Category Archives: Collecting
Comics collecting tips and tricks by Longbox Graveyard.
Way back in 2011 I saw Thor.
I reacted with Geek Glee, Geek Rage, and Geek Envy.
Chris Hemsworth defied my expectations and was terrific in the lead role — handsome, charismatic, and heroic. Asgard and the Asgardians came off OK, the Destroyer got to blow things up, Loki was sympathetically malevolent, and Anthony Hopkins‘ Odin chewed the scenery. It wasn’t Shakespeare, but I really could not have hoped for a better Thor origin movie.
(Geek Glee! They got it right!)
I read my first Thor comic book a decade before Chris Hemsworth was born. I stuck with the series through some lean creative years, and developed that irrational sense of ownership geeks get over their closely-held secret obsessions.
(Geek Rage! How dare someone else cash in on my discovery!)
When I was twelve, I found my dad’s sculpting hammer and leaped around the overgrown hillside below my house, throwing it at trash heaps and rusty water heaters. I was still enough of a child that I fantasized discovery of an ancient hammer might transform me into a superhero, instead of the aimless and underemployed teen and twenty-something I would later become.
(Geek Envy! I was supposed to be Thor, not this talented Aussie with superior bone structure!)
That’s how old I was in 1974, the year I discovered comics, and fell in love with Thor.
(I kind of liked Green Lantern, too, though after seeing that movie, I think I’ll edit out that part of my past.)
All these characters and more besides came to the screen in the summer of 2011. This was either the apotheosis of my pop culture youth, or a rare moment of perspective on my Möbius-strip path through life.
Thor #227 — my first!
My little lad Jack was eleven. Miles was fourteen. They bracketed my age from the summer of ’74.
In 1974 I lived in Hollywood, California, which was no more glamorous then then it is now. My home in a 1920s-era bungalow on Cahuenga Blvd was up a daunting hill from a newsstand just south of Hollywood Boulevard. World News & Books is still there, and doesn’t look much different than I remember. Maybe they still sell comics, but those comics will be as different from the .25 cent books I bought as a kid as am I from the twelve-year old boy that braved that hill to buy them.
My boys have come and gone from the age I was when I discovered comic books, and they would never have dreamed of hiking a hill to buy comics with their allowance. They still watch comic book movies, but they far prefer video games or binge-streaming Netflix to reading comics or anything else. It troubled me that they refused to embrace my old comic book heroes, denying me the excuse to re-live my youth through them. But despite the boys (thankfully) growing into their own persons, superhero movies are a place where our interests intersect.
We liked Thor — liked it a lot — which was something, because after the first movie trailers, with all the screaming beards and hospital interns being thrown around, I expected the worst. We geeks always expect the worst when our heroes are reimagined for an audience that couldn’t be bothered with them in the first place. We threaten our dignity by letting our geek flag fly for Thor or the X-Men, and we imperil the rosy memories of our past by revisiting the deep affections of youth and remembering who we were, and who we might have been.
in the 1970s, Thor was often at his best in books other than his own
Watching these movies should be a victory lap, but instead it’s an ass-puckering second chance to feel ridiculous for loving comic books. Only now I’m not alone in a dim garage filled with comics longboxes — I’m defenseless in a theater, with my friends, my wife, and my kids. Even as Marvel’s movie franchise has grown to dozens of pictures with unprecedented and worldwide appeal, I still feel a little ridiculous embracing my comics fandom.
My favorite characters from my pivotal summer of ’74 got big movies all at once, validating in that only-money-makes-it-matter fashion that I had good taste as a kid. I stuck with comics, off-and-on, into my late twenties, but largely abandoned them as a fan during my brief career as a comic book writer.
And after coming home from Thor in 2011?
I was either ready to get out of comics once and for all or reawakening to a call long past its final echo.
I didn’t see it coming when I took the boys to Thor, but no sooner had that Sturm and Drang faded from the screen than Jack turned to me and said, “Hey dad, do you have any Thor comics out in the garage?”
Boy, did I.
behold, the Longbox Graveyard!
