I originally wrote this for iTaggit.com back in 2008. It seems to me it’s more relevant than ever, so I thought I’d dust it off as food for thought for budget-minded readers as 2012 approaches.
There are not too many people I know that are not feeling the pinch right now, and have been for the past several years. The price of nearly everything seems to have increased by up to 200 percent or more, and short of space aliens landing and gifting us with a new, working financial system, there’s no reason to think things are going to improve. If you love comics, now is a great time to explore alternative ways of reading comics. Here are six ways you can satisfy your thirst for great comics without cutting into your household budget.
Your Local Library — One of the fastest-growing markets for comics is the library right in your hometown. Librarians talk to each other a lot, and for the past few years they’ve been talking about comics. Now, a visit to your local library may or may not turn up all sorts of graphic novels; mine, for instance, has a sizable manga section as well as great works like The Castaways by Vollmar and Callejo and the entire Sandman collection by Neil Gaiman and company. But they don’t have all the graphic novels I would like to read. What can you do in a situation like that? Luckily, your library is very likely not an island.
Many libraries are part of regional networks that trade books, and that interlibrary loan system opens up your choices to a far vaster array of books than is at first obvious on the shelves of your brick and mortar library. Go online and investigate the options your library makes available to you, or stop in and ask them if they have an interlibrary loan program. If they do, ask how you can access its listings to see what’s available to you. Search for “comics,” “graphic novels,” and of course, run a search for the names of authors whose work you’d like to read.
You’ll also find prose books on the subject of comics, books on how to create your own comics, and DVDs related to the subject as well. You’ll need a library card, of course, but that’s one resource no thinking human being should ever be without. Once you start looking into the options at your local library, and the other libraries they allow you access to, you may never have to spend a dime on comics again!
* Online Comics — Your options for reading comics online are limited only by your tastes and your willingness to experiment with new ways of delivering comics to your brain. Some people will never adjust to reading comics on a computer screen, while others take to the idea like it’s the most natural thing in the world.
Newsarama posted an article on the subject, and a LiveJournal writer posted his gigantic list of free, online comics. That list is far from complete, but it will give you an idea what is out there, and take you months to read all the strips if you choose to do so.
And, I have to mention my favorite online strip, American Elf by James Kochalka; his site has free access to the entire near-decade of his daily diary strips, as well as other features, many of which are free. And if you really dig his stuff and have a couple bucks a month to spare (or 20 bucks a year), it’s all yours along with the comfort of knowing you’re helping one of the internet’s online comics pioneers (and most talented cartoonists, to boot) feed his family.
* Have a Seat — Many bookstores, from big chains like Barnes & Noble to your local independent bookstore, provide a comfy chair and a welcoming environment in which you can relax and browse their wares.
This isn’t entirely for the sake of charity, of course — they know a certain percentage of browsers will succumb either to guilt or heightened interest from perusing an interesting book for a while, and those people are more likely to spend some money from time to time. It costs the stores virtually nothing and increases their bottom line.
Now, don’t be obnoxious about it — browse one or two books, keep them clean and salable, and put them back where you found them when you’re done. And if you can afford it now and then, definitely spend some money in these stores to show them that offering this sort of service is a wise policy that pays off in the long term.
* Friends with Comics Benefits — As if my previous suggestion didn’t make you feel enough like a freeloader, here I go, suggesting you borrow comics from your friends. Face it, some of your friends have better taste in comics than you do, and if you promise to treat their comics right, they just might let you take home some great reading material once in a while.
Of course, it’s only fair that you return the favour and let them borrow a few of your comics. I know the very suggestion fills you with dread and sets a dull buzz going in the base of your skull, but come on, they’re only comics. Share, already!
* Torrential Downpour — Have you explored the comics available through BitTorrent? I don’t mean illegal ones, either. Sure, there are plenty of those to be found if you know where to look, but there are also public domain and creator-approved torrents that you can download and enjoy with a clear conscience. Despite what some archaic organizations might like you to believe, BitTorrent is a great way to share files with your fellow internet users. A great program to use is uTorrent, which doesn’t use much of your computer’s memory and has a boatload of options you can tweak to get your BitTorrent experience the way you want it.
* Sequential Swap — Finally, a great way to get rid of your old, unloved graphic novels and replace them with fascinating new reading material is Sequential Swap. This site puts comics readers all over the globe together and allows them easy access to the trade lists of all the participating members. I’ve done scores of swaps on Sequential Swap over the years, and most everyone on the site is friendly and fun to swap with. You’ll have to pay shipping costs to get your books to your fellow swappers, but in the US if you send by Media Mail, the average graphic novel costs just two or three bucks to send anywhere in the country, a real savings over the 15-25 dollars you’d otherwise have to pay for the graphic novel you’ll receive in return.
Believe me, I’m feeling the pain of this economic paradigm shift, too. I’ve tried every method on this list, and they all work. See which ones match your temperament, interests and resources, and explore the wide world of free comics. Let me know how you make out, and if you have any other tips for free comics reading, feel free to email them to me and I’ll pass them along here on TWC.
— Alan David Doane