A Colloquial Introduction
Posted on August 7, 2013 by Nox
So you went to the movies recently and had a positively epic time at one of the new superhero flicks. Perhaps you own a t-shirt with Wolverine‘s gritted teeth on it or your trusty work coffee mug sports a beguiling Wonder Woman smile. Your coworkers may be oblivious, but you most certainly know that your Superman underwear makes you invincible against evil and, whether they’ve read any of the material or not, everyone knows that Batman is the most badass badass to ever badass. Comic book stories have been infiltrating popular culture since the turn of last century and with the fairly recent legitimization of comic book collecting in the hobby realm, it has become harder and harder for you to leave your local comic book store unexplored.
Okay, so… what the hell is stopping you?
Comic book collecting can be a little intimidating to the newly initiated but it certainly doesn’t have to be. So often people become bogged down with what they think they should be doing. This idea of “should be” collecting consumed newbie comic collectors in the 1990s. Golden Age comic books began selling at auction houses like Christie’s for hundreds of thousands of dollars and suddenly people were thinking that comic books were better investments than retirement funds. The public obsession with first issues and first appearances became rabid. The comic publishers responded with publishing larger and larger numbers of these issues and beginning new books and weird crossovers in order to sell everyone their “limited edition alternate covers”. Then came the ridiculously large world events that engulf every book they are currently publishing, not to mention special limited book lines you have to buy to get the whole story. This is a pit, a dark abyss, which many a collector have fallen into and something of which you should be wary. The result of all this silliness is that the books are ultimately worthless. Not only are there too many copies of all this crap floating around for them to have any real monetary value, but people didn’t buy what they enjoyed they bought what they thought would eventually swell their wallets and now they have boxes upon boxes of comics that they don’t give two shits about.
When starting anything new, one should always begin with the question, “What makes me happy?” That superhero movie you went to, which characters did you identify with? Which ones made you laugh/made you cry/made you think? What superhero cartoon show did you enjoy the hell out of when you were eight years old? Which protagonists are similar enough to your personality that they make it a little easier to be you and which characters are different enough from your standard way of thinking that they make you reassess everything you hold to be true? This is part of the reason I love the old school brick and mortar stores. Sure, I may be able to get something cheaper on line but where else do I get to walk the racks and actually look, touch, and smell the new stuff as well as the old stuff that, once read, may very well become part of the pantheon of archetypes that walks around my subconscious. Also, never underestimate the relationship you develop with your local comic shop people. If you’re a frequent buyer, they become accustomed to your purchasing habits, your likes and dislikes. They’ll hold specific issues for you and make suggestions based on your personality. It’s like when Google collects your search interests for advertisements, but much less creepy and Big Brother-ish.
Now, while I do try to discourage others from collecting for the sole purpose of creating profit, there is nothing wrong with a little educated collecting. Everyone has Holy Grail book(s) they’re looking for in a specific condition for a specific price, and there will be books which you just feel like you absolutely cannot live without owning. Just keep in mind, it isn’t just first issues or first appearances that become the pride and joy of hobby collectors, and you don’t necessarily have to spend the proverbial arm and leg to put together a collection to be proud of. The first appearance of Dr. Strange, for example, is within Strange Tales #110 and an unspoiled copy can easily run into the thousands, but Dr. Strange’s origin story (which I, personally, find much more interesting) doesn’t appear until Strange Tales #115 and can easily be found for less than a thousand. This is obviously significantly less than what some comic books are commanding at auction these days, but it’s still a pretty big chunk of change. The Dr. Strange example was just to illustrate a point though, and in no way am I telling you that you must have thousands of dollars at hand in order to amass a decent collection. It helps, but it’s not necessary.
Well, how the hell do you decide what to purchase?
Did you know that Aquaman isn’t the lamest superhero in the world? Peter David, a comic book writer most worthy of respect, took over the title after scripting a limited series called Aquaman: Time and Tide which was published in 1993. In the volume that followed this limited series, Peter David’s waterlogged hero strays a bit from the usual Aquaman mold. He sports long hair and a bitchin’ beard, loses his left hand which is replaced with a new cybernetic one, and he just goes bat shit crazy. It’s an awesome book and I’m not telling you that you must collect it… but it’s amazing. Peter David is a personal favorite of mine, whose work I stumbled upon at an impressionable age. When I first began reading comics I chose what I purchased based on some fairly limited criteria: I liked strong females, peculiarly elaborate plot lines, and well developed villains. Eventually I started noticing that I was reading and enjoying some of the same authors and artists – something I probably should have noticed much earlier but I’ve never claimed that I was a precocious child. After realizing that I had enjoyed both Peter David’s Aquaman and his Supergirl title, I knew that I could pick up just about anything David was a part of and be extremely happy with what I purchased. Keeping an eye on favorite writers and artists is an excellent, tried and true technique which will help you build a collection of books that you will never get tired of rereading.