Longbox Graveyard is about coming to terms with comic books, and trying to enjoy them again. It is my method for examining why I ignored and denied my interest in comics for decades, to the point where I become burdened and a little embarrassed by my Accumulation of books.
My focus is on Marvel and DC books from the Bronze Age (1970-1985), because that “Bronze Age” was the “Golden Age” to me. Longbox Graveyard follows the transformation of my comics Accumulation into a Collection. I purge the books I no longer like, and tell you which books escape the Longbox Graveyard (and why). I write about getting (re)started in comics collecting — building databases, buying and selling back issues, and grading books. And I eventually try to come to terms with my own unsuccessful career as a comics creator.
I welcome your comments. Positive or negative, your participation encourages me to continue this blog.
(And if my nostalgia has you itching to read some comics, please shop through my affiliate link to MyComicShip.com, where your purchases award Longbox Graveyard with trade credit to buy … even more comics! Huzzah!)
NEXT WEEK: #2 The Micronauts!
(Special thanks to Farzad Varahramyan — a legitimate genius and a better friend than I deserve — for creating this blog’s original header art)
Originally published June 22, 2011
Apologies for the long silence here at Longbox Graveyard, and thanks to my readers who have stayed with me through this interruption. I’ve been distracted these past several months with a job search on two continents, and then an international move to accept a new position in Vancouver, B.C., Canada.
my new neighbors
I planned my move like the Mad Thinker, and used this latest change as another opportunity to downsize. I brought precious few of my geeky possessions to my 600 sq. ft. Canadian attic digs. A couple boxes of books, a few games, and no comics at all — digital serves me fine in this regard. I have an old video game console, streaming music, digital subscriptions to HBO and Netflix and Filmstruck, a Kindle full of books to read, an iPad perfect for comics reading … really, I have more entertainment on hand than I could plow through in a lifetime. Plus my landlords offer free cable, so after being unplugged for two years, I’m catching up on hockey.
Longbox Graveyard Canadian HQ
My first month here has been spent riding out the rainy rump end of the winter, and settling in at my new job. There hasn’t been a lot of time to do much more than go to work and tinker with my new apartment. My wonderful wife remained behind in California to stay close to our boys as they finish out with school, so I am a fifty-something bachelor up here, able for the first time in decades to devote myself to work, work, and nothing but work. It’s fine.
But with the skies clearing up and my furniture all bolted together, I’ve gotten the itch to go out a bit. My job is sedentary so any excuse to walk is welcome, and when the sun makes a rare weekend appearance, it is practically a survival imperative to get outdoors and get in some miles. Nerd that I am, thought, this hasn’t meant experiencing Vancouver’s startlingly-close and dramatic wilderness (though I am looking forward to that).
more-or-less the view from my back door
No, when I go for a walk, I go for … a NerdWalk.
My geek life began as a NerdWalker. In the summer of 1974 — my twelfth year, my own personal Golden Age — I walked up and down Hollywood Boulevard, poking into comics shops and record shops and magic shops and used bookstores, sneaking into R-Rated Bruce Lee movies and buying slices of pizza with a wadded-up dollar bill.
I don’t remember the girl (sadly), but I remember that shop!
My first impressions of independence and imagination are indelibly intertwined with dusty magazines, old movie stills, rock & roll posters, and long walks up and down cracked sidewalks, carrying treasures home in paper bags … and I still have many of those treasures, packed away in my California home, things that have stayed with me despite my many purges.
So it should come as no surprise that my pulse stirred a bit when I realized there was a comics shop about a fifteen minute walk from my front door. And that there was a horror memorabilia shop about fifteen minutes past that, with three used book stores along the way. Planning it out on Google Maps promised a moderate three-mile loop would stretch my legs and let me pretend I was twelve years old again.
a bit before my time, but spiritually accurate
What better way to spend a Saturday?
I hit the horror shop first. I was really intrigued by this place — it looked so funky from the curb, a real throwback to the bizarre retail caves of my youth. And the shop was pretty much what I expected. It was smallish inside — not much bigger than a convention booth — and the stock was a little thin. Mostly posters, a few books, a couple games, an odd collection of used books and some handcrafted items. Not so different than a comics shop, with a narrow focus on horror. The guy behind the counter was friendly enough. There was a Boris Karloff poster that I kind of wanted.
