Category Archives: Collecting
Comics collecting tips and tricks by Longbox Graveyard.
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 — 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
Marvel is doing a big reboot this Fall, relaunching almost their entire line as a series of new #1 issues.
Don’t call it The New 52!
Don’t even call it All-New-All-Different-And-THIS-Time-We-Really-Mean-It … because we know full well that Marvel will reboot these series all over again, time after time, until the market collapses or readers stop reliably buying twice as many comics with a #1 on the cover as they do of those with a #2.
No, there’s really nothing terribly new about this reboot … except that I am jumping on board as a reader! And not just a digital reader, either … I’ve ordered honest-to-gosh paper copies of every upcoming Marvel #1!
mind … blown …!
At least, I’ve ordered those books that I can determine are part of the relaunch!
Marvel really has made this a lot more complicated than it needed to be. Aside from a big announcement this summer about their re-launch, news has kind of been all over the place. (Maybe Marvel still has a hangover from their many Secret Wars delays?) Vexingly, there isn’t a single page at Marvel’s site that lists all the new books and creative teams that form the relaunch. (Boo! Hiss!) Since the summer, some new series have been announced, while previously announced series have yet to be solicited. It’s all a bit of a mess — really, I should be able to push one button online someplace and just get all this stuff.
Near as I can tell, here is the relaunch, with teams and launch dates:
10/07 Invincible Iron Man #1 — Writer: Brian Michael Bendis Artist: David Marquez
10/07 Amazing Spider-Man #1 — Writer: Dan Slott Artist: Giuseppe Camuncoli
10/07 Contest of Champions #1 — Writer: Al Ewing Artist: Paco Medina
10/07 Dr. Strange #1 — Writer: Jason Aaron Artist: Chris Bachalo
10/14 Captain America: Sam Wilson #1 — Writer: Nick Spencer Artist: Daniel Acuña
10/14 Extraordinary X-Men #1 — Writer: Jeff Lemire Artist: Humberto Ramos
10/14 Guardians of the Galaxy #1 — Writer: Brian Michael Bendis Artist: Valerio Schiti
10/14 New Avengers #1 — Writer: Al Ewing Artist: Gerardo Sandoval
10/14 Spider-Gwen #1 — Writer: Jason Latour Artist: Robbi Rodriguez
10/14 Spider-Man 2099 #1 — Writer: Peter David Artist: Will Sliney
10/14 Uncanny Avengers #1 — Writer: Gerry Duggan Artist: Ryan Stegman
10/21 Angela Queen of Hel #1 — Writer: Marguerite Bennett Artists: Kim Jacinto & Stephanie Hans
10/21 Astonishing Ant-Man #1 — Writer: Nick Spencer Artist: Ramon Rosanas
10/21 Karnak #1 — Writer: Warren Ellis Artist: Gerardo Zaffino
10/21 Uncanny Inhumans #1 — Writer: Charles Soule Artist: Steve McNiven
10/28 Blade #1 — Writer: Tom Seeley Artist: Logan Faerber
10/28 Howling Commandos of SHIELD #1 — Writer: Frank Barbiere Artist: Brent Schoonover
10/28 Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #1 — Writer: Ryan North Artist: Erica Henderson
11/04 All-New X-Men #1 — Writer: Dennis Hopeless Artist: Mark Bagley
11/04 Deadpool #1 — Writer: Gerry Duggan Artist: Mike Hawthorn
11/04 Drax #1 — Writer: CM Punk with Cullen Bunn Artist: Ed McGuinness
11/04 Hercules #1 — Writer: Dan Abnett Artist: Luke Ross
11/04 Howard the Duck #1 — Writer: Chip Zdarsky Artist: Joe Quinones
11/04 Nova #1 — Writer: Sean Ryan Artist: Cory Smith
11/04 Vision #1 — Writer: Tom King Artist: Gabriel H. Walta
