Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Know what I want, don’t know what I need

There is no better experience in a comic shop than finding something that you didn’t even know existed, and having to get it straight away because you don’t know how you ever lived without it.

I can spend hours looking for that perfect book, going over and over shelves again and again.

I am a browser. I like to browse.

Digital utopians have been writing obituaries for brick and mortar bookstores since the 1980s, promising us all that we will be able to buy any goods, or seek out any services, without suffering the discomfort of actually leaving the house. And they’ve certainly been proven partly correct.

The recent demise of the massive Borders chain and the almost total annihilation of its brand was the end result of years of consolidation and losses. It’s so easy to order books through Amazon, or win an online auction, and get it shipped right to your doorstep. You literally do not need to leave the house.

The internet has radically increased ease of access to both new and old books and comics and movies. If you go to enough effort, and are willing to spend enough money, there is almost literally nothing you can’t find somewhere on the internet.

I’ve used both Amazon UK and US to ship books and DVDs all the way to the arse end of the world, and it’s usually cheaper than the local option. And while it’s no fun, it’s worth it to get things I thought I’d never get to see.

This incredible array of choice, combined with a once-undreamt-of accessibility to almost any comic, book, or DVD you could ever want, have had a hard effect of stores, and tens of thousands of once proud bookstores have vanished like a whisper in the wind.

That’s life, that’s progress, and that’s a shame, but it’s not all bad. There are still plenty of quality bookstores all over the place, offering all sorts of lovely new work. Every decent sized city has one decent bookstore, full of hidden gems and gleaming new fiction.

I can spend hours in a decent bookstore, taking the time to look through sections I wouldn’t usually bother with, looking for something very particular, even though I don’t know what it is.

I always know it when I see it. It could be something I’ve been after for a while, or something I’ve heard nothing but rave reviews about, or something new by a trusted creator.

And if I’m very lucky, it will be a complete surprise

This week it was The Show Must Go On, a collection of Roger Langridge’s daftest cartoons. It’s a collection of all his stuff that didn’t have a home, all sorts of odd strips that showed up in self-published zines, obscure anthologies and web experiments. The thoroughly decent souls at Boom Studios have now given all this stuff a home.

I’m been a fiend for Roger Langridge’s work since the early Knuckles. I first started really following his work after the – pretty shitty – Straightjacket Fits. I love Fred the Clown, think the Tarquin stuff in Zoot is still hilarious, and think he draws the best Fin Fang Foom. And I had no idea The Show Must Go On even existed.

To be fair, I’m a fiend for a lot of comic writers and artists. It’s easy to lose track of what’s new, and what’s old, from all these different creators.

And when I first saw The Show Must Go On sitting on the shelf at a local comic shop, I thought it was more Fred The Clown, but I quickly realised it was 200 pages of Langridge art I’d never seen before.

Most of it is written and drawn by Langridge, with a couple of stories scripted by future Judge Dredd writer Gordon Rennie, and it’s page after page of pitch-black humour, lame puns and gorgeous artwork

Langridge’s comics are so dense, and his sense of humour so idiosyncratic, that it really works best in short, sharp doses, rather than one quick read. So I knew it would take me weeks of pleasurable reading to get through this latest book, while I can get through one of Marvel or DC’s latest collections in a 15 minute bus ride.

These were all fine justifications, but this brazen hussy of a book had me at first sight. As soon as I saw it, I knew I needed it, and 10 minutes after first becoming aware of its existence, I owned a copy of The Show Must Go On.

This doesn’t happen to me when I buy stuff over the internet. Everything I have ever imported from overseas has been targeted products – I wanted specific things, and I bought those specific things. It was efficient and easy, and I had absolutely no urge to spend more time looking for other things I might be interested in.

There is a tactile enjoyment in browsing the shelves in a shop that is lost on web surfing. Using computers is too much like work, I literally spend my entire working life in front of some kind of screen, I want to use a computer as little as possible in my spare time.

There is also the idea that something might seem a lot more attractive if I can pick it up in my hands and walk away with it straight away, rather than rely on the random insanity of the global postal service. I do get some heinous buyer’s remorse sometime, and it only gets worse in that interminable wait between purchase and delivery.

But mostly it’s because I can never think what to look for. When I get online at somewhere like Amazon, I draw a blank when I think of what I want to look for, and always end up searching on the same old names like Morrison, Moore and Ennis, and always come away with nothing new.

It’s possible to take in a huge amount of information while scanning a shelf that dozens of heated clicks can never match, and it’s far easier for a classy cover to catch the eye when it’s sitting on a shelf, rather than beaming out of a screen.

I never find weird little things like obscure charity comics created by my favourite people online, and I never would have got into Scalped if I hadn’t been able to pick up the first trade, flip through it, and fall in love with the way R M Guera draws people kicking in doors.

The thrill of finding something I never knew I wanted, like a collection of Roger Langridge comics is the best part of browsing, but I just love taking my time in a good book or comic or record shop, and digging around.

(As for the latest unearthed gem, it’s taken me a week to get 72 pages into the Show Must Go On, and that’s some real value for money in my entertainment.)

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