The concept of delayed gratification seems an antiquated idea from a former decade, but it’s something that comics are uniquely placed to provide us, and they’re all the better for it. They also perfectly span technologies. They are digitally and immediately available everywhere, yet you still have to wait a month for the next issue to be drawn, inked and colored by hand.
You can, of course, binge issues previously released, but if you’re reading a title as the single issues are released you have a month to wait; even TV shows (which take many more man-hours to create per episode) come out weekly. Comics enforce a delay on people like no other medium, and with this greater delay comes greater engagement. To draw on personal experience for an example of this, I’ve had this greater engagement with Nick Spencer and Joe Eisma‘s Morning Glories.
Morning Glories is set in a prestigious prep school where, once enrolled, students are unable to escape. The faculty torture and murder students in their relentless pursuit of some unknown supernatural or scientific goal; Morning Glories is ‘Runaways meet Lost’. The first 40 issues have covered, at a breathtaking pace, time travel, altered realities, religious conspiracy, mind control, family, loyalty, paternal loss and astral projection, to touch on just a few of the themes. Morning Glories is pretty deep.
I picked up the first trade paperback of Morning Glories thanks to a handwritten ‘Staff Recommended’ in Harvard Bookstore. After that I tore through the next four trades and, once caught up, started reading the single issues. And that’s when things got really interesting.
Being forced to read each new arc slowly meant I re-read and analysed every panel. Events in each issue are discussed and given context a Morning Glories Academy Study Hall, something I would have only skimmed while reading the trades even if I’d known about it. I was now taking time to consider the philosophy and physics driving the plot; the anticipation and speculation became an intrinsic part of the medium.
Issue #40 included a lecture on quanta theory and the various paradox involved; the question of ‘What is reality?’ raised the question of whether multiple parallel universes mean we exist in just one reality or all of them. The issue was an enlightening insight into what may truly be happening at the academy, and it was only though having four weeks to wait until the next issue that I was able to think over these concepts and analyse how they applied to what had happened previously.
Technology allows us immediate access to the new, but comics have adopted that immediacy while still manage to balance it with the slower pace of the creative process.