11/11 All-New All-Different Avengers #1 — Writer: Mark Waid Artists: Adam Kubert & Mahmud Asrar
11/11 All-New Hawkeye #1 — Writer: Jeff Lemire Artist: Ramon Perez
11/11 All-New Wolverine #1 — Writer: Tom Taylor, Artist David Lopez
11/11 Black Knight #1 — Writer: Frank Tieri Artist: Luca Pizzari
11/11 Carnage #1 — Writer: Gerry Conway Artist: Mike Perkins
11/11 Illuminati #1 — Writer: Josh Williamson Artist: Shawn Crystal
11/11 The Ultimates #1 — Writer: Al Ewing Artist: Kenneth Rocafort
11/11 Web-Warriors #1 — Writer: Mike Costa Artist: David Baldeon
11/18 Mighty Thor #1 — Writer: Jason Aaron Artist: Russell Dauterman
11/18 Ms. Marvel #1 — Writer: G. Willow Wilson Artists: Takeshi Miyazawa & Adrian Alphona
11/18 Silk #1 — Writer: Robbie Thompson Artist: Stacey Lee
11/18 Spider-Woman #1 — Writer: Dennis Hopeless Artist: Javier Rodriguez
11/18 Star-Lord #1 — Writer: Sam Humphries Artist: Javier Garron
11/25 Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur #1 — Writers Amy Reeder & Brandon Montclare Artist: Natacha Bustos
11/25 Venom: Space Knight #1 — Writer: Robbie Thompson Artist: Ariel Olivetti
12/02 All-New Inhumans #1 — Writers: Charles Soule and James Asmus Artist: Stefano Caselli.
12/02 Daredevil #1 — Writer: Charles Soule Artist: Ron Garney
12/02 Guardians of Infinity #1 — Writer: Dan Abnett Artist: Carlo Barberi
12/02 Red Wolf #1 — Writer: Nathan Edmondson Artist: Dalibor Talajic
12/02 Totally Awesome Hulk #1 — Writer: Greg Pak Artist: Frank Cho
12/09 Scarlet Witch #1 — Writer: James Robinson Artist: Kevin Wada
12/16 A-Force #1 — Writer: G. Willow Wilson Artist: Jorge Molina
12/16 Squadron Supreme #1 — Writer: James Robinson Artist: Leonard Kirk
12/16 Starbrand and Nightmask #1 — Writer: Greg Weisman Artist: Dominike Stanton
12/16 Weirdworld #1 — Writer: Jason Aaron Artist: Michael Del Mundo
12/23 Patsy Walker, AKA Hellcat! #1 — Writer: Kate Leth Artist: Brittney Williams
TBD Agents of SHIELD #1 — Writer: Marc Guggenheim Artist: Mike Norton
TBD Captain Marvel #1 — Writers: Tara Butters & Michele Fazekas Artist: Kris Anka
TBD Old Man Logan #1 — Writer: Jeff Lemire Artist: Andrea Sorrentino
TBD Spider-Man #1 — Writer: Brian Michael Bendis Artist: Sara Pichelli
12/02 Uncanny X-Men #1 — Writer: Cullen Bunn Artist: Greg Land
Thanks to Billy King for helping me run down many of these creative teams … and a No-Prize to Marvel that I needed to put this list together on my own!
This is the first time in nearly twenty years that I’ve committed to buying comics in a paper/monthly format. Does this mean I’ve given up residence in my beloved year of 1978? Not by a long shot! I’ve no desire to turn into a regular paper comics reader … I just thought it would be fun to jump in and collect all of these first issues. I will certainly blog about them, or maybe resurrect my podcast to do something like our Few 52 show, but after these #1s roll in, I will be back to my dusty longboxes … though I expect I will check back on any series that show promise when they eventually roll onto my Marvel Unlimited Digital subscription.
I am interested in some of these books more than others — mostly on the basis of the talent involved — but I look forward to reading them all with an open heart and an open mind. Once I decided to buy the whole relaunch, it was easy to keep pushing the button, without regard for which books may or may not succeed. It was all my idea, honest. I wasn’t bullied into it! I’m not a victim of marketing!
