Redefining Convenience: Places to Read Comics Besides the Bathroom

Sticking the Bitpass button on your site is all fine and dandy, but if you want me to go buy something from you, you better be real damned good, or able to offer me comics in a convenient manner. It's not convenient to carry my hard drive into the toilet with me for a bit of reading. A graphic novel is. That's why people are willing to shell out for the paper version instead of the pixel version…. Until the day of electronic paper arrives, people won't and shouldn't be willing to pay for things on the web. Pixels are not convenient.

–William George, in a Comixpedia forum discussion on "The End of Free"

In the days before I discovered webcomics, I worked an office job where I generally had at least a couple of hours each day when there simply wasn't anything useful for me to do. Of course, I was still expected to look busy. I couldn't exactly put my feet up and open a book. In fact, when I wanted to read, there was really only one place I could go. And that was – you guessed it – the bathroom. Yes, I confess – I too have spent many hours hiding in the loo with a book.

Personally, I've never been fond of reading in the bathroom. I prefer a good ergonomic chair to a hard toilet seat. I have no soft spot for listening to other people going about their bathroomy business. And the constant mental math involved in balancing "how long will it take me to finish this chapter" against "how long before people start to notice I'm not at my desk" severely diminishes my reading enjoyment. I would have much preferred to read my comics at my desk. And had I been a reader of webcomics, I could easily have done so. If I could have had, for instance, Modern Tales' vast archive of Narbonic at my desk, where I could read it discreetly and for as long as I wanted, it would have freed me from the obligation to do my workplace reading while hiding in the bathroom. Some may argue that webcomics are inconvenient because you can't read them in bathroom – I say, webcomics are more convenient because now you don't have to go to the bathroom in order to read!

The major point that people miss when arguing along the same lines as George is that the bathroom is far from the only place where convenience plays a determining role in choice of reading matter. Clearly, print comics have a lock on the bathroom arena, but there are numerous others, such as at your office, where print comics can't even compete. Here's another example:

My wife and I typically spend the winter holidays on Long Island, where both our families live. This year we traveled by bus, which naturally required that I pack lighter than I would ordinarily be obligated to. The problem this posed is that I like to travel with a good amount of reading material. And books are heavy.

Fortunately, my parents are modern folk, with a computer and cable Internet access, which meant that I had access to as many magazines, newspapers, blogs, and most important, comics as I could want. All the same titles I would have been reading at home, perfectly accessible, and without any need for me to carry a single book down from Boston. That's what I call convenience.

Even at home, webcomics earn big points for being more convenient than print comics. There is a shelf on my bookcase devoted to the temporary storage of my print comics purchases. Every so often, this stack grows too large for the shelf it's on, and I must then sort and relocate this stack. Trades and graphic novels need to be shelved in the appropriate places on my bookcase. I have to sort the periodicals into ones I'm keeping and ones I'm not, and then I must find new homes for the latter. The sheer nuisance of this task results in the same decision every time – the whole stack goes, unsorted, into a box, which then joins the stacks of boxes of unsorted comics that are steadily taking over my basement.

Webcomics, of course, pose no such issue. When I'm done reading Narbonic, I just close the browser window. If I ever want to reread it, it's right there on the Internet. If I don't, then I never have to think about it again. It requires no sorting, relocation, or storage. It requires no work at all. And yet I can read it anywhere I want, without ever needing to pack or carry it, whether I'm at my desk at work or visiting family halfway around the world.

That's a convenience worth paying for.


  1. Excellent points, all, Alex!

    The most comfortable chair in my apartment is my computer chair, so reading online is much more comfy than the toilet. I would have to say the only drawback is that I cannot read while upsidedown. I’m a big fan of upsidedown.

    I also like to read while I eat, and I’m much more likely to get food on a tangible book than on my monitor.

  2. A small editorial comment: In the third paragraph it says “The major point that people miss when arguing along the same lines as Beckerson[…]”, which should probably be changed since he is previously refered as William George.

  3. The book has always been superior to the monitor in my opinion. I recently enjoyed the pleasure of proof reading (for purpose of continuity checking, not spelling I can assure you) a novel friend of mine has completed. At first he gave me a copy of it on disk to read on my computer. Reading off the monitor for long periods of time is tedious and fatiguing. It’s also much more difficult to quickly flip between pages to check for continuity glitches than it is on paper. Plus, I can’t lay stretched out on the chesterfield and read my computer monitor the way I can with a paper book.

    Now I’m not arguing that webcomics arn’t convenient. When all you need is a quick daily or weekly strip it’s a pretty handy format and the strips are free to boot. But if I’m going to be reading through an archive I’d much rather read it in print form than wade through the entire library online.

    There are many other places than the bathroom I prefer to do my reading. On my chesterfield. In my bed. On the bus to Toronto. On the beach. At the park. In a jet flying over the Atlantic. On my back deck.

    Now once we have inexpensive, lightweight paperback-sized computers and free universal wireless global internet access the monitor might be as convenient as the book. But hell, I’m still waiting for my servile fembot maid and my god damned flying car.

  4. Heh. I remember reading YEARS ago an interview with George Pratt where he said webcomics would never take the place of paper comics because you couldn’t roll them and stuck in the pocket to take them wherever you want.

    I don’t know. Maybe the day when you can read a webcomic in the bathroom just like a paper comic may not be all that far away at all!

  5. Certainly, there are times when print is more convenient than webcomics–I’m not arguing otherwise. I’m arguing that convenience depends entirely on the particular situation. While there may be a great many times when print is more convenient, there are just as many when online is more convenient.

  6. While eating — I didn’t even think of that, but it’s an excellent point. Not just for the cleanliness, but also because it’s a lot easier to turn the page one handed with a mouse than with an actual book. With a book, eating while reading usually just ends up with alternation betteen the two.


    Excellent observation, Mr. Zabel!

    That is in fact truly hilarious!!!

  8. Man, that’s awesome!

    You know, I would really love to know if those ads are getting clicks…

  9. What’s next – is he going to change his name to a symbol (╣, maybe)? Prince tried that and eventually went back, so I don’t think it’s gonna work, Willy G!

  10. But are you reading a *webcomic* while you are pooping on those who don’t?

  11. All this talk of toilets and poop! No wonder Google’s confused!!

  12. One of the funniest things about this article is the collection of Google ads auto-selected to display next to it. They’re all ads for toilet seats!!!

    –Joe Zabel

  13. I appreciate those who have accepted my change of name.

    I poop on those who dont

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