Tumblr Mailbag: Quitting the Big Two

June 5th, 2014 by |

Someone on tumblr asked me what it was like to quit reading Marvel and DC. I’d been trying to type about it for a while, but something about the phrasing let me hit on an approach I felt was worthwhile, instead of pointless. It felt strong enough to turn into a real piece, and here we are. The answer is that quitting Marvel and DC comics managed to be simultaneously easy and difficult. Nowadays, it’s astronomically easier to abstain than it is difficult.

It wasn’t a difficult decision to make because I knew I could find something to replace the hole leaving those comics behind would leave. I was at a point where I was more interested in seeking out creator-owned works from creators than their new cape projects already, so I was halfway there. I didn’t/couldn’t do a 1:1 replacement, in part because that’s a silly idea, but I knew I could get things from people I liked elsewhere, and I hoped the others would branch out to non-cape stuff, too. (Zeb Wells and Marjorie Liu are—shhh, lean in real quick, streets is talking—two of the best writers to grace a Marvel comic. No fooling. Get familiar!)

When I quit, I didn’t make a plan or even think about it beyond “I should do thi—WHOOPS did it.” I still don’t know if Vertigo “counts” as DC for instance, or Icon for Marvel, since they’re both more-or-less creator-owned imprints. I didn’t even bother figuring out where comp copies (as a journalist) or freebies (as a guy who is blessed to have friends) factored in to the embargo. I eventually just decided that nobody has to follow my dumb personal rules, so if somebody gives or lends me something, I’d take it instead of throwing it back in their face with a lecture like a stereotype of a Berkeley progressive. “Why be a jerk?” was my motto, I guess. Better that than “Have you even HEARD of that time Stan Lee attempted to collude with DC Comics to keep rates for artists low?!”

At the same time, it was difficult because I’ve read and enjoyed Marvels, and to a much lesser extent DCs, since around the time I learned how to read. I was twenty-eight when I consciously decided to quit. That’s about twenny three years of inertia, interest, and love to overcome. I didn’t magically stop liking their comics or the characters or the creators (I’ve probably written more about Jim Lee-era X-Men post-quitting than anybody who’s still reading cape comics) and my curiosity is on par with my guilty conscience in terms of having a continually debilitating effect on my life.

For example: I don’t eat pork. I quit swine in ‘99. I could tear up some porkchops and bacon as a kid, but it wasn’t a struggle to quit pork. I didn’t waffle over it. I just did it, and that was a wrap. I don’t look back on porkchops fondly or reminisce about those days. “Mannnn, remember how good that porkchop was back in ‘97, second week a May? Hooo whee!” That’s absurd.

But with comics, it’s different. I do that with Spider-Man constantly and in great detail—Return of the Goblin, his first meeting with Luke Cage, that time Betty Brant said something nice about him and he was like “Dang, I never noticed her before, but she’s cute AND she’s on my side” like a doggone teenaged idiot, Mary Jane going Sibyl to get a soap opera job and dodging stalkers…I can recite it chapter and verse. It’s a part of me.

While I can and did change my habits, the problem was changing my thinking, the stuff I was taking in outside of the comics, too. I had to ask what was up with this, that, and the third much, much less. I had to stop reading essays, interviews, and promo for things I had no interest in experiencing. It was silly. “I don’t care about this so much!!!”

Changing those habits takes effort, which leads me directly to why it isn’t difficult to stay away from the Big Two these days: I succeeded at changing my thinking. Wednesdays aren’t new comics days any more. I don’t read comics news sites when I can help it. I discover new comics via word of mouth or Tumblr. I unplugged in a way that let me maintain my decision instead of waffling and crumbling.

I read other comics now, and the further I get from the Big Two, the easier it is to stay away. The less I indulge, the less I want it. The guilt and frustration that led to me giving up have given way to something akin to apathy (and occasionally disappointment). I hear summaries of recent events in comics I once loved and it’s like I woke up in Ancient Sumeria for all the sense it makes to me.

But that’s okay, because I don’t care. I don’t mean that in the dismissive sense, a “who cares?” type of way. I mean it very literally: I’m no longer invested in what happens to Spider-Man. I’m still curious about a few things (the black characters, pretty much, and I like when the creators I enjoy get a cool-sounding project), but in terms of keeping up, keeping track, paying attention, entertaining the idea of going back, checking out what I’ve missed: nah, son, I’m good. I grew past it and it’s not for me any more. It’s for somebody else. And that’s cool. Win/win.

