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The Accumulation

Longbox Graveyard #3

The 3-D Man.

The Human Fly.

Devil Dinosaur And Moon Boy.

These titles and the word “collection” are rarely found in the same sentence.

These aren’t comics you collect. These are comics you accumulate.

I’m hip-deep in these kinds of books.

A collection — as far as I’m concerned — must be organized, and it must contain things you actually want. If you don’t know what you have, and you can’t find a specific book quickly, then what you have is not a collection. It is an accumulation.

You can guess what I have.

I never threw away a comic book, never sold one. Even the first books I bought in 1974 I took some care to preserve … when I wasn’t cutting them up for Marvel Value Stamps (and a moment of silence, please, as I confess to cutting the stamp from my copy of Incredible Hulk #181). In the 1980s I adopted bags and comic boxes to store my books. I haven’t treated my comics perfectly but neither have I abused them.

What I never really managed to do was index my comic books. I had only a vague idea of what I owned, and trying to find any particular book depended on selecting a random box and getting lucky.

This has led to buying things twice because I can’t find them. Despite owning a full run of the first printing of Watchmen, when I wanted to re-read the series after watching that crappy movie, I bought the collected graphic novel rather than trying to track down my copies of the original books. Likewise when I wanted to re-read my Alan Moore Swamp Things. Knew I had them, didn’t know where — so I bought the trade paperback.

Trades themselves are not such a bad choice in the scheme of things. When digital comics finally come of age I think we’ll look at trades the same way as we do at 8-Track tapes, but there’s nothing wrong with them right now. Trade paperbacks aren’t terribly expensive, and their format might be superior to the original books. This is particularly true for older titles, where condition, print quality, and expense of the originals make tracking down the real deal problematic. For example, I decided to collect the better-looking Dark Horse Chronicles of Conan recolored reprints rather than trying to fill gaps in the run I own.

But for recent books, that were printed on decent paper, and that I damn well know I own … buying trades rather than finding the originals was waving a white flag. And it bothered me.

It also bothered me because I feel possessed by my possessions.

For nearly forty years, I’ve hauled this Longbox Graveyard with me between ten different houses in two countries. The last carry nearly killed me. And it’s not just comics — I’ve also accumulated a huge pile of games, miniature figures, books, and other incomprehensible bullshit.

The problem is this accumulation gives me little joy. Often it’s the opposite — having all these things is oppressive. It reminds me how rooted I am. I want to be a free spirit, walkin’ the earth and sticking it to The Man like Rick Jones!

Instead I look at all the stuff I have but don’t use and feel weighed down by it. I regret money spent on anchors.

I’ve purged books, and games, but never my comics. Partly because I haven’t had ready people or places to take them off my hands, but mostly because my comics are different. A lot of my childhood is wrapped up in those books. I bought each and every one of them with some degree of deliberation. Yes, even Devil Dinosaur (I love King Kirby!)

I’d regret dumping them. But I also regret dragging them around like the hump I must bear.

It’s not as simple as just getting rid of things. My desire to be rid of things is just another desire. I could easily rid myself of everything and find I still feel that I have too much. Recklessly purging my comics before I’ve come to terms with what they mean might be worse than just letting them weigh me down.

The Accumulation represents unfinished business, both personal and professional. “Personal” because I’ve never sorted and counted and categorized and graded my comics, which is something I’ve long wanted to do. “Professional” because my feelings about comics are still wrapped up in unresolved issues about my unsuccessful comics career (with which I will begin coming to grips in next week’s blog).

It’s like all those comics boxes are little tombstones. Not for nothing is this blog called the Longbox Graveyard!

And so I have committed at last to turning the Accumulation into a Collection. A large part of this blog will be about how I sort and rediscover my comics — the books I save, the books I give away, and the books I (hopefully) sell. More to come!

In other news, I was all set to plug my Amazon Longbox Graveyard Store, but since I live in the rogue state of California, I am under some kind of Amazon fatwa at the moment. Regardless of my inability to make pennies on the dollar for the mighty Amazon, I invite you to mouse on over there, where you can purchase copies of some of the things I talk about here on the blog, like those groovy Conan trades I mentioned above.

NEXT WEEK: #4 Null And Void

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About Paul O'Connor

Revelations and retro-reviews from a world where it is always 1978, published once a month or so at www.longboxgraveyard.com!

Posted on July 6, 2011, in Collecting and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 48 Comments.

  1. I’m enjoying your blog. Give 3-D Man some love.

    Like

    • Thanks for reading and commenting, Horace. I hope you will stick around and become a regular.

