Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Comic Collector's Corner: On the Accumulation of Things and When Your Comics Own You

One benefit of being a state employee is the accumulation of vacation days.  I basically earn enough vacation that "banking" vacation isn't really something I worry about.  Now, finding time to take days off - that's another problem.  But, way back in July or so, I asked my boss for days off in November.

I took a few days before the weekend and two more after.  I spent Day 1 (a) working, anyway, but on my sofa, and (b) realizing I was actually pretty tired, and so I just sat there.  But on Day 2, I got going on the project I was home for - dealing with my comic collection for the first time since the beginning of The Great Culling, a year-long period during which something like 20 boxes, long and short, went out the door and became dispersed into the back-issue bins of Austin Books and Comics.*

Last summer I had some long talks with Stuart about the nature of collecting, aging into a point where you realize you might not need this stuff anymore, etc... all while standing in the middle of the Hollywood Museum in Metropolis, Illinois.  Stuart's a bit ahead of the curve from me on this.  He's got stuff, but he's divested a good chunk of his comics, etc.. which I feel I've made progress on, but it's an imperfect system.

Purchasing far, far fewer comics these days than I used to certainly expedited the process this go-round, but the idea that I had fewer comics to wrangle also made me lazy and sloppy on a day-to-day basis.  I just hadn't managed the loose comics well at all.


this comic may or may not be somewhere in my pile of comics

It would be a great thing to come to comics in the modern era.  So long as Comixology exists, the money you spend means the comic you own is really a flipped bit associated with your user profile somewhere out there in the cloud, granting you access to that digital content.  No bags and boards and boxes.  No figuring out if you remembered to inventory into that online system you pay for.  Most importantly, the piles of comics you regret purchasing wouldn't wind up as something you'd feel you still had to curate and manage (and I do throw some in the recycling.  Don't think I don't.)

After all, when you're trying things out on the regular, you get a lot of detritus in the collection.

I was probably 31 before I had the conversation with my LCS manager back in Phoenix that set me thinking a lot more strategically about actually "collecting" versus hoarding.  At the time, I was most certainly just hoarding as I was in a race to try to "get" all of DC Comics and most of Marvel, buying as many comics as I could afford.


Anyway, the owner was relating to me what he'd told his 11 year old son - focus on just one character.  Just one.  You'll go crazy and/ or bankrupt thinking you can manage it all.  He knew.  He literally had a second house somewhere that he rented one room to a relative, and the rest was filled with comics.

Somehow this "one character" business hadn't occurred to me.  It wasn't about *all* the comics, it was about thoughtful management of a neat collection if you were going to bother with collecting at all.

Unfortunately for me, my character of choice was Superman, a character which has had somewhere upward of 10,000 appearances in comics since appearing in 1938 (that's almost as many as Wolverine had in 1992-93).

Now, I don't buy everything with Superman on the cover, nor every appearance.  I don't worry about every issue of Superboy and Supergirl or other auxillary titles.  It's mostly just Superman and Action Comics for me.  In the New 52, that means I've ignored Batman/ Superman and Superman/ Wonder Woman for the most part, but I've picked up the core titles all along, not really messing too much with variant covers.

That said, I do worry about Pre-COIE Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane comics.   Why?  I have no idea.  It's an illness.  But it's also a containable illness as they aren't making new Silver and Bronze Age Lois and Jimmy (at least in this dimension).

The horse was out of the barn on a couple of other characters, too, of course.  It's true I recently completed my run on Wonder Woman, Vol. 2, the era started by George Perez.  I'd say "that's it!," but I still like Wonder Woman.  Of newer material, I'll be picking up new Wonder Woman in trades (I'm taking a pass on the current run post-Azzarello, but I'll grab Morrison's Wonder Woman: Earth One).  And, I do still pick up some floppies, such as all the issues of Sensation Comics (which was cruelly just canceled).  And of course I'll pick up the Lynda Carteriffic Wonder Woman '77 specials.

