Ellis Island

Longbox Graveyard #8

Transforming the Accumulation into a Collection involves hand work. A lot of hand work.

The first step was to triage the twenty-four longboxes in the garage. This was simple meatball surgery … quickly review what I’ve got, and sort into three types of boxes, which collectively comprise my Ellis Island for rediscovered comics:

The Dross Box: Do NOT give me your huddled masses yearning to be free! What the hell was I thinking when I bought these? Here’s where about 2/3rds of my books ended up. Stuff like The New Defenders, Batman and The Outsiders, and other titles best left forgotten. I’ll try to sell or give these away later.

the best Google image search could do for “superheroes & Ellis Island”

The Save Box: Books that I’m keeping, pretty much no matter what. First into this box were things like Judge Dredd, Conan the Barbarian, Master of Kung Fu, and Tomb of Dracula … which probably says something about me. Hmm. Anti-heroes, bad dads, rebellious sons. Sounds about right.

Also going here are books I probably won’t keep, but will try to sell at some point: 300, Dark Knight Returns, Batman: The Killing Joke.

Finally there are a pile of superhero favorites here that I need to look at more closely, as I wish to keep only the best runs of each book (which will probably amount to nothing at all for poor old Hulk, but hope springs eternal). I’ll get ’em sorted eventually, but in the meantime, I can find things a little better than before, and I was able to set aside the Walt Simonson run on Thor for my little guy, Jack. Mission accomplished — finding those books is what set off this whole project.

The Bubble Box: Books where I don’t trust my memory … books I know I liked, but am not sure I still want to keep. Here we’re talking stuff like The Badger (on life support after re-reading the first few issues), Warlock (saved and reviewed HERE), John Carter Warlord of Mars (since reviewed and then happily unloaded on eBay), Elementals, some older Defenders (which also earned a review HERE). and Micronauts (since added to the Save Box, a choice I failed to defend in an earlier post).

The Dross Box I intend to keep closed for awhile. The Bubble Box and the Save Box are where books are parked while awaiting transport off Ellis Island to  … The Collection!

Entering books into The Collection involves a kind of sanctification.

Books are sorted into number order. Old greening bags are thrown away and the books are snugged into new bags and boards. Just handling the books and putting them in new bags is satisfying — in a bag and on a board, the book looks crisp and shiny. Tucking and creasing the bag flap is like a benediction. This book has been Blessed. It will be Kept. It may never be opened again … but it will be kept.

Along the way, some books get read. I’ve already read chunks of Tomb of Dracula and Master of Kung Fu and found ’em pretty good. Bubble Books definitely get read before they are bagged and boarded.

Books are recorded, and a want list is created for issues I need to fill out a run. While I like the online resource and price guide at ComicsPriceGuide.com, I don’t want to be on the hook for a monthly subscription fee to access my data. The free database at Stash My Comics was also very attractive. After some hemming and hawing I settled on the new Mac version of the dedicated comics collecting software from Collectorz.com. It’s overkill for what I need but pretty cool, and it has a slick-if-expensive reader I can use on my iPhone, too.

Books are placed into a clean box, all nicely bagged, boarded, recorded, ordered, (sometimes read), and with their location noted in my database.

It’s been a meandering process but I’m under no deadline and so far I’m enjoying it. That I’ve lost time reading Barry Smith-era Conan is a happy problem to have.

But those Conan books have made me think about this whole project. Do I want to collect original books when better quality trade paperback versions are available?

I want to collect Roy Thomas’ first run on Conan, from issue #1 up through #115. I’ve only got about a third of that run, and rather than fill it out with original issues, I’m picking up the Dark Horse reprints (and you should too!). I already had The Chronicles of Conan volumes 1-4, and filling in volumes 5-14 had the triple advantage of offering the material in an easier-to-read form, with better print quality, and at a lower cost in cash and hassle than filling out the original collection.

These reprints are recolored editions, which will bother some (but not me, I think they look great). More important — does buying trade paperbacks miss the point of collecting?