      The thing about comics is that every book is precious to someone. I mentioned the Human Fly and Devil Dinosaur as books I accumulated rather than collected, and I’ve had people come to their defense, either on line or in person. You just stood up for the 3D Man. In my first draft I had Infinity Inc. in that lead (which I have since elected to keep, at least for awhile). No matter which book you pick as being part of the problem, there will be someone who sees that book as being one of the good ones.

      That’s one of the things that makes this a worthwhile hobby, particularly for collectors. If it was all Superman/Batman/Spider-Man/X-Men … well, where’s the fun in that? Comics are a broad church, they offer a crazy variety of stories and characters (certainly a much broader selection than the narrow focus I have here on DC/Marvel superhero books of the 70s & 80s).

      All of which is a way of saying … when I singled out the 3D Man I knew (hoped?) that someone would tell me that book was a forgotten gem, that I shouldn’t toss it out, that I should give it a read and discover this wonderful thing that I didn’t even know I had.

      Which you just did!

      Thanks for reading! (And I’ll try to give the 3D Man some love … although, aren’t we ALL 3D Men?)

      Like

  2. Hey, Paul.

    I like that you discuss the lower profile titles from the era.

    I remember buying Devil Dinosaur, The Human Fly and the 3-D Man (Marvel Premiere #35) when they hit the newsstand. The 3-D Man still resonates with me. Roy Thomas created (or co-created) some interesting characters. The 3-D Man is one of them. I love his red and green costume. I dig his origin too. Most of the interior art to 3-D Man’s appearances in Marvel Premiere #35-37 by Jim Craig and Dave Hunt is OK. Though I commend them for the great splash page to Marvel Premiere #35. Kirby cover for MP #35. Gil Kane covers for MP #36-37.

    Like

    • Comics were cheap so it was easy to try new things. I remember buying books like Marvel Premiere because I wanted to be part of the “next big thing.” That book did bring us Iron Fist, but also stuff like The Human Torpedo, Woodgod, and the Legion of Monsters (which actually looks kind of cool now that I check out the cover).

      The thing about Marvel books from this era is that they had a minimum quality level that kept them from being truly awful — most Marvel books were part of a monthly churn, neither very good nor very bad, and with the rosy lens of nostalgia a lot of them have actually improved with age.

      Last night I grabbed a couple stacks at random for some Saturday night reading and came away with the original runs of Nova and Ms. Marvel.

      Both are entertaining, earnest books that try very hard and get middling results. The art is second-rate but consistent and clean, the stories clip along at a good pace, the heroes and villains all talk out loud so we know exactly what they are thinking and what they are going to do. Well-crafted but not memorable, these books made up a kind of “middle class” at Marvel that strengthened the whole line, and afforded the brand enough credibility that, sure, you’d pick up the first issue of The Human Fly. Why not? You know it’s not going to be terrible; at worst it will be just like any other Marvel book (decent), and it might be the next great thing.

      I don’t mean to damn with faint praise at all here — running a line as massive as Marvel had in the 1970s and having most of your books hit that “decent but disposable” level is actually a great accomplishment. Today’s books aim for higher artistic standards but when they miss the mark they really go off the rails. Seems like we have a few series that are genuinely extraordinary and a lot of stuff that just doesn’t work at all. There’s no question that the top end writing, art, and print quality of today’s best books is better than the books of my youth, but there’s something to be said for a line where every book cost a quarter and would take you on an entertaining ride, too.

      Like

  3. Well said, Paul.

    Back in the day, the price was right!

    Like

    • Why, when I was a kid, you could get four Marvels for a dollar! (Or five DCs … but who WANTED five DCs in 1974?).

      Don’t mean to turn this into a bitter old man rant (too late!), but as Joseph Stalin said during his brief and undocumented run as Marvel’s Editor-in-Chief, “quantity has a quality all its own.” There was a time when Marvel’s monthly output was entirely disposable — printed on crap paper, pawed and thumbed by a legion of kids before getting crammed back on the spinner rack at 7-11. But the books were cheap and accessible and they moved through a lot of hands, they gave you a chance to sample a lot of characters and find something you could love. In the good old days, we did actually trade books or give them to friends with every expectation they would come back (if they came back at all) with rolled spines and loose staples.

      Comics took a quantum leap in quality when they started selling to the direct market on an non-returnable basis in the 1980s, but we’ve definitely lost something in terms of accessibility … walking into a shop where everything is in a bag and a board and the books all cost three bucks or more just doesn’t compare. And there’s no argument at all that this format has lost generations of kids/new readers.

      We fanboys have gotten the industry we deserve.

