I am a book lover. More than the stories, I love the actual physical object. I love the weight, the smell, the way the pages feel. When done thoughtfully, a book’s physical interpretation can enhance the story within. The same holds true for comics. Here are some reasons why I insist on buying certain titles in the physical format.
I’m a big book nerd. So when a publisher goes above and beyond to offer my fingers an experience, I’m all in. Matt Kindt’s MIND MGMT is a perfect example of this. The hardcover trades use a heavy paper stock for the pages and it enhances both the artwork and story. When paired with the comic’s watercolor art, it elevates what would normally be a regular comic book to something more. The storytelling elements extend into the page bleeds. In digital or even single issue format, this might pass as a gimmick, but with the heavier paper and fine art vibe, it adds a quality of notes in the margin, similar to an artist’s or editor’s notes about things that may or may not be important to the actual work on the page.
A book can also add physical weight to already weighty material. Craig Thompson’s Habibi is a book that has that effect on me. Every time I lug that heavy tome off my bookshelf, I am reminded of the extreme sadness of the story. The physical weight adds to the emotional weight in my mind. The golden inlay on the hardcover and the fancy paper design on the inside cover remind me of old books that contain classic tales, like my grandmother’s family bible. These details set the stage for the story inside.
Memory and Nostalgia
Physical comics also tap into the powerful emotions associated with memory. Recently, I picked up The Aggregate by Ben Bishop specifically because it’s a choose-your-own-adventure graphic novel. As a kid, I spent hours have of reading, re-reading, flipping pages, cheating, not cheating, etc. with choose-your-own-adventure books and games. I have such fond memories with them that it was was enough alone to make me part ways with my money. And since most of those memories are with physical books, it was important that the story be a physical book and not a digital read. I needed to the ability of flipping back in forth in the graphic novel to connect with those feelings.
Another set of titles that does this well is The Stuff of Legend by Mike Raicht, Brian Smith, and Charles P. Wilson III, as well as Mouseguard by David Petersen. The square format and limited pages paired with the muted color palette and the stories inside recall early reader books, like the Berenstein Bears or (the not-quite square) Little Golden Books. It ties into the nostalgia of childhood and so enhances the overall experience of the books even when see them just sitting on the shelf.
In my humble opinion, colorists are the most-unsung heroes of the comics world. Colors evoke their own connections within us so it’s not surprising that printing quality can affect your experience. There are certain stories where the color palette pops more when I read it in the physical form. Even though it’s free to read online, I always buy the printed trades of the webcomic Girl Genius by Phil and Kaja Folio because of the way the colors differ in print versus digitally. Mike and Laura Allred’s work has a similar effect on me, especially the X-Statix ominbus. The high gloss pages paired with the electric colors heighten the caricatured story action. It’s similar to the difference between seeing the old pulp novel cover art on a book and seeing the original painting in an exhibition. There’s just so much more visually to see and take in.
Lastly, I feel that good stories are meant to be shared. Friends are always visiting my house bringing novels and/or leaving with novels. And it’s the same way about comics. If I love it, I want share it with everyone I know. Lending a physical object to someone is a symbol of trust. Trust that the book will make it back to you. Trust that they will love the story the same way you do.