I feel good about my decision. But I started buying vinyl and various types of bottled root beers and sodas in the interim, so I couldn’t afford to go back if I wanted to.

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8 comments to “Tumblr Mailbag: Quitting the Big Two”

  1. Great piece. Thanks for saying what’s on a lot of your readers’ minds.

  2. I remember back when you proclaimed that you were quitting, someone tried to call you out because you still purchased Nike products. (I’m not sure if you still do, and it’s not really germane to this question) Why I bring that up is because it led you to say everyone makes these kinds of choices, and it’s practically impossible to participate in society while simultaneously boycotting everything that could be considered morally dirty. We’re probably all reading this on something assembled in a Foxconn factory, right? Sometimes you just have to make a stand, and how comics creators were treated is something you really care about, so you decided to take a stand on that. I’m curious, how your thoughts on this particular aspect of quitting Big 2 evolved since those early days?

    Anyway, I just want you to know that as someone who still reads Big 2 comics from time to time, I really do respect your decision and agree with the reasoning, even if it’s not an issue I’ve personally decided to take a stand on. That brings to mind another question, actually: Do you sometimes feel that every regular reader of Marvel and DC who finds out about you quitting gets mad or indignant about it, or at the very least it brings some weirdness to the atmosphere?

  3. […] § David Brothers writes about that moment on life’s journey when you stop reading Marvel and DC: […]

  4. I also quit a while ago. Part of it was just switching to GN only reading and really needing a break from superheroes. Even if they did something “new” it appeared to be just a tweak on an old story I already read and I wanted something *different*. For a while the only superhero book I read regularly was Kurt Busiek’s Astro City. It was different enough that I could accept to superhero aspects to the stories.

    Vertigo books were the last thing I was reading until Y the Last Man finished and nothing really new caught my interest or got published regularly. I liked the Plain J.A.N.E.S books from MINX line but not a whole lot after that. Right now I’m reading Invincible and since Erik Larsen started putting out trades of Savage Dragon I’ve been picking those up too.

    Along the way DC and Marvel irked me over creative rights issues and now I won’t buy their books or their movies (Stephen Bissette inspired me on this). I don’t feel I’m missing out though as there is a whole lot of decent entertainment out there in TV shows and the like (I’m enjoy UFC and I’ve got a stack of WWE wrestling DVDs I still need to watch). Plus it’s not like the movies are going away or anything. Even if I change my mind 10 years from now they’ll be easy to find, however they are selling them.

  5. […] Comics | David Brothers writes about quitting the Big Two: “Wednesdays aren’t new comics days any more. I don’t read comics news sites when I can help it. I discover new comics via word of mouth or Tumblr. I unplugged in a way that let me maintain my decision instead of waffling and crumbling. I read other comics now, and the further I get from the Big Two, the easier it is to stay away. The less I indulge, the less I want it.” [4thletter!] […]

  6. If you don’t want to give money directly to DC or Marvel, but you want to read their comics, or watch their films, is it okay to check them out of the public library? My tax money may go to the Big Two, but checking stuff out is free!

  7. @stavner: Do whatever feels right for you.

    @Andy: There is some weirdness, but it’s just part of the game. “I like this thing a lot.” “Oh, I don’t.” “What about ___?” “Nope.” No one’s gotten in my face about it, but if they get mad, they can kick rocks, basically. Life’s too short for somebody to try and convince me to go back to cape comics.

    As far as my stance on the rights issues, that hasn’t changed much, though it’s maybe gotten even more strident as Marvel and DC win lawsuits and abuse their freelancers. There’s clearly something I’m missing, because it seems like treating people like adults and not trying to steal away rights through coercive or dishonest means is the way to be. On a certain level, it’s unfathomable to me. But on another level, I get it: it is better to have money than not have money.

  8. I think a lot of Big 2 comic book have weirdly thin skins about their favorite company/ companies and take any cristcism of Marvel or DC personally.

    There’s such hostility to the idea that DC comics tend toward misogyny or that Marvel really should give more money to Kirby’s family. It reminds me how I might react if someone said I should give money to X or was being anti-Y. Part of it is the internet and relative anonymity, but I’ve heard people talking like that in real life! It astounds me.

    Can people like Marvel & DC comics while still acknowledging the flaws of both companies and their practices? Absolutely, but I respect the fact that you’ve decided not to give them any of your money. I’m glad people haven’t given you a hard time because that seems to happen whenever anyone suggests those greedy freelancers and their good-for-nothing families should be able to make money off things they created because if not for Marvel blah blah blech…