I’ve got a few phrases or concepts of my own that I use all the time to describe certain situations I find myself in over and over. One that I was contemplating tonight has to do with comic books and what I call “The Brooklyn Bridge Effect”. The part that has to do with comic books involves the now standard decision of comic book readers everywhere of whether to buy a comic book in the monthly format or wait until the publisher collects a bunch of the issues in a collected book format.

It’s no small choice to a comic book reader because each way has its benefits and its pitfalls. First of all I like monthly comics. I like going to the comic shop, picking up my regular books, looking over the racks for new comics, and chatting with other collectors. It’s fun. Talking with friends or acquaintances who are reading the same comics as me is one of the good things about monthly comics. We’re all at the same part of the story and we’re all waiting to read what comes next. It’s like a book club where no one can read ahead so everyone is at the same point in the book.

I also like the periodical nature of monthly comics. Waiting for the next issue to come out is part of the fun. At least if the writer makes it part of the fun. Almost all comics used to end with a sort of cliffhanger to try and get everyone to show up next month. Often the cliffhanger was a “Too be continued” interruption in the story but sometimes it was just a “Next Issue” blurb that gave a hint of the next story. Either way if the issue was satisfying I’d be back next month.

These days a lot of that monthly comic book story telling has gone away. Writers are “Writing for the collection”. They know the issues are going to be bound into one volume so they treat that one volume as the thing rather than the monthly issues. This can have the effect of making the monthly issues less interesting to read on a month to month basis. Stories no longer have cliffhangers and instead just stop abruptly. It can be disconcerting. Sometimes things stop so suddenly that I think that a page must be missing. The writer wants the story to read in the collection without the interruption of a monthly demanded ending but that can make the monthly reading of the comic disjointed and unsatisfying. I think a writer can, and some do, strike a nice balance between the monthly and collected read, they’re not necessarily at cross purposes, but a lot of writers find it easier to ignore the monthly reader. I find that can put me off. If the writer doesn’t care about the monthly reader why should I care to buy the monthly comic?

The problem I have with my decision to wait and buy a collection of a comics is that often by the time the collection comes out I’ve forgotten about it. Let’s say I see a comic book that interests me a little. Do I pay three or four dollars to try an issue out or do I wait for a collection of it months in the future that collects five or six issues of it for twenty to thirty dollars? The price is usually about the same per issue but the collected version has no ads and, though I like comic books a lot, is usually a nicely bound book with extra behind the scenes stuff thrown in. As an object the collection is usually a better value than the monthly comics.

If I buy that issue to try it out, like it, but find it’s “Written for the collection” I’m better off just waiting for the collection. Then, of course, buying that one issue has driven up the overall price I’ve spent for the collection. So often if I see a monthly comic that interests me I won’t buy it. I’d rather wait for the collection so I have a better chance to get a whole story in case the comic is “Written for the collection” and not sampling the monthly keeps costs down as a collection is cheaper than a collection plus a sampled issue. The problem with this whole approach is that often I never see the collected version as it comes out months later and even if I do I it might not strike up my interest anymore. Sometimes the whole collection or monthlies make it a pain to try new comics.

So where does the Brooklyn Bridge fit in to all of this? Well, as you approach the Brooklyn Bridge from the Manhattan side on the FDR drive you’ll come to the right hand exit lane. Being that it’s NYC that lane can get backed up. So what people do then is drive as far as they can in the regular lane and then cut into the line of traffic waiting in the exit lane. So this is your choice when trying to go over the Brooklyn Bridge. You can be one of the assholes who breaks the rules and cuts the line or you can be one of the suckers who waits patiently in line. You’re a sucker or an asshole. There is no other choice so pick one.

This choice comes into play when buying comics. You see the monthly comics subsidize the collections. If comics had to survive on just the sales of collections they’d go out of business. The business model is to make profit on the monthlies which means all the work is paid for by the time the collections come out so they can be sold at a lower price than they otherwise would be because a lot of the overhead is covered.

Now there are people who only buy collections. They’ll tell you this as if they’re bragging. I can see why they’re only buying collections because the “Writing for the collection” approach encourages this but they’re also the assholes benefiting from the loyalty of monthly comic readers whom they often distain. Or at least they distain monthly comic reading.

So there is the choice I face when deciding which comics format I want to read. I can be the sucker who pays for monthly comics even though writers don’t care about servicing their monthly readers anymore and knowing that the money I spend will allow some other reader to brag to me about how little money he was able to get the collected version for on Amazon or I can be that asshole who waits for the collected version with the extras with smug superiority.

That’s my choice: sucker or asshole. That’s the Brooklyn Bridge Effect. Comic publishers have got to come up with a better way.