Though yes, what's going on in this month's Spider-Man may not "matter" in a year or even a month, the emotions of the story (when the story has them), and the subtext of the story (when it has some) don't ever wash away. And due to this "impermanence" in presentation and even form--even a 500 page graphic novel could be read in a few hours--comics, almost more than literature demand return reading. There's a visceral-ness to comics, when they're good especially, as you're just sorta speeding through the pages, maybe not even to "see what happens" but just sorta absorbing the narrative and dialogue and art and everything else through osmosis.
For me, the work of Moebius is like this and is ideal for re-reading. Not even because his stories are usually pretty allegory heavy and cryptic but just because there's a kind of stringing-along that his art and deceptive simplicity creates. What happens exactly in Gardens of Aedena, I couldn't really tell you, but I know how it makes me feel.
Returning to the comic though, time and time again, makes plot and narrative matter even less (I know where it's going) and it's almost a kind of rote reading, like those moments when you're driving and you don't even recall the time or actions between Point A and Point B, just that like, rush of completion. But well, Moebius is an awful example because he's known for being a guy whose work demands return reading--though as I said, not for reasons I cited--and so, here's Jesse, David, and Sammy with some additional thoughts.-brandon
For me, re-reading comics is essential. Something about the way my eyes move from the text to the art, or the way the brain translates the two--they just don’t properly cohabitate. Whenever I encounter a great comic, especially a serialized comic, I read through it fast for plot, generally focusing on text, and then go back and just look at it, panel-to-panel. Nine times out of ten, I noticing something new, like a certain character’s expression or the background detail in a panel. A lot of times these are the details that make or break a work. So, really the second time through is really more like the second half of the first.
Anytime I go back and re-read through a comic later it’s at a considerably slower pace. I already know the plot, so my frenetic "get to the end" mentality is gone. You could stare a panel from Big Guy and Rusty all day or zoom through, absorbing it like the fast-paced adventure comic it is. Or purports to be, that second reading could reveal all kinds of wonders.
This is really only applicable with the best though. The comics I find myself revisiting are my absolute favorites, but especially ones with great art. These are ones that I have the easiest time picking up, because I can just sit down and lose myself in the art and even sometimes flip through, just reading random pages. I think this ability to set your own pace is what makes comics so unique. There are different ways to read the same comic and only way of really capturing these is to go back and take another look.
For me, reading is re-reading. I would almost go so far as to say that you cannot really say that you've read something—I'm talking about all literature here—until you've re-read it at least twice. I think this is especially true for comics and this isn't just because they are relatively quick reading. Obviously with comics you are dealing not just with text, but with images, as well, and your brain processes verbal stimuli differently than it does imagistic stimuli.Sammy:
Beyond that, comics, perhaps even more than other narrative forms, are constructed with elements that tend to commandeer readers' attention—things like plot and action and affective elements—and these often make it difficult for us to look at things analytically, especially on a first read. Thus, it is difficult for readers to see what's really going on in a comic, its sophistication and subtleties, until we read it again and again. I think this might have a lot to do with the reason that mainstream, superhero comics are generally dismissed as being less sophisticated than your garden variety indie "comix."
People tend not re-read things that at first appear quite simple. Thus, many readers might scoff at the idea that, say, Elephantmen is more sophisticated than Maus, when what is really happening is that all of the sophistication of the latter rests on the surface, ready to be mooned over by any half-attentive reader, while in the case of the former, it takes multiple reads to see the actually complex moral world painted on the pages of the comic.
Anyone paying even scant attention to my contributions to this blog of late will recognize that I am in the midst of burgeoning love affair with Japanese comics. Because of the exigencies of the industry in Japan, there are a lot of manga which typify this view of the benefits of re-reading. On the surface, comics drawn by such masters as Osamu Tezuka, Akira Toriyama and Naoki Urasawa embody a simplicity of style that allows the creators to write and draw stories at a pace that would put many of the most prolific American cartoonists to shame. But if readers only read these comics one time, they are likely to miss the almost miraculous sophistication and subtlety buried within the simple designs.
A book that I have found myself turning to again and again since first reading it a few months ago is Hideo Azuma's Disappearance Diary. Azuma's panels are drawn with a simplicity and cartoon-ish-ness that is unusual even for manga. But what has really become apparent to me through my process of re-reading is how Azuma's choice to create a manga with "a positive outlook on life," and thus to remove much of what is usually portrayed as "realism" in addiction memoirs, has resulted in a narrative that conveys more of the emotion, indeed, more of what is "real," in the experience of addiction and recovery.
Part of comics is collecting, for better or worse, and hopefully if you're collecting, you're re-reading and not just letting your white boxes and shelves fill with Marvel Essentials you'll never read and back issues you don't really care about. Re-reading is more than just re-visiting the story, but often the characters and time period, especially with comics, where from month-to-month, some big event is changing the way Batman reacts to certain characters, or even who Batman even is.
Going back in time and reading older event books, especially ones that changed the status quo the way Secret Invasion did, are essential to understanding each detail. Despite strong feelings of hatred towards Brian Michael Bendis (maybe the most legendary tweet-hound) felt amongst most of the comics community for his story arcs reach across the entire 616 Universe, BMB's backlog of books do put together a giant picture. Going back and reading his storylines and picking out small examples of characters "acting funny", or unwarranted malice completes Secret Invasion and also brings together the more recent events of "Dark Reign" and the older "House of M" series. What seemed like just another Marvel event, cool and exciting but purposefully fleeting, has me coming back to it one year later.