But I remembered that I’d walked to the shop, rather than taking the car, and I didn’t want to haul that framed poster back to the house on foot, especially with the stops I still had planned. And even though the prices were reasonable, I wasn’t eager to open my wallet. I’ve moved to Canada to take a job and send money home to pay tuition for my boys. I mean, if anyone could be said to need a Boris Karloff poster, I’m your guy, but even I don’t really need a Boris Karloff poster.
don’t give me that look
I said goodbye and hit those used bookstores.
I had a vague plan of trying to scare up some cheap, classic science fiction and fantasy. Maybe a vintage paperback edition of Frank Herbert’s Dune, or some Fritz Leiber fantasy, or maybe an old Roger Zelazny book — it’s been decades since I read Lord of Light. The stores were well-stocked, and they had plenty from those authors, but nothing that suited my Goldilocks demands — that cover wasn’t quite correct, this series wasn’t exactly what I was looking for … nothing was just right.
either of these would have done
One store had a terrific collection of mystery novels, and I had a nice hardback edition of The Maltese Falcon in my hand for awhile, but I’ve already read that book several times, and the only reason to buy it would have been to perch it on my shelf, where it might offer a fatal distraction from getting out from under Alan Moore’s Jerusalem, which has pinned me under 1300 pages of stop-and-start bedtime reading since the first of the year. I remembered that I’d already hauled three or four books to Canada with me, and that I try to buy only things I will use (and right away at that). Thugs and adventurers from around the world might be willing to kill their mothers for the Maltese Falcon … but sorry, Mr. Hammett, back on the shelf you go.
why the long face, Bogie?
I had high hopes the comic shop would make my NerdWalk worthwhile, but you can already see where this is going, can’t you? The shop was fine — no different than others of the better breed, with plenty of stock, clean, well-lit, a friendly staff. But. You know the but, right? I’m a digital guy and (despite giving it a go recently) I don’t do monthly comics any more. Omnibuses are nice, and all, but they’re expensive, and why did I drop a grand on an iPad Pro if I was going to be buying big reprint books? And etc. and etc.
I came home empty-handed, pleased that I’d stuck to my frugal ways, but a bit depressed with this fresh evidence that whatever it is I’m seeking right now, it isn’t something I’ll find in a shop.
enlightenment — when you least expect it!
So I buckled down and spent another week as a grownup.
I woke up the following Saturday to a surprise — sunlight. It was supposed to rain all weekend, but here was unexpected sun. That the sun was still up when I dragged out of bed well after noon left me no option — I had to get out for a walk. Despite the previous week’s disappointment, I felt the itch to do another NerdWalk. If nothing else, those shops would give me a destination. I needed a haircut, and I remembered a barber next to the horror shop. Plus, I kept thinking about that Boris Karloff poster.
The horror shop improved with reduced expectations. Nothing had changed in the preceding week — I expect I could have come back after a year and found things the same. Actually, though, something had changed. I had changed. I wasn’t comparing everything to Hollywood in the 70s. Now I was just a guy who wasn’t so uptight about spending a nickel and who thought it might be fun to get some art for my apartment, a humble geek pleased to support a local merchant mad enough to make a go of “horror shop owner” as his career.
I remembered that the pleasure of a geek shop isn’t that it is some Aladdin cave of wonders — it is the simple miracle that it exists at all.
I bought Boris.
And Godzilla, too!
The walk home was a little awkward, with those sleeved posters flapping around in the wind, but not too terrible.
I got my miles in. I got some sun. My attic retreat is a bit more nerdy. My NerdWalk expectations are properly calibrated, and now I’m looking forward to walking down for a haircut once a month or so, and dropping by the horror shop to see what strange new temptations have mushroomed up in my absence. Maybe I’ll go back to the comics shop, or give the used bookstores a second chance, and see if anyone has adopted that Maltese Falcon. I think I even saw a place where I could buy pizza by the slice.
