This project was supposed to be about organizing and selling comics that have become a personal burden.
Instead I’m buying comics …?
That’s what happens when you enter your comics into a database: you start to notice patterns. The kind of crazy patterns that matter only to paranoid schizophrenics and comic book collectors.
“All I have to collect are issues #84, #94, #95, and #97 and I will have an uninterrupted run of Marvel’s Conan the Barbarian from issues #74 to #115! And if I go back and get #58 – #66 plus #68 – #73 then I will have a complete run from the first appearance of Belit, Queen of the Black Coast, to the conclusion of Roy Thomas‘ first run on the book!”
I set out to catalog and consolidate my comics Accumulation, but as I get organized, I start to see the Collection in terms of negative space. Instead of seeing the books I have, I see the books that aren’t there. And that makes me wonder what it would take to fill in those gaps.
It’s a low priority with Conan. I own only 42 of the 115 books I’d like to collect from that run, and I’m content to own trade paperbacks as reading copies thanks to Dark Horse’s Chronicles of Conan reprints. Even if I found them in a discount box, I’d have to swallow hard before filling in those 73 missing issues. Many of those books are going to cost a good deal more than the two or three dollars I am prepared to pay, as the first twenty-five or so feature the rapidly-maturing talents of a young Barry Windsor-Smith on pencils.
But what about other series I’ve elected to keep?
Twenty-nine more Tomb of Draculas and I’ll have a complete run of Marv Wolfman’s era on the book — just a little less than half the number of Conans I “need.” Early issues of Tomb are pricey for me in the seven-to-ten dollar range, but it’s within shouting distance, and the reading alternatives aren’t as attractive. I have a couple volumes of The Essential Tomb of Dracula on hand, but I think these old Marvels lose a lot without color. Marvel did publish three Omnibus volumes of Tomb of Dracula, but I missed those when they were in print, and the secondary market prices are out of sight. In the last couple years, thanks (I suppose) to the strength of Twilight, Marvel has started to republish Tomb of Dracula in twelve-issue, full-color trades. While the reprint colors look a little too flashy to my eye, they are an attractive alternative to the original books.
I like Tomb, so I’ll remain on the hunt for reasonably-priced back issues.
A series I just completed is the Doug Moench run on Master of Kung Fu. Near as I can tell the series has not been collected (possibly owing to rights issues related to the original Sax Rohmer Fu Manchu pulps on which they were based). Through back-issue purchase I filled in the twenty-nine issues I was missing, and as I am nearly alone in my admiration for this series, I was able to purchase the books for about two dollars each through eBay auctions, Comic-Con, My Comicshop.com, and Midtown Comics.
Buying additional comics when I have approximately 5000 books I’ve yet to catalog is indefensible, but I’ll try.
Part of the reason I feel possessed by my comics Accumulation is that it feels like a bridge half-built to nowhere. I bought a lot of these books when I was a kid, getting them off the rack with pocket change, so there are gaps. Completing those older runs applies a kind of retroactive intentionality to my purchases. In place of a sprawling pile of comics, I’m building up a curated collection, broken into specific runs that have a beginning, middle, and (thankfully) an end.
I am also a consumer (albeit a damn strange one) in a consumer society. I do want to buy comics. I just don’t want to buy modern comics at three dollars a pop. Buying back issues for less than a modern comic scratches my consumerist needs while focusing on completing a cherished collection, rather than grinding through an indifferent stack of new books from a pull list every week.
a few of the hundred-odd back issues I bought at San Diego Comic-Con 2011
It helps to know where to stop. (Irony duly noted.) I have a teetering pile of Micronauts, but I’m keeping only the first twelve issues, stopping when Michael Golden leaves the book (though a recent attack from Mars may alter those plans). My Thor collection is focused on Walt Simonson’s run. My Judge Dredd collection is just the Eagle Comics reprints.
These are distinctions without a difference when looking at this obsession from the outside … but they are welcome guardrails here in my four-color wilderness. A method is emerging from the madness of this comic book project. Plus, for the first time ever, I had a reason to hit the used dealers when I made the annual family outing to San Diego Comic-Con last week. I was armed and ready with my shopping list, looking for bargain Conans and Kung Fu books, Buy Crom!
NEXT WEEK: #7 American Dream