Really, I’m just looking forward to having a bunch of comics to share with my friends this Fall. Maybe I’ll convince my local comics pals to climb up into a treehouse with me to read them.
More in the weeks and months to come … in the meantime, let me know what you think of my mad plan in the comments section, below!
It’s been a bit of a rough ride for me in real life lately, so when my pal Billy King suggested we spend a part of last Saturday at the Long Beach Comic Con, I leapt at the chance. Two hours on the highway from North County San Diego passed in a blur as Billy and I gabbed about comics the whole way.
We knew we were in for a hot time when we saw the parking sign:
Reminded me of …
The $35 one-day admission I paid at the door felt like about fifteen dollars too much … but it was still fun to be at a comic show, especially one that was easy to get to and to get around in when compared to the madhouse that is San Diego Comic-Con. Just being able to walk-up on the day of the show and buy a ticket without waiting in line was probably worth the price of admission.
The floor wasn’t worth much more than half a day, but I did score a semi-random stack of back issues, and it was a real joy to just kind of follow my nose and buy things I didn’t expect.
Like a stack of Doctor Strange books that I found in an honest-to-gosh dollar box:
These are the good stuff — Gene Colan and Tom Palmer on art, and Steve Englehart at his faux-mystical best. I already had a few Doctor Strange books from this era, and now I suppose I will have to fill in the run and maybe think about a review here at LBG (especially with a movie coming up in the next year or two).
I got Giant-Sized Man-Thing #1, just because my kid giggles like Beavis and Butthead when I say the title:
It’s not a bad story, either — vintage Steve Gerber weirdness, with Man-Thing battling the Golden Brain of the Glob, along with a pack of entropic cultists lead by a hooded villain who bears what surely can’t be an accidental resemblance to Richard Nixon.
Billy found a stack of Kamandis at half off … I told myself I’d buy one if it was that “crazy issue with the bats,” which I previously reviewed (in digital form) here at the blog.
I found an issue from the Claremont/Byrne run of Marvel Team-Up (which I still want to review here eventually):
And I bought Son of Satan because … why not? It’s a book I missed when I was a kid buying these things, and now it seems like the kind of thing that could never get published. I confess I thought this was the character’s first appearance (actually it is the second), but, wow, love this John Romita cover.
I think the most I spent on any of these was about five bucks, and most were less. Stacks up nicely against buying a $4.99 current comic off the rack.
It’s ceased to be a major theme at this blog since culling my collection to move into a smaller house, but being possessed by my possessions is something I’ve written about a lot, and wandering the show today and buying comics anew made me reassess some of those insights. Most interesting was how seeing so many books on sale gave me an inflated sense of what my own comics are worth. There are significant differences in grade, of course, but I saw a lot of books today that I own, or that I recently sold for smallish sums, and of course all those books at the show were marked up to Overstreet and beyond. If I hadn’t experienced such spotty success trying to sell my own collection last year, I might have come away genuinely believing that some of those lesser #1s I had from the 70s — the Godzillas and Devil Dinosaurs and Human Flys — really were worth sixty or seventy or a hundred dollars, instead of the five or ten bucks I scored actually moving them out the door.
my database says I still have this book in my collection … is it really worth $30 in Good condition?
Just seeing so many aspirational books ranged at the dealer booths with their high sticker prices created a kind of echo chamber effect, a self-referencing feedback loop where of course those books are worth a lot of money because every dealer says they are (until you try to sell to them, at least). I wonder how many fans’ perception of the value of their comic books is shaped purely through buying them, without the experience of later trying to sell them without taking a loss?
But no matter. I’m still a reader before I am a collector. And now I’ve got a little stack of new-old comics to read. Life is better now than it was before. Can’t ask for more than that!
In a very real sense, this new year marks the end of the Longbox Graveyard.
