6 Ways to Read Comic Books for Free (or Almost Free)
I was a big X-Men fan in middle and high school, and for several years, I made my monthly trek to the comic book store to buy all of the new titles in the X-Men universe. And oh, there were a lot of them: Uncanny X-Men, X-Men, X-Force, X-Factor, Excalibur, Cable, Wolverine...plus miniseries following characters like Gambit, Domino, and Rouge.
As I grew older, I stopped reading X-Men; the story lines weren't really grabbing me anymore, but moreover, keeping up with several comic books each month was becoming a rather pricey hobby.
Like most things, comics have only gotten more expensive over time — until recently, the two major comics publishers, Marvel and DC, were both selling individual issues for $3.99. In late 2010, both publishers wised up to the fact that the high cover prices were hurting them, and announced that they would change prices on most titles to $2.99.
Still, $2.99 is too expensive to make me resume monthly comic shop trips. I did, however, start reading comics again in the last few years. One of my friends had recommended Joss Whedon's run writing Astonishing X-Men. I picked up the trade paperbacks on sale at a store that was going out of business, and I was impressed by the sharp, funny take on characters I had loved as a kid, written for a more mature audience. That's when I realized that not only do I still really enjoy reading comic books, but there are plenty of ways to do so that are much cheaper than making those monthly comic-shop pilgrimages.(See also: 5 Ways to Read Free Books on Any Smartphone)
I've detailed a few methods for enjoying free or reduced-price comic books below. One note I will make about most of these methods, however, is that you need to be OK with not be completely up-to-date on story lines. If you can wait until issues are republished as trade paperbacks or are interested in catching up on older titles, though, these ways to read comic books for free will work well for you.
1. Visit the Library
You might be surprised by how many comic books your local library carries. Here in Philadelphia, the Free Library has several graphic novels in its catalog, from classic superhero tales like Alan Moore's Watchmen and the X-Men Dark Phoenix Saga to true-life tales like Maus and The Complete Persepolis to relatively recent titles and collections like Runaways, Scott Pilgrim, and Batman: Year 100.
2. Use Your Computer or Mobile Device
There are so many ways to read comic books for free or cheaply in the digital realm:
- Visit your favorite publisher's website. Marvel has its own digital section, and several publishers including DC and Image offer digital comics through Comixology. Some are free, while others are available for slightly lower than the price of the paper comic.
- Read independent comics. Several independent comic artists and writers publish their work online for free, ranging from newspaper-style comic strips to ever-growing sci-fi tales. The Webcomic List has listings for "over 17,500 online comics" and lets you browse by genre.
- I haven't used it myself, but e-book site WOWIO offers some free comic books for download, as well as a program where their "sponsors hope to earn your business by covering the cost of your books."
- The multi-platform comic-book reader Graphic.ly offers some free comics on its site.
3. Trade in Old Comics
Many comic book shops will accept trade paperbacks or graphic novels that you've already read in exchange for store credit. Note that this doesn't really work for individual issues; unless you have remarkably old or notable comics, it's unlikely that your local comic shop will take them — another reason for you to not buy by-the-issue in the first place.
4. Buy Trades on Sale
The same comic book shops that will buy your used trades also sell them (who would've thought?) for less than the cover price. If you absolutely must get your trades and graphic novels new, keep an eye out for sales at comic book shops, or search for your desired comics on a site like Amazon, which often sells new books for less than their printed price.
5. Celebrate Free Comic Book Day
This is not a long-term solution, but it can be a fun event: The first Saturday in May each year, several comic-book publishers offer specially published Free Comic Book Day comics totally gratis at comic book stores across the country. It's an especially great event for kids.
Not only is borrowing comics from friends free, but it's also a great way to get recommendations for new titles. One of my friends lent me the first five collections of Alan Moore's Saga of the Swamp Thing, a title that I never would have considered reading otherwise, but now love.
Are you a comic-book reader? If so, do you have any other suggestions for reading comics on the cheap?