Zen And The Art Of Comic Collecting

 In: Rave > 2001
 Posted: 2001
 Staff: The Editor (E-Mail)
 Staff: Nathan Chattaway (E-Mail)

Of course, I'm a Spider-Man collector, and I will buy anything that has Spider-Man anywhere, including the issue of Avengers which has a one panel cameo of the foot of a Spider-Man statue!

But if the 'absolutely everything' rule doesn't apply, then how do you decide which issues of a comic to collect, and which not. Here is my current dilemma.

I enjoyed Moon Knight Vol.1, and so I sought out and purchased all of the other volumes - the six issue Vol.2, a couple of special editions, a four issue limited series, and then all of the 60 issue of Moon Knight Vol.3.

All neatly filed, and they looked wonderfully complete on my comic list and on my shelves.

But here's the problem. When I sat down to read Marc Spector: Moon Knight (Vol.3), I discovered that from issue #35, Terry Kavanagh comes in as the writer, and makes a frankly awful job which is just too painful to read, even too painful to skim read. That's just my personal opinion, of course, but it's sufficient in this case.

I have limited shelf space, and I feel silly owning books that I will never read. But on the other hand, I have a complete set of five volumes of Moon Knight. Should I rip a brutal gap in an otherwise perfect five volume complete in Near Mint run of comics, just for the sake of saving an inch or two of shelf space? It's not as if I could really sell them for any profit.

This is a run of 26 comics out of 60 - quite a large chunk. But what if it was a run of 10 comics in the middle of a good series, or three bad issues in a title of 400 issues?

I guess I'm really the only one who can set my collecting rules. But I felt the need for some advice, and so I asked a few of my fellow "serious" collectors... Which did they feel was more "pure" - to keep a "pure" solid run, or to keep the collection "pure" by collecting only comics that you perceived as being good?

My friend Nathan Chattaway cut right to the heart of my problem:

You see, now you're mixing up the two disciplines. There's comic COLLECTING and there's comic READING. I know a few people who treat comics pretty much like trading cards or matchbooks or belt buckles or any number of items that people consider "collectable". If you're one of these, then you need to have absolutely every issue in your chosen titles, in the best possible condition. Who is a collector to judge the quality of the intellectual content contained within the glossy covers of each individual collector's item? Simply having the item is the end result.

Comic reading. Ah, now there's a hobby. I love the medium - it's descriptive, exciting, absorbing and escapist. To a pure reader, only the experience of the comic matters, and the books themselves can be falling apart and it matters not. Digests, TPBs and similar are popular among pure readers.

You've attained that Zen-like state of awareness described as a collecting reader. Symptoms of this level being reached are: You love that beautiful smell that wafts upward as you flick through an old comic, you frequently check through your runs to make *sure* you haven't missed one, but secretly for nothing more complex than the simple enjoyment of seeing a beautifully preserved sequence of enjoyable stories spread before you on the table, and you worry about things like breaking runs because there was a bad patch in the stories.

Ahh, Master - you tell me that the twin dragons of reading and collecting each consume the tail of the other. Thus does the comic circle wheel to eternity?

It's not that I didn't want to buy the books - in fact in this case, I already own them. It's not that I haven't really got space, there's plenty of usable attic space, and we were going to put in a second bedroom, but I can always find more room for comic shelves.

I think that it's more of a resentment. Much as I love collecting, I deplore being taken advantage of. Terry Kavanagh Moon Knight joins US$69.99 cover price pre-signed lithographs firmly in that category.

Hey, I'm not suggesting that all Spider-Man comics are well written, but I guess I really want to be able to say "Hey, there's my line in the sand, I collect these because I want to, and because they meet my criteria - not because I'm an addict with no sense of judgment." (Sorry Al. No offense meant!)

There's no right or wrong in it all. It's just what makes me happy. I don't want to own every Marvel comic ever printed. There are comics that appeal to me, and comics that don't. And there's a very grey area in the middle where tough decisions are made.

Of course, Eric sees things differently:

Once upon a time, I tried. I really, really did. I would only get the good parts of runs, and wouldn't pick up the really bad. So my list of everything I have had lines like Spectacular SM 100-136, 143, 158-164, 176-on. etc. But eventually I would come to a footnote somewhere about something that happened in those missing issues, and then I'd be interested in the backstory, terrible though it may be. And I'd have to get them.

Plus, having lines like THOR 177-502 on your list just looks really cool and gives you a wonderful sense of comic-geek accomplishment. So I eventually just tried to stop fighting it and am now going after all super-hero marvels post '74. As I get an actual job and make actual money, I expect that to be pushed back farther. No surrender, no escape. I bet in the long run you'll feel more contented knowing you own it, rather than don't own it.

Oh, and there's always _room_ for more comics. What do you need a "guