01st Apr2013

Comical Thoughts – Changing The Way I Think About Comics

by Will

comical

While I understand today’s date makes one question everything read, I assure that this is not a joke. This was actually a hard conclusion to come to, as I’ve been dealing with this for the past few months. Anyway, I have decided that the time has come to get rid of the bulk of my comic collection. While the show was a laughing stock of a disaster, there was one thing that I took away from Elyse Luray’s Collection Intervention: it’s important to curate a collection. We live in an age where everyone with a Twitter account thinks they’re a “curator of pop culture” and the like, but it all boils down to the fact that they’ve got certain taste, and what they follow should adhere to that. It’s all too simple for collecting to simply turn into hoarding. I’ve realized that I really haven’t collected in years. Actually, all I was doing was keeping, without any regard to whether or not possession was warranted. Eventually, the “collection” grew to 20 longboxes spread between two houses. I don’t know what I have anymore. All the covers bleed together, and I’ve got no sort of filing system. Long story short, I had about 10,000 books with nothing to really show for it. Something had to change.

629155

Let’s be honest here: none of these things are worth anything. The general rule is that, with a few exceptions, nothing printed in the past 25 years is worth anything. Think of it this way: those comics were printed under the guise of one day being collectible. The books that are worth money hail from an age when comics were a disposable pastime, purchased for a nickel. People abused those books, and few survived, so those that did are worth money. Fast forward to the 80s and the evolution of the “direct market”. Instead of buying Superman at the newsstand, there were now comic shops – whole businesses dedicated to the sale of what was once disposable. It’s like if a network of POG stores had arisen in the early 90s. To keep people coming back, and to promote the longevity of the medium, the collectability of comics was promoted. Instead of the old approach of “you should read this because it’s fun”, comics became “you should buy this because it’s an investment.” Notice how I didn’t say “read” in that last sentence. It didn’t matter if you read them. Hell, reading them actually hurt their value. No, instead you were to buy them, get minimal fingerprints on them, and get them safely into a bag, with a backing board for support. That’s why every first issue released in the late 80s/early 90s had “#1 Collector’s Item Issue” emblazoned next to whatever die-cut/hologram/prismatic/scratch & sniff cover gimmick they were using that month. I’ve admitted it before, but I fell for all of that.

Fast forward to when I worked for Diamond. This was before budget cuts at publishers, so comps were still being sent out. I amassed a ton of books I’d never actually buy from Image, Dynamite Entertainment, and even Marvel. I got all of World War Hulk that way, and I don’t think I’d ever spent money on a Hulk comic at that point. After a while, I wasn’t really collecting things I liked. Instead, I was just keeping things that I kinda loathed. There were series I despised, yet kept buying because I felt more fulfilled by knowing that I had a complete run of the series. What does that mean, really? Honestly, it simply cost me space and sanity. To look at it in real estate terms, the crap books were lowering the property value of the good ones. As I started focusing on Will’s World of Wonder, I had a lot less time for comics. I stopped going to the shop every Wednesday, and when I did buy comics (usually from Barnes & Noble or Books-A-Million for convenience), they sat around, unread for months. The only books that I actually looked forward to getting were the Marvel Ultimate Universe books and Deadpool. Basically, comics just got in the way. As therapeutic as I find bagging & boarding (I do!), the books are just stacked in corners and in steamer trunks. That’s not how things should be.

The_New_52

Then, the reboots happened. First, DC threw out their universe during Flashpoint (written about here), and restarted with The New 52. Yeah, except the books I was reading didn’t change anything. See, DC felt that took much work had been put into the Green Lantern and Batman franchises, so their events basically remained unchanged, yet were now forced into the compressed timeline of this new universe. So, I had to learn a new universe, while also trying to make it work with what I already knew. Ain’t nobody got time for that! I’d been reading the Bat books, but really didn’t enjoy them. People are prepared to give Scott Snyder their firstborn, while I’m simply not impressed by the non-event events he keeps forcing into the book. And I just don’t have it in me to reacquaint myself with characters I knew, yet apparently don’t know anymore. The first DC hero I loved wasn’t Batman, but it was actually Tim Drake’s Robin. My first trade paperback was “Robin: A Hero Reborn”. Now, however, he apparently was never Robin. Great…

456x330

Meanwhile, Marvel hopped aboard the “clean slate” train, and gave us Marvel NOW – most of the books restarting at #1, with “bold, new directions”. Or Marvel just wants the comics to look like the movies. Whatever it is, I’m still in Marvel THEN. I haven’t read any of their gimmicks, from the recent “death” of Peter Parker, to the new flagship team of “Uncanny Avengers”, I just don’t have it in me. Why should I care? Once I get comfortable, they’ll just change everything for the sake of change. It’s like going back to a boyfriend who beats you. They don’t care about me, as long as I hate myself enough to keep giving them $4 (FOUR DOLLARS?!!) per book, per month. Something had to change.

