and never regretted it. I will say, though, that if that’s all you really want to do with it, there are cheaper alternatives now (I bought my first iPad back when iPad was the only game in town for tablets). For comics, magazines, tv, and movies I now use a Nook HD+ ($149) with a 64GB SD card in it. So I’ve got 80GB of space and a really good screen display for a very reasonable price (the SD card was another $50 or so, I think).

I still have an iPad mini, but I don’t use it for comics.

You can read most comics digitally on you phone just fine. This is what the guided view was designed for. It isn’t the optimum way to read them, but neither is doing it in a packed train-car, so there’s that (and for that situation I think the smaller device is more appropriate).

That does sound like the commute from Hell. Like you I read BOOKS, not digital comics, because…well I’m old, and I like books.

I usually end up reading comics while watching television anyway.

What about either a very cheap android or nook tablet ? The advantage of either is the fact that you can be listening to your music while reading your comic of choice, or if you don’t feel like reading on the early commute, listen to a podcast. Thanks to Greg Hatcher I’ve recently started listening to Radio vs the Martians. But whatever your tastes are I think taking comics and trades onto public transport anywhere is to paraphrase Douglas Adams, like taking a Ming Vase to a Rugby match. Good Luck :)

See, I too am a luddite, and I say that if you’re way behind on your comics reading (we are alike in that, too), getting some sort of tablet or other e-reader is going to be even WORSE. You will be tempted to pick up large runs for cheap, and download free stuff, and so on, and by its very nature, not having an actual, visible physical presence, you will not have any idea how friggin’ far behind you are on reading all of that stuff. Boxes and stacks of comics around the house remind you “oh shit, I don’t read this stuff enough!”

My OCD gets in the way too. “I can’t read the Rocket Girl trade until I get Halloween Eve out, dammit! It’s the same creative team!!!!”

And while I don’t commute like you (back in college, having to ride the bus in a much less congested town did allow me to get some reading done, but now I drive. Very little reading done then ;) ), when I was at the Boston Comic Con in ’11, I faced a similar situation. I’d been at the Con Sunday and picked up a lot of stuff, in addition to the comics I already had along to get signed, and among other things I’d gotten the first Bloom County HC and TWO copies of the Tori Amos Comic Book Tattoo beast of a book (which may explain my back problems….), so I was completely laden down. I waddled my way down to the subway to catch a train (ostensibly back to my sister’s place where I was staying, but I wanted to stop at some of the lovely Boston area comics stores I hadn’t been to yet first), and apparently a Red Sox game was getting out around that time. So I could not get onto a train. Literally, physically, I was unable to board one of the trains, because they were so packed and I was so huge with my stuff. Fortunately there are enough subway trains coming along, even late Sunday afternoon, but for quite a while there I was nervous that I was going to be stuck in the subway tunnels.

So I hope you’re able to get to the Con this upcoming weekend and enjoy it, and I hope we get another report about it. I unfortunately spent too much at the comic shop to afford the trip up there this year, but I’m making a promise to myself to get up there next year. NEXT YEAR!!!!

I commute in London, and it’s a similar situation. Getting a seat, both morning and evening, is pretty unlikely. But there’s usually enoguh room to whip out a comic and read it with one arm hanging on to the overhead rail (sorry, not fair to shorter folk). Lucikly I’m on the suburban train netowrk; finding enough room to even breath on the morning Tube is largely impossible.

I actually have an ipad and have subscribed to Marvel Unlimited. It’s astonishignly practical and extensive. But for some reason I can’t bring myself to take it on the train, much less get it out and read on it. So I’m in the habit of pulling down stacks of old floppies to put in my shoulder bag. Yes, these does mean crumpled corners and rolled spines, but since I’m mostly reading Marvels it has go to the point that I discard the issues (as in, take to charity shop) after reading, on the grounds that by the time I want to read, say, Dan Slott’s she Hulk run again (what I’m ciommuting with at the moment), I’ll be able to find it on Unlimited.

I can also attest that, as geeky as I already feel reading old superhero comics on a crowded train, being seen to carefully slide them out of a mylar bag is a step too far. I’ve never felt remotely judged by my fellow passengers, but there are levels of geekdom, and trying to explain why one might want to keep a copy of, say, an early 1980s The Thing comic (another run I’m working through right now) in a plastic bag is not something I’m prepared to do with a stranger.

I love commuting. Between working at the office and twin parenting at home, it’s a small window of selfishness in my day.

Thanks for the great feedback, everyone. You all raise some good points. I have never tried Marvel Unlimited; I wonder if it would be better for me or worse.

@Travis — That’s exactly what I’m worried will happen if I do the whole digital comics thing, is that it will just exacerbate my already mountainous backlog. I tried Comixology for a bit and wound up downloading a bunch of freebies to read on my phone, and I completely ignored my stack of floppies.
Also, you should definitely come back to Boston Con when you get a chance–I can just see you on the T with all your swag now. ;)

@Alex — Good call on She-Hulk; I’m really enjoying the new title and it’s making me want to go back and re-read the old stuff. There definitely are perks to the commute and I agree that the bit of downtime is helpful … it’s just better some days than others! I applaud your continued devotion to the floppy comic commute.

Again I think a lot of this is a topic for a different post, but all in all, I am still resigned to the fact that I just don’t enjoy reading comics digitally as much as I enjoy reading hard copies.

You actually convinced me to try reading on my commute all over again and I’m loving it!! Thank you. I have a couple of ways I do it. I have an iphone that has the first 100 issues of Fantastic Four on it that I am slowly making my way through – it’s nowhere near as good as I hoped it would be and my gosh, the rampant sexism is horrific – it’s a wonder Sue doesn’t murder them all before issue 25! I also have an iPad that my work paid for but that I don’t really need for work. I’ve for the complete Sandman on there (shamefully I’ve never read it) and a load of issues of Love and Rockets (again, never read it, early days but I’m disappointed).

I don’t mind digital comics, but I don’t love it. They look good, I can’t deny it, and they definitely don’t have that glare that you describe … But it’s just not comics to me.

So, I’d sort of given up until I read this and realised it’s not just me. So I tried again with the ‘floppies’ (I hate that term – can we find a better one?). I bought a stack of comics over the weekend, emptying my pull box, and did my usual sorting them into the order I want to read them least (anything at the too of the pile more than two or three weeks in a row probably needs to be dropped), and it’s actually working!!!

I love it, I get through two or three on my ride (not because it’s a short journey, but because I like to sit and think about them after I’ve read them). It’s actually becoming my favourite place to read comics!

I think I’d kind of lost my spot to read comics. I need somewhere and somewhen that deserves it … Does that make sense? I think somewhere when my working life got a little busier I lost that. I’m too stressed on a Sunday and I fall asleep to quickly in the evening. Actually commuter comics is really making my day better. It stops me thinking too hard in the morning (and dribbling on the shoulders of other passengers) and helps me wind down in the evening.

I like the idea of the commuter comics community too.

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