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From pulp to pixels (and sometimes back again)

I love comics. But how I read them has changed over the years, from all single issues as a kid to all TPBs in college to all-digital…and then back to single print issues. And now back to digital-only again, but this time for good (I think).

Reflecting on the notion of pulling or subscribing to single issues in this, the fourteenth year of the pandemic, it feels a bit like starting to buy CDs again. Would I start buying CDs again? Nope. There’d be no point.

Everything except the smell and feel of a printed comic, and the implementation of double-width splash pages, works better for me in digital format.

Looking back

From the early 1980s until 2000, I read all of my American comics in print as single issues. In 2000, when Preacher ended, I switched almost entirely to reading TPBs. It wasn’t until 2019 that I started up a pull list again.

That lasted about a year, until the pandemic hit and I fully committed to digital comics in March of 2021. I was subscribed to 12-15 X-Men books every month, and that eventually burned me out; after a break, I came back with a leaner subscription list that stayed steady for a few months. I transitioned back to print in February 2022, when comiXology went from awesome to pretty crappy overnight.

And then in May of this year I realized I just wasn’t going to read single issues in print again. Never say never, of course, but I canceled my pulls and went back to digital-only. Most of my big-two reading these days is older runs on DC Universe Infinite or Marvel Unlimited, and it’s incredibly rare for me buy TPBs anymore.


On the manga front, I was almost exclusively a tankōbon reader from childhood through the end of 2020. Subscribing to Shonen Jump online in 2020 was a seismic shift for me, and I’ve done about 90% of my manga reading digitally ever since. (Series I’m attached to in print for one reason or another make up the other 10%.)


Like music, and then novels, and then movies, as much as I love holding a comic in my hands the convenience of digital options outweighs that love 95% of the time. My eyes aren’t getting any younger, and it’s hard to argue with backlit pages I can read anywhere, zoomed-in as needed, without having to manage, store, and haul around hundreds of pounds of stuff every time we move.

I don’t think my love of print will ever vanish entirely; that connection runs too deep. But nowadays I mostly buy print comics as slabbed books, or intending to send them to CGC, so I can hang them up and enjoy them that way.

Look upon this trend, my creaking RPG shelves, and weep

This reckoning is coming — slowly, but inevitably — for my RPG collection and reading habits as well. I passed the tipping point where my PDF collection outnumbered my print collection years ago, and the amount of time I actually use my print RPG books in play has diminished steadily for the past 5-7 years.

For now, I still buy print RPG books that are special in some way, because they’re gorgeous, out of nostalgia, or because they offer usability advantages in some specific cases (mainly modules, sometimes, or handing books to other people). But I’ve thinned my print RPG collection by 40% over the past couple years, and I don’t miss a single book from the culling.

The intersection of convenience and usability is the ultimate reaper.


Manga bakuhatsu: Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, One-Punch Man, and Assassination Classroom

A recent family outing to Uwajimaya snowballed into a trip to Kinokuniya Bookstore, and that place is trouble — particularly because their manga selection is insane.

I wound up picking up the first Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service (paid link) omnibus and the first volume of One-Punch Man (paid link), and quickly followed those up with the first Assassination Classroom (paid link) collection.

Just look at these covers. They’re glorious! Graphic design for all three of these books is on fucking point.

I’ve been reading manga since I was a teenager, but generally less of it than American comics. These three books have brought me roaring back to it, and I wanted to share some of that joy here. (The only spoilers in this post are revealed in the first few pages of each respective first issue.)

Sound effects and Watchmen

I also want to focus a bit on sound effects, which are so often used poorly in comics. Alan Moore’s Watchmen (paid link) was, I think, the first comic I read that did something I’d been waiting years to see: There are no sound effects in Watchmen.

Watchmen is the comic that made me realize my general annoyance at sound effects was justified, at least most of the time, and it’s an aspect of comics I’ve paid close attention to ever since.

Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service

KCDS is about a group of students and alumni at a Buddhist university who all have talents which relate in some way to the dead, and they use those skills to identify souls trapped in corpses and bring them to peace — usually by taking the body somewhere and righting a wrong in the process. It’s a horror comic, at least in part, so murder and revenge play a big role in many of those corpse deliveries.

Housui Yamazaki’s artwork is stunning, and it’s beautifully matched by Eiji Otsuka’s writing. The whole series is suffused with dark humor, and the characters are weird, believable, and fascinating.

It’s genuinely creepy, and it manages to make what are essentially zombies unnerving. I find myself thinking about things from KCDS long after I’ve put the book down.

KCDS also does something I’ve never encountered before in manga: The dialog is translated into English, but the sound effects are left in Japanese. Each volume has its own page-by-page glossary of sound effects, but it’s not really needed — you can almost always figure out what the sound would be.

I love this approach because it reinforces the story’s tone (many sound effects are creepy), but leaves me to imagine the specifics.

One-Punch Man

One-Punch Man (Saitama) is a superhero who’s so powerful that he can defeat any foe with a single punch, and this bores him to tears. It’s a pure comedy/action blend, with Saitama’s egg-like, low-on-details head nicely contrasting with the rest of the artwork.

Yusuke Marata’s writing is quite funny, and OPM only takes things seriously in order to make fun of how seriously other manga take them. ONE’s approach to drawing Saitama meshes perfectly with how the character is written: He’s often bored, far more excited by a big sale at the grocery store than punching out a hundred foot-tall kaiju, and he doesn’t think about the world like a “normal” superhero would.

The sound effects in OPM are a hoot. It wouldn’t be the same comic without them.

OPM is a good example of a comic that uses written sound effects to reinforce humor, and it works really well.

Assassination Classroom

Just as much a full-bore comedy as OPM, Assassination Classroom is one of those comics you’ll know whether or not to read just based on the premise: An apparently omnipotent alien destroys Earth’s moon, then announces that in one year he’ll disintegrate the Earth itself unless he’s allowed to teach a class of junior high school rejects — and unless they can succeed in assassinating him before the end of the school year.

The alien, Koro Sensei, is a big smiley face atop a multitude of tentacles. He can fly at Mach 20, he’s invulnerable to normal weapons, and he reveals other powers over the course of the series. He also turns out to be a fabulous teacher, making the students — who’ve never been given much of a chance before — feel conflicted about being assigned to kill him.

Yusei Matsui both writes and illustrates AC, and he somehow manages to maintain — and constantly escalate — the ridiculous premise. It’s a hoot.

It also uses sound effects traditionally, which I usually don’t enjoy, but it does so sparingly — and artfully. In AC, I enjoy the sound effects.

In the scene above, Koro Sensei is demonstrating that yes, the special weapons he gave his students can actually harm him, and without the SPLORCH it would veer from over-the-top and funny into darker territory. The scene works so well because of the SPLORCH.

Manga bakuhatsu!

I love all three of the series I’ve written about here. After reading the first volume of each of them, I was hooked. I’ve already devoured all of the One-Punch Man (paid link) trades, I’m working on the third Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service (paid link) omnibus, and all of the other volumes of Assassination Classroom (paid link) are winging their way to me from Amazon.

If you’re in the market for some manga to read, I highly recommend all three of these titles.