Longtime readers will know this blog was founded to keep me on track while I turned my sprawling comics Accumulation into a Collection.
(The difference between the two? Unless you know exactly what you have, and exactly where to find it … you have an Accumulation, not a Collection).
It took a move to drive my comics project across the finish line.
My old Secret Headquarters was great — it even featured a comic book Man Cave — but it was too far out in the boonies for my family and I. We were spending hours and hours on the road each day, driving between home and school and work and appointments, and even when we were home we were too wrung out to enjoy the comforts of my Fortress of Solitude. So we moved closer to the actual center of our lives, in the funky beach town of Encinitas, California.
Here’s a spiffy Mainstreet Association video of our new neighborhood:
But access to all that surf, sun, sand, and flakey hipster living didn’t come cheap. We had to downsize. Man, did we ever have to downsize — from 2300 sq. ft. to 1200. Oh, and we had to give up our three-car garage. That meant that all the impedimenta of a family of four had to be crunched down into 98” x 86” x 46” storage cage in our parking garage. I needed a Tardis!
dimensions of the new garage, taped out on the floor of the old garage
This wasn’t just my comics that need to fit into this space. We’re also talking our camping equipment, holiday decorations, paperwork, family photos, everything. Everything! Our condo is slick and cool and very modern but has little room for anything but our seven bodies (counting three cats) and basic furniture, clothes, and etc. — everything else needed to go into our cage.
I’d been working for years to reduce my Accumulation, but this move kicked my efforts into overdrive. I shipped literally hundreds of packages via eBay over the last two months of 2014, while loads of possessions went to charity (and loads of crap went to the dump!). An additional degree of difficulty resulted from doing all of this over the holidays, and shooting through the eye of the hurricane by moving between Christmas and New Years. Our Christmas celebration lasted about a day, with the tree going up and down like a beach umbrella.
I don’t recommend this.
But this is what we wanted. This isn’t some tale of woe about a family displaced by war or disaster or bankruptcy. My family and I voluntarily entered into this crazy scheme because we really, truly wanted to change our lifestyle … and because we felt increasingly encumbered by all this stuff we were hauling around. And it is that “stuff” that makes our move relevant to this blog.
I’ve written a lot here about owning things, and what it means to own things, the good and the bad of it, and that collector’s impulse to own far more things than a person might ever reasonably use. I’ve talked the talk about shedding possessions — this move made us walk the walk. We gave away three rooms worth of furniture. I sold my obscenely-large television. Over half of my game collection bit the dust, hundreds of comics sold for cover price or less, and multiple long boxes were gifted to friends. We reduced and we reduced and we reduced, and in the end it all fit (sort of):
it fit between the lines …
… and so it fit inside the cage!
What does this mean for the Longbox Graveyard Accumulation? It is now a Collection! From twenty-seven battered and disorganized longboxes when I started this project …
… I am down to seven …
… and two of those are full of books I wrote. The rest contain alphabetized, bagged, boarded, indexed, and curated comics, about a thousand of them, in crisp new longboxes, and all (mostly) stuff I want to keep. Near-complete runs of Captain Marvel, Tomb of Dracula, and Master of Kung Fu; my Steve Gerber Defenders (and the DAK books too); Judge Dredd & Thor. And some unlikely books, too, like Godzilla, and runs of Daredevil, Batman, Swamp Thing, and X-Men that I never reviewed here at Longbox Graveyard (and about which more in a moment).
In making the hard cuts to get down to this core of a comics collection, I kept circling around the aspects of replaceability and intentionality. Was a particular comic easily replaceable, in digital or collected form? If so — and if a particular comic didn’t hold some great emotional appeal, like being a book I bought off the rack for a quarter when I was twelve years old — then that comic was a candidate for reduction. And was I keeping something because I really wanted it, and intended to use it, or was I just keeping something because I didn’t know what else to do with it? If a possession lacked intentionality, I got rid of it.
And there is the most important word of all — possession.
