Ask Chris #272: Time To Get Ill, Or What To Read When You’re Stuck In Bed
Q: What comics would you recommend for someone recovering from surgery? Hoping for something fun, easy, pretty episodic. -- @raebeta
A: I'm lucky enough that I've never had to go through an extended recovery from surgery, but I have spent plenty sick days in bed from the usual cold and flu, so I know exactly the kind of thing you're getting at. The thing is, while I always go into a bit of bed rest thinking that I'll use that time to catch up on reading, it never really works out that way.
Then again, that might be because every time I get so much as a mild sniffle, I want to roll myself up into a blanket like a burrito and play Super Mario Bros. 3 until I feel better, a process that's been going on ever since that time I had a sore throat in 1990. For the record, this is the most effective medical treatment that science has devised, and I'd recommend it over chicken soup nine times out of ten.
But even if retro gaming on NyQuil isn't your thing, there's a downside to trying to catch up on comics. If you're having surgery, then odds are pretty good that you're not going to be able to take your entire bookshelf with you, and if you're limited to whatever you can fit into an overnight bag, then comics don't make much sense. Comparatively speaking, comic books have been a terrible choice for recovery reading until recently, and it all comes down to the simple fact that a page of comics takes way less time to read than a page of prose.
A paperback's worth of comics --- even something as thick as one of DC's Showcases or Marvel's Essentials --- is probably only going to keep you occupied for a few hours. A novel of the same size, meanwhile, probably has a day or two in it, giving you a much more efficient use of space. It's tempting to think that you could just take in an Omnibus edition of something like, say, DC One Million, but those things are hard enough to toss around when you're perfectly healthy. It's just not worth it, and really, that's not a failing of the medium. Except, you know, for this one specific instance where it is.
To make matters worse for comics, odds are pretty good that you're reading this on some kind of portable rectangle that's also one WiFi connection away from being able to stream something like four million hours of television right there in your bed, and that's usually a more appealing option. The same muscle relaxers and cold medicines that usually make bed rest a more pleasant experience are also the sort of thing that makes it difficult to keep track of plot points when you're reading, and make it very easy to just lay back and let four seasons of a show about a private detective who is also a succubus just wash over you like a soothing Canadian ocean.
That... that might be a little specific to my own Netflix history there, but you get the idea.
Like I said, though, that's something that changed pretty recently. Those same screens that can stream Canadian fantasy programming are also capable of being loaded up with as many comics as you can shove into your eyes. Having a tablet with access to Comixology or the Viz app or any other digital platform means that you've got plenty to read without having to take up too much space.
Which brings us back around to the original question. You want something that's light and fun, easy to get through, but still entertaining and engaging enough that you'll have fun with it without having to strain too much. And that, believe it or not, is a surprisingly tall order.
My go-to recommendation over the past year, for example, has been to tell anyone who will listen that they need to catch up on Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye, and on the surface, a stay in the hospital seems like the perfect time to catch up on 48 issues of robots goofing off in space.
Really, though, it's a bad choice. For one thing, any of the distractions that come along with surgery or illness are going to make it even harder than usual for a new reader to tell any of those robots apart --- I've been at it for almost a year now and I'm only successful at it 75, 80% of the time --- and that's a frustration that you just don't need.
For another, if you read that comic, you will cry. It's going to happen, and if you're anything like me, it's going to be great, heaving sobs when you hit Chromedome watching Rewind's last message. At best, this is going to get questions from doctors that will be difficult to explain ("This sports car and this hard drive just love each other so much a bloo a bloo a bloo"), and at worst, the sorrow that will wrack your body will tear some stitches. Best to avoid it until you are physically prepared, as you will never be emotionally prepared to read these Transformers comics.
There is, however, an entire genre that can provide you with what you're looking for. If you want fun stories that walk the line between being easy to get into and not too demanding, but that can still keep your interest, something that's episodic enough that you can put it down when you need to and come back to it later, then there's an entire genre of adventure stories that's perfectly suited for what you need: Shonen manga.
And by that, I mainly mean One Punch Man.
Okay, so it doesn't have to be One Punch Man. There are plenty of other books that would probably fit the bill just fine, like One Piece or Hunter X Hunter, which I started reading after a friend of mine described it as being "even more shonen" than Yu Yu Hakusho, a description that proved to be true once I got to the third volume and people were still in a vaguely defined marathon foot race / cooking competition / wildly violent murder spree / series of riddles each more fiendish than the last in order to earn the right to go hunt magical animals. Heck, it doesn't even really have to be fun, since "episodic" and "light" are the perfect descriptions of My Love Story too.
But since One Punch Man is arguably the best superhero comic coming out right now, that's the one I'm going to go recommend the most. I've written about it before, but the main reason it gets the nod here is that it's perfectly suited for a long stay in bed. It's exciting and thrilling, and you genuinely care about the main characters, but it's very straightforward in how it presents itself. Even once it gets past the repeating gag of Saitama's ridiculously strong punches --- something that really never gets old --- and starts branching into the larger world, everything stays right up front. Even when dozens of new characters are introduced, their names tell their whole story, and the important ones are easy to pick out.
Plus, with only eight volumes out right now, it's the perfect length for a (hopefully) brief stay in the hospital. It'll keep you busy for a few days, and the chapters are short enough that you're never too far away from a point where you can stop to take a break, and let werewolf melodrama carry you off to sleep.
So I say load up on manga. Even if you're grabbing it in print, the smaller size makes a bunch of it slightly easier to tote around, and with as much good stuff came out in the past year alone, there's an awful lot out there to get into.
Just, you know, maybe avoid stuff like Black Jack or Monster until you're back on your feet. Get well soon!