All I need is a sleazy movie theater showing Enter The Dragon and I will be twelve years old again. For the length of a NerdWalk, at least.
Thanks for reading! It’s good to get Longbox Graveyard going again. I plan to get back to monthly publication, but stating your plans is a way to hear God laugh.
NEXT MONTH: #167 — Tell A Tale of The Guardians of the Galaxy!
I turned twelve in the summer of 1974, a season that saw my family and I temporarily living in Hollywood, California. I’d spent my childhood to that point in the San Fernando Valley, about a dozen miles north of our new home, and that summer marked the gap between my final year of elementary school, and my first year of junior high school. It would have been a rootless time in any case, caught between schools and on the cusp of adolescence, but moving to Hollywood made my isolation especially acute.
Fortunately, I made plenty of friends that summer. Mostly they were imaginary.
Hollywood Boulevard was my backyard, and I still wonder at the strange lapse of judgment that saw my parents grant me free reign of that place. The Boulevard was a sleazy little strip. Porn shops, record stores, movie theaters, magic shops, toy stores, pizza joints … terrifying from an adult perspective, but the perfect kingdom for a kid too young to register the attention of the pimps and the drug dealers and the bit extras of the freak circus that was Hollywood in the ’70s. I ranged the street between Cahuenga and Highland, sneaking into Bruce Lee movies, or haunting now-vanished treasure caves like the old Cherokee Book Store (with its stacks of Famous Monsters magazines), and Bennett’s Book Store, filled to the brim with movie memorabilia.
It was in places such as these that I met those aforementioned imaginary friends, in the form of comic books that I started buying for the first time that summer. DC Comics were cheaper by a nickel, but Aquaman and the Flash seemed like squares, and I quickly became a loyal Marvel buyer, attracted by characters like the rampaging Hulk, who had broken a wedge into my imagination thanks to an Aurora model kit that I’d completed earlier that year.
my finished version of the kit looked a lot crappier!
It was one issue of Hulk, in particular, that would come to haunt me for decades to follow. In that summer of 1974, I lucked into the comic book equivalent of a winning lottery ticket.
You can argue about their monetary value, but some comic books are undeniably collectable. The first appearances of characters like Superman, Captain America, and Batman — dating from an era before comics were afforded an ounce of popular respect, and pulped in countless wartime paper drives — are legitimately scarce cultural artifacts.
The same cannot be said of comics purpose-published by the millions as ready-made collectibles in the 1990s, but it does sometimes hold true for the 1960s Silver Age of comics, prized for the introduction of books like The Amazing Spider-Man and The Fantastic Four. And trailing that Silver Age, serving as my personal “Golden Age” of comics, was the lesser Bronze Age of comics, known for a wildly experimental and uneven output of four-color superheroes, monsters, and barbarian heroes.
It was also the era when one of Marvel’s last significant original characters made his first comic book appearance.
I knew none of this when I bought my copy of Hulk #181 off the rack. I was just keeping up with the Hulk’s fight against a shaggy super-monster called the Wendigo, and when a scrappy Canadian superhero named “Wolverine” popped up in the last panel of issue #180, then slugged it out with the Hulk in #181, I didn’t know him from Iron Fist, Deathlok, or any other character first introduced that year.
Neither did anyone else, and that’s what makes Hulk #181 one of the most sought-after comics of its era. Marvel had put a little push behind Wolverine, convincing themselves the character would boost Canadian circulation, and trumpeting his appearance in house ads, but his initial appearance was tepid, and it would be months before the Wolverine we know today would claim the spotlight, when he was tapped to join the re-launched X-Men in 1975.
These new X-Men were an instant hit, and the team’s most compelling character was Wolverine, sporting a swagger and a subtely-revamped look that transformed him from the Hulk’s sparring partner into an eventual international superstar. The success of the new X-Men — along with the publication of the first Star Wars comics — has been credited with saving Marvel Comics (and maybe the comics industry as a whole) in the late 1970s.
And I missed it!