Original comics have an intrinsic value, regardless of condition, the completeness of the run, or print quality. Just liking the old books is reason enough to keep them. For Conan the Barbarian, I will likely keep what I already have, but make little effort to fill in the gaps (unless I find a discount box treasure trove). In the meantime, I’ll happily enjoy the Dark Horse trades, eventually swapping over to digital when that transition sorts itself out.

Recognizing that original books and trade paperbacks are not an either/or proposition is comforting, and allays some of the angst I felt over buying that Watchmen trade. But the original form of the books are where I want to concentrate. Trade collections are a transitional form and eventually a shelf-full of trade paperbacks is going to look as out-of-date as an 8-Track tape collection. Trades are convenient and something I’ll occasionally buy, but I consider them disposable, outside of some high-end volumes like the very nice Marvel Omnibus series.

dross box trash

Original books will always be precious because of their singular nature.

Unless they’re Dross Box trash. Oy.

NEXT WEDNESDAY: #9 Nemedian Chronicles


About Paul O'Connor

Revelations and retro-reviews from a world where it is always 1978, published every now and then at www.longboxgraveyard.com!

Posted on August 10, 2011, in Collecting and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. Poor Badger… What is he doing on life-support?! The first 32 issues are great fun!


    • Crap art, mostly.

      I wrote comics of my own back then, and had some pretty dodgy art on my own books, so I had a higher tolerance for weak art on other comics, but the years have not been kind to those pencils. Plus the story developed MUCH slower than I’d remembered. Even then I thought the Ham/Badger stories didn’t mix so well — I wanted more Badger in my Badger Comics, and coming back to the series I found my opinion unchanged. I re-read the first four or five and then put them back in the box.

      But life support is better than the Dross Box. I’ll get back around to them eventually. I do still love the concept of the Badger — the crazy real-life superhero in a real world — though that concept has now been pretty thoroughly mined by books like Kick-Ass.


  2. 1) A few of my longboxes look as bad as a few of yours.
    2) You blew by that Ellis Island pic waaaay too quickly. I assume that as I work my way through these entries, I will find an entry (probably entries) analyzing in great depth the glory that were the HOSTESS ADS of the 1970s! Make it so!


    • The same cats that tore heck out of my longboxes also did a number on my long-since-departed vinyl record collection. When I finish the job of processing everything into The Collection I expect to replace those ratty boxes with crisp new ones, or even go whole hog for an Alexandria Codex.

      When you work your way up to August 2012 you’ll start seeing my Super Tuesday columns, which look at old comic book ads. I have considered doing something on the Hostess ads, but I need an original take, as they are pretty well covered on the net (God bless the internet). There was one ad in particular featuring Captain Marvel and Nitro, of all people, that I might cover as it ties into a comic of personal affection (that being the last Jim Starlin Captain Marvel, which you should be reading about shortly as you carve through the blog).


  3. A couple of podcasts I listen to have done dramatic readings of the Hostess Ads, when they appear in an issue being covered, and boy did they bring back memories. But yes, a new original take is important. No doubt that the presence of the ads definitely make the original issues far more fun to read (and the letter columns) than reprint collections.


  4. Slowly working my way through your checklist. 🙂

    I enjoyed this post b/c I have a fascination with detailed accounts of how other people handle storing, organizing and recording their collections (some of my work as an academic studies collection as a cultural practice, plus I am really into my own).

    As for Ellis Island: When I think of Ellis Island and superheroes I think of Cloak & Dagger by the great Bill Mantlo. It was where they were given the drugs that interacted with their latent mutant powers to make them into the (anti-)heroes they would become.


  5. love these articles. should have kept closer tabs on when i culled my boxes as well, would have been fun articles.


    • I need to add an update to this series, now that I’ve finished my culling, and am even buying the odd new back issue here and there. I’m bumping up against a few (a FEW) regrets over some of the stuff I let go. It is hard to cut deep without nicking the bone.


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