No matter what new stuff I pick up at my local shop, I’ve always had to make sure to keep up with my X-men titles and this is partly because I grew up watching the animated series that began airing in 1992. If I had to pinpoint one influence in my personal history that drove me into the arms of comic book fandom, it would most certainly be the 30 minutes once a week that was devoted to this show during some of my most formative years. Even today, when I pick up an older issue of Uncanny X-men, I hear the voice actors from the show as I read the dialog. I love the X-men teams and there is certainly a lot to love, especially if you’re speaking in volume. The original title has been published on and off since 1963 with literally hundreds of issues to its name not to mention all the spin offs like Generation X, X-Factor, and X-Force (my personal favorite) to name a few. That’s a lot of titles and thousands of individual issues, so how do you collect something classic that’s been around for decades and has a ridiculous amount of material to its name? If you have the patience of a Zen master, you might respond with something about the journey being dependent on the collection of each individual step (or issue). I think that’s a load of donkey balls. Buy that stuff in bulk. Keeping older comic books in store can be an expensive ordeal for a comic shop, especially if they aren’t those oh-so-precious issues that have gained in monetary value over the years. This is your chance to wheel and deal with that comic book staff with whom I told you to start building the relationship. If you buy 10 or 20 issues of the old stuff at one time, sometimes they’ll give you a fairly generous discount. This is also where I sell you on the joys of eBay. Find an eBay auctioneer that sells in bulk and you have found an integral piece of your collector network. Look for people that will sell you an entire run of a comic series, or at least a significant chunk of said series, and make sure you’re paying a dollar or less per issue unless it’s something pretty special. If you receive your purchase promptly and it is mostly made up of books with unbent bindings, the color is still crisp, and the pages are unmarked, my friend, bookmark that seller.
Have you been watching Arrow on the WB? I’ve seen a few episodes and it seems to be a pretty good show which I will continue to keep my eye on, but I also highly recommend putting some of the older Green Arrow books on your ‘to read’ list. His origins are within the Golden Age of comics back in 1941 but the character was limited, his sidekick was a boring knock off of Batman’s Robin, and his story lines were extremely stupid. Flash forward to 1969 and we see the great comic artist Neal Adams redesign Green Arrow with a new costume and a sassy blond goatee, which appeared in The Brave and the Bold #85 in 1969. Comic writer Dennis O’Neal, inspired by Adams’ design, reinvented Green Arrow beginning in issue #75 of Justice League of America, giving him a more brooding nature and making him a champion of the underprivileged. It’s in these issues that Green Arrow stopped being a hokey Golden superhero and became the Emerald Archer Robin Hood figure we’ve all come to know and love. If these issues interest you, you may also want to give a look to the Green Lantern/Green Arrow issues from the early to mid-1970s where many of the real world issues of the times found their way into the discussions between Lantern and Arrow. Kevin Smith, of Clerks and Mallrats directing fame, worked with DC and wrote a Green Arrow title for a while, and those issues are also an excellent read. If you find something or someone you like whether in a movie, a TV show, or in a particular title you’ve read, always a dig a little deeper to see if you’ve discovered a gold mine, because you may find a depth in that character from earlier stuff that gives the new stuff a more textured and complex spin.
Well, that’s up to you, my eager little padawan. Go to a comic convention and meet some people with similar interests to your own. It’s a great place to meet the creators, pick up new titles and associated collectibles, and hob nob with people who enjoy the same things you do. Just don’t get ripped off – some of those booths are expensive to run and they will definitely try to extract that expense from you. If you enjoy some denser reading, order a couple of books on the history of comics or the impact of books on popular culture. This can be fascinating, but they can also be trash, so read them with a grain of salt. You could always pick a favorite character and try your hand at costuming or maybe there’s a comic creator standing around somewhere in your imagination and just kicking dirt. Let them out and see what they can do. Who knows, perhaps one day I’ll be including your future work in descriptions of some of my all-time favorites. Above all, just do/read/collect whatever the hell makes you happy and screw anyone who tells you any differently.