About a week ago, I received my first vinyl in a long time in the post thanks to a good friend of mine. It was an LP of one of my favorite albums, The Verve’s “Urban Hymns” (the album that has, in my humble opinion, the finest album-opening duo of songs in the last 20 years with the one-two punch of “Bittersweet Symphony” and “Sonnet”). I had recently rekindled my love of mid-90s Britpop (a cyclical occurrence taking place at least twice a year), and the timing of this album arriving couldn’t have been better.
While I’m working on my book, the idea of possession and ownership of media has been popping in and out of my head. A large part of the book (the latter half) is about the future of comics storytelling, and digital comics, of course, play a large part in that future. But it got me to thinking — why don’t we cherish the media we absorb anymore? Where has that tactile love gone?
I became addicted to comics partly because of the ritual of purchasing one. Picking one up off the squeaky spinner rack at a Rite Aid in Millersburg was a transformative experience for my pre-pubescent mind. Flipping through the pages was a journey of discovery. Perhaps it’s age seeping in. Perhaps I’ve become too accustomed to moving quickly, as the world picks up its own pace to the detriment of all. Now, the act of reading a comic feels less like reading a story and more like reading a marketing tool for the next issue or inevitable trade paperback collection. It feels as though media has become anticipatory (instead of participatory) — baiting us along for that one great thing that may never come. It doesn’t foster discovery, it fosters force-feeding.
Media that speaks to us also encourages us to discover it. When I dropped out of college, I believed initially that it was because my heart wasn’t in my chosen career path at the time. In retrospect, I think it was that school had made learning a chore instead of a journey of discovery. Since leaving, I’ve found myself addicted to self-education, learning little bits of everything wherever I get the chance.
I think it’s that lack of discovery that has eliminated the tactile joy of media ownership. It’s a joyless, utilitarian thing. DVDs are nothing more than expensive coasters. CDs, even more worthless than a beer-stained, gerbil-eaten coaster. Glossy-paged comic books? As glossy and lifeless as a botoxed forehead. I miss the days of pulpy, edgy paper. I like that feel, that little bit of grit under your fingers as you turn the page. Why does everything have to be so damn glossy? Why does everything have to feel the same? The last time I was truly excited about a comic book series was DC’s Wednesday Comics with its fun, exciting layout and newspaper paper grit. It was sexy.
I’m not saying I won’t download digitally. I will, and I love the convenience. But when it comes to albums that I really dig, I’ll shell out for the vinyl. Tom Waits’s Bad As Me. Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds. And sure, I’ll download books for reading on my iPod. I love having a copy of Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind at hand. But when I buy physical books? I’ll take beautiful hardbacks (I just picked up Haruki Marukami’s 1Q84, and it’s one of the most beautifully designed hardcovers I’ve ever seen). Want light reading? I’ll go to used book stores and buy vintage crime paperbacks. Those have character.
There’s a sexiness to media that’s been lost. Vinyl is sexy. Pulpy, gritty paper is sexy. It fills you with a desire to discover it, to touch it, to stop what you’re doing and listen to the music contained in its grooves or turn the pages with an appreciation for what has come before.