And, I'll freely admit to still collecting comics featuring the DC Comics' C-List War Comics character "Enemy Ace", whenever and wherever the character appears (see: recent issues of Justice League United).    It's actually possible, on my budget, to land a copy of every appearance, ever, of Enemy Ace.  And, I'm probably better than 75% of the way there.**

I've moved into trades with my Disney comics (thanks, IDW and Fantagraphics!), and I don't pick up random Kirby-drawn comics like I used to.  The man was just too prolific.

But, yeah.  The Green Lantern comics are all gone, most of my Batman comics went out into the wild (fly, little Bat-comics!  Fly!).  JLA, JSA, Spidey, you name it.  Well, not Cap and Black Panther, but we've gone to trades for those characters. I've still got some Flash floppies.  But countless others I couldn't ever properly account for have gone away.

I'm getting older and creakier, and moving around long boxes isn't exactly a joy, but it's still easy enough. But one day it won't be, so that's something I think about a bit.  I can't be 75 and picking up long boxes and crawling around on the floor monkeying with bags and boards.  Eventually I'll need to figure out how all this works.  I used to be certain something would occur and the whole collection would get dealt with, but in the end it was me just unloading the things.  I suspect that will be true again in the future.

I just hope Jamie doesn't freak out when I move all my Wonder Woman stuff into the guest room. 

I also worry quite a bit about what would happen if I were to suddenly expire.  It's enough that Jamie would have to meet my secret family at the funeral, but then she'd also have a metric shit-ton of Superman comics and toys to deal with.  I mean, who wants to deal with that during a funeral-type situation?

We recently made out our wills, and it's only generally outlined who gets what - nothing specific is mentioned from me, so, nobody hold out hope that you're getting my Flash ring.  But Jamie and I are agreed that if she's still alive when I go, she's to have a party and then folks can go into my office and take an item or two of what they'd like to remember me and my annoying habits by.  So, if you really want a Jimmy Olsen figure, still on card, show up EARLY.  Maybe offer to help Jamie set up.

After that, I dunno.  I'm positive no school or library would want all this stuff.  Who knows if any of it will be worth anything to anyone in the future?

Like I mentioned, Stuart and I were standing in the Hollywood Museum in Metropolis, Illinois, and it did give me more than a few moments of pause.  This was kind of the the best possible outcome for the endless collection of stuff you like.  I mean, the guy was charging five bucks per gander to tour a warehouse he'd crammed with pop culture paraphernalia, from Elvis gear to Elvira to Three Stooges to Westerns.  All stuff I like, myself.  And you had to have a moment where you said "there but for the grace of God go I".  Because, unless that place is meticulously catalogued, and I doubt it was, it was millions of dollars worth of stuff bought off the internet that there was no way in hell he was going to be able to put on an insurance claim.

And, one day, he'd die.  And somebody was going to have to figure out what to do with a wall of Elvis collector plates, an extensive Tomb Raider statuette collection and a life-sized Maria from Metropolis.  And a couple acres more worth of the stuff.

There's joy in the whole collecting business, and you want to enjoy it, but there's truth to the idea that you also can't take it with you.  The wisdom will be in knowing when its time to let it go.  I suppose just about the time they cart me off to the old folks home, a single Superman clutched in my hand, his cape flapping in the wind.




*If you buy a comic from ABC and you notice any fur from a Black Lab in your comic - hey, you've got one my comics!

**So, DC, stop publishing new stuff featuring Enemy Ace so I can wrap it up.

4 comments:

Paul Toohey said...

I think a chunk of content around Green Lantern/Batman didn't make it through the editor...

Ryan Steans said...

Oh, shoot! Thanks! Fixed.

horus kemwer said...

First - the whole "will" thing, very disturbing.

Second, Ennis' "Johnny Red" - up your alley, seriously! Yes, I know the message was, "no more," but for me, if you can find something that justifies it, there is joy in the serial, in waiting for the next installment. That's not the collector mentality, but it's a justification for floppies, and the absurd price, etc. The value of suspense and something to hit you when it happens, something to wait for and wonder about. Not justified for the folk who buy the floppies, but wait to read them til the run is done . . . . (my brother, but he'll never read this).

Ryan Steans said...

well, truthfully, "Johnny Red" came home with me from ABC about a week ago, but I haven't had opportunity to read it. Thanksgiving weekend plans, though.