I’ve already written about being possessed by your possessions, but this move cast that abstract notion into stark and three-dimensional relief. You can’t really know how weighed down you are by things until you try to get rid of them. I sold some stuff, sure, but it was a pain in the neck, and not remotely a profit center for me. As much or more of my time was spent arranging for the free disposition of my things — sorting goods into donation and recycling piles, helping friends load bookcases and tables and lamps and desks into rented trucks, hoisting flat screens off walls and awkwardly wrestling them across the floor in makeshift boxes wrapped in blankets. Hauling dozens (dozens!) of boxes of books to the curb. Realizing that I can’t shed art made by my father and my grandfather but understanding I’ll probably have nowhere to display it, either. Selling off lawn furniture, refrigerators, garden tools, and garage shelves for less than twenty cents on the dollar. Heck, I even had too many trash cans!
Possessions. And they mostly come to ruin. Waiting in line at the recycling center to dispose of a van-full of paint, batteries, poisons, and cleaning supplies, I watched a couple workers stacking televisions on a pallet. There must have been twenty sets, in a pile, bound up in a tower by yards of shrink-wrap. One of the guys had one more TV for the stack. He dragged it by the cord, like he was walking a reluctant dog. The screen was face down on the pavement, scraping. As he heaved it atop the pile, I thought that every one of those TV sets was someone’s precious possession, maybe bought on credit and paid for several times over, carefully chosen in a store, delicately maneuvered from the car to a place of prominence in a home, reverently unpacked, and then used to watch Love Boat or Golden Girls or whatever the hell for years and years, before migrating to the kids room for Nintendo games, or getting stuck on a garage shelf for a decade against some half-formed plan to use it again some day, but really in mute acknowledgement that the damn thing was a Possession with a capital “P,” something you no longer needed but couldn’t be rid of, until that inevitable day when a guy in a hazmat suit at a poisonous collection site struck sparks from it by dragging it across an asphalt parking lot to the corpse pile.
imagine TV sets instead of outer space goons and you get the idea
I don’t want Possessions any more. Belongings are fine. But no more Possessions!
I am in a new place, reduced to pretty much only the things I really want to keep (though a few are still available here — help a brother out, and buy them!). I have so little room here that I can’t really get new things, and most of my discretionary funds will be going to restaurants and yogis and levitation lessons or whatever other crazy notions prove part-and-parcel of this off-center California beach town. I’m down on space and pinched for money … but I should have more of that most precious commodity of all — time!
I’m closer to work, now, and the all-consuming labor of this move is largely behind me. I should have more time to read, and think, and discover new things about myself, and also to write and create, and that is where Longbox Graveyard will continue to play a role in my life. This blog has long since transformed from a personal account of me and my collection to a celebration of comics in general. One of the unexpected benefits of starting this blog — second only to meeting new friends and building a community around Longbox Graveyard — has been a reawakened love of comics for their own sake, which has led me to discover new work, and even to start creating new work of my own. Longbox Graveyard has a readership, both here and on Twitter and Instagram, and I think it would be missed if it went away. Certainly I would miss it, and that’s all the reason I really need to keep it going.
To paraphrase Churchill, this isn’t the beginning of the end, but it is the end of the beginning. I probably won’t vapor on and on about collecting any more, but I will still write about my favorite comics, and host guest blogs from outside writers who share my enthusiasms. As the year wears on, I hope to share more about my own creative projects here, most notably 4 Seconds, coming from Thrillbent. I will continue to publish a “numbered” post near the beginning of each month, and pop in here on the remaining Wednesdays with Pinterest Galleries and pin-ups and plugs and other silliness. In the fullness of time, Longbox Graveyard will wind down, and become a graveyard in earnest, like those stacks of televisions that knocked me for a loop … but not yet.
Happy New Year, everyone! Thank you so much for your readership and support. Hug your friends and love your stuff! It’s great to be alive.
IN THREE WEEKS: #142 Days of Future Past