In the time between Wolverine’s birth and pop culture apotheosis, I’d moved back to the San Fernando Valley, and was no longer in walking distance of a newsstand. I drifted away from comics for a few months and completely missed the re-birth of the X-Men. Still, when I got back into funnybooks in late 1975, I thought I’d encountered a rare bit of good fortune, because I kept every comic I ever bought … and that original Wolverine appearance might be worth five or even ten bucks! It was like winning the lottery!
There was just one problem. I’d cut up the book to get at its Marvel Value Stamp.
Marvel VALUE Stamps! Has there ever been a more insidiously misnamed gimmick?
Starting in 1974, oversized “stamp” images of Marvel heroes and villains began appearing on Marvel’s letter pages. Each image was numbered, and Marvel offered a little “stamp book” to contain our collections. The stamps were hyped up in Marvel’s editorial pages of the day, and vague promises were made of the great glory and riches that would certainly be showered upon the dedicated fan who collected all one-hundred stamps!
The “stamps,” of course, were worthless, and the whole scheme would become the bane of Bronze Age comics collectors (who have long since learned to never buy a back issue from this era without first checking the letters page). Being a good little Marvel maniac, I sent away for the album and dutifully mutilated fifty of my comic books in pursuit of the stamps. I know this because I still have the album, with my stamps cut out and taped in place.
(Patient Zero for this plague is Stamp #54, featuring Shanna The She-Devil, clipped from my copy of Hulk #181 and still on display in my damnable stamp book).
And thus, in all innocence, was an historic comic I may have one day sold for thousands of dollars reduced to a fraction of its potential value.
But you know … the worst part isn’t that I cut up so many of my comics.
For me, the worst part is that I was so darn careful about doing it.
I didn’t tear out the stamps. If using scissors, I cut into the page at a right-angle, and excerpted only the stamp, doing minimal possible violence to the comic. For a time I even had one of my dad’s straight razors, and cut the stamp directly from the book, inserting a cutting board behind the stamp’s location, creating a little window onto the following page, and producing an effect just slightly less catastrophic than if I’d used the razor on my throat.
There was no reason for me to take such care, except that I wanted to keep my comics as nice as possible. And there was no reason for me to want to keep those books nice, aside from sensing that they were something precious, something that I’d want to keep, something that might someday be valuable. I wasn’t careless, or heedless, or even especially reckless, but in my studious little way, I condemned myself to for the worst of both worlds, shackled to my comics accumulation for decades to come, while at the same time ensuring I could never profit from my collection, because buyers for carved-up Bronze Age Marvels are few and far between.
I still have my copy of Hulk #181, and every time I take it out, I harbor a naive hope that this time the book will have been miraculously healed, or that I’d forgotten it actually eluded my mad, stamp-slashing rampage. It happened just now, when I looked at it to write this article.
I’m sure this ritual will continue until I go to the big longbox in the sky. For all that I fantasize about restoring Hulk #181 with the proper stamp, then getting it graded and clam-shelled and ready for the market, I know I never will. Given the right circumstances, this comic might even be worth a couple hundred bucks …
… but the story is worth far more! I’ve dined out on this tale for years, laughing at how I scissored up the most valuable comic book of the last thirty-five years while simultaneously buying and preserving two copies of Human Fly #1 as an “investment.”
I’ve even come to accept that the ritual sacrifice of this comic made it uniquely my own, bound to me for all time, and thus becoming more personal and important it could ever have been as a complete but accidental treasure. That I destroyed this book, yet kept it, and still think about it, and write about it, makes it precious in ways a professionally graded and preserved copy could never hope to attain.
like the Hulk, I think about this stuff a lot
Only through its desecration did this copy of Hulk #181 become completely mine, a part of my journey through life and collecting, a bridge to my twelve-year-old self in the long-lost summer of 1974, conceiving a life-long love of comics and dutifully collecting his Marvel Value Stamps.
I wouldn’t have it any other way!
(No, I’m not buying it, either. Leaving now to go find that razor).
This column was originally published at The Longbox Project.
NEXT MONTH: #154 Topps Star Wars Card Trader