      Like

  4. My collection probably topped out once at over 3,000 comics, and I am pleased to say (as is my wife) that I have whittled it down to 1,500, with a few more on the “to be sold eventually” list.

    one way you and I are different is that I spent some time as a CPA before going into the academy, so my books are organized, and I’d guess my records are pretty reflective of what is actually in the longboxes.

    Like

    • I think having a record of what you own — and having your books organized and accessible — is a critical component of remaining master of your possessions. My Accumulation would have felt less burdensome if I’d stayed on top of keeping it organized from the get-go (even with zero attempt at curating it).

      I’m making progress. Since this blog was posted I’ve pretty thoroughly triaged the Accumulation and have at least a rough idea of what is where. I’ve pulled out the thousand or books that I want to be the core of the Collection and gotten them nicely bagged, boarded, and recorded in my Collectorz.com database program.

      I’ve also got some traction on selling of the rest of my books. eBay has proven a catastrophically bad marketplace for my books so I’ve recently started offering them in bulk lots here on the blog, and I’m selling about one box a week. At that rate I should have the Accumulation tamed in a year or so.

      There have been real positive benefits to getting those comics organized and sold off — I no longer feel so overwhelmed by them, and I’ve also come to really enjoy comics again. I’d likely be even further ahead on this project if I hadn’t been so completely side-tracked by exploring Marvel’s Silver Age catalog via my digital subscription … but you’ll see that transition first-hand if you continue to march through Longbox Graveyard in chronological order.

      Thanks again for reading and commenting, Prof, I welcome the opportunity to return to these older (for me) postings.

      Like

  5. I’ve got about two dozen alphabetized longboxes, and a good memory, so I have a general idea of what and where I’ve got, but I feel your pain on the accumulation and inability to let go. I’m really frugal in pretty much every other walk of life and don’t have any cost prohibitive habits like smoking and drinking, but in a way, the money I save from lacking those vices seemingly ALL goes into comics; I spend wayyyy too much.

    I’d never part with my near-complete Uncanny X-Men run (from 100-series end), or my Bendis Daredevil, but I can’t keep up this breakneck spending pace.

    That said, I think trades are GREAT. Easier to read than monthly installments. Easy to file away on a bookshelf. Easy to unload on someone else.

    I’ve embraced Marvel’s digital app insofar as I have entered every code I get form current books. If ever there comes a day when we can trade in old books for their digital counterparts (a great paper shortage in wartime?) I’d gladly get rid of everything else I have, guilt-free.

    The collecting go comics really is catered to a certain type of OCD personality. I can’t fathomo how many books I bought that I DIDN’T LIKE solely to have a “complete run.” Ugh.

    Like

    • Alphabetization proved too great a burden for me. I ended up just packing the books into boxes by title, without too much concern for what went where, and then I have everything indexed via my Collectorz.com iPhone app … so if I want to find the Green Lantern/Green Arrow drug issues reprints from the 1980s I just look it up on my phone, see that is it stored in “Box #3,” and then pull down that box. It was a little bit of an effort to get the system set-up but I value being able to pack the collection by weight and quickly index it, instead of trying to remember which “M” box really contains Marvel Team-Up (and the inevitable shuffle of books from one box to the next, as the line outgrows the available space). It works out.

      I think all we can do is concentrate on a few key lines that matter, or just matter to us. I read the Bendis Daredevil digitally a couple months ago (and will blog about it eventually) — not sure it is something I would collect if I came to it now, but I can see why you’d want to keep it. Increasingly I find I’m shifting to digital, even for books I own in print and can easily find in the Accumulation. I was reading Squadron Supreme on my iPad event though the collected trade paperback was easily at hand (and I sold off the issues themselves at a loss some time ago, figuring I just didn’t need them any more with the stories available in more convenient forms). I suspect it is this kind of chiseling around the edges that will eventually put paid to me entirely as a paper collector, and I would totally support some kind of trade-in for much of my paper in favor of digital (not that we’re likely to see it).

      I, too, stuck with a lot of characters and books just to stay complete with them, mostly in the 1980s … never again, my friend, never again. I’m happy to come to the new hotness years or decades later, and let the market do my curation for me. All I have to do is look at the piles of books I can’t get rid of for the “wisdom” of the other approach.

      Like

      • “I’m happy to come to the new hotness years or decades later, and let the market do my curation for me.”

        I always try telling myself to put down the latest $4 book du jour, that it will be in someone’s online dollar bin in a year, along with the subsequent issues. Sometimes, it works, sometimes not. Nothing screams BUY ME NOW NOW NOW like a new comic to me. The war rages on… Have Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays/enjoyable Tuesday, Paul!

        Like

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