2013-01-02 18.41.01

So, here we are. What am I saying? Well, over the past 6 months, I have offloaded about 2,000 books from the collections via Craigslist. Though it may seem like a drop in the bucket, it’s very freeing. I didn’t make a fortune off of them. In fact, I only got about $0.10 per book. Yup, I ended up getting 1969 retail for $2.99-$3.99 books. But I didn’t care. They were already a sunk cost, especially since they’re non-returnable. There are folks in the area who are getting back into comics, and they love the idea of a cheap, ready-made collection. Sure, the fanboy investor in me still kept a lot of the #1s, but I got rid of a bunch of junk. At the same time, it was more about the redistribution of space. Oddly enough, a 6-issue trade paperback takes up a lot less space than those same 6 issues individually. Plus, the TPB can go on a shelf, while the books have to go in something, taking up space. Also, I’ve always been impressed by people who talk about rereading favorite story arcs and series. Do you know how hard it is to reread comics that are in stacked longboxes, individually bagged and boarded, with scotch tape? There are times I’ve wanted to revisit an old tale, and then end up tired just thinking about all the work it’d take to get to the books. Collected editions are simply easier to read, easier to store, and easier to handle.

2013-01-01 00.57.37

So, I initiated Operation: Trade Up. Over winter break (I love working in education!), I used Christmas and birthday money, as well as whatever was in my Paypal (it’s not “real” money until it’s in a bank account) to find the cheapest trade paperbacks I could find. You see, there were stories that I enjoyed, but just didn’t need to have in their “original” versions. As for condition, trade paperbacks don’t have to be in great shape. They’re, by nature, reprints, so they could be beat to Hell as long as they’re intact. My only qualification was that the spine needed to be intact so that I can easily identify the book on the shelf. Other than that, the cheaper the better. I went through all the boxes, and got rid of everything I felt didn’t really belong in my “collection”. Books that held no special meaning, books I’d gotten for free, incomplete miniseries, and stories that have since been retconned. That’s how I got to the initial 2,000. I say initial because I’m not done. At the end of the day, I’d like to be down to no more than 10 longboxes. Seeing as how they each hold approximately 350 comics, we’re looking at 3,500 comics. That may sound crazy, but it’s not too bad when you remember I’ve been doing this for 20 years. That’s roughly 15 books/month purchased over that 20 year period, which isn’t absurd. And I think I can actually pare it down even further than that.

2013-01-06 17.09.32

Where am I now? Well, as I mentioned above, I’ve gotten rid of about 2100 books, and that’s just since I really started to focus on getting rid of books. I’d been doing 50 here, 100 there for the past 5 years or so. Meanwhile, I’ve foolishly had to repurchase storylines that, in many cases, I’d already purchased. Still, many of them were cheap enough that I had clearly spent more on worse. Just as before, I looked at the venture as an investment, only this time I wasn’t look at them for financial gain. Instead, this was an investment in sanity, space, and order. Over the course of the last 4 months, those 2100 books have been replaced by 112 TPBs. Not all stories were worthy of being rebought, while I’m still seeking a few others. Space isn’t really a concern, as I already have 2 IKEA Billy bookcases, and have the wall space for another, if needed. I think I’m heading in the right direction, even if the whole “rebuying” thing sounds questionable.

2013-01-11 00.29.08

Now, where does that leave me with current books? I’m not really sure. I’ve already soured on most of the new stuff coming out of the publishers, but I think I have the biggest problem with the price point. These things just aren’t worth $4 each. Same gimmicks, same bait & switch. Comics have succeeded in regressing back to being disposable. Lucikily, as I discussed here, I’ve found a cheaper alternative: $1 boxes at hotel shows. They’re recent books, and it’s just a dollar. How many things can you get for that price anymore? So far, I’ve taken advantage of it for the first issues of a lot of Marvel NOW. If I like what I see, I might keep buying. If it’s really great, I may upgrade to the collected edition once it becomes available. As with all things, the future’s unwritten, and always changing, but I think I’ve finally gotten a handle on the past. And that’s a good feeling. I’m done simply amassing, and I’m going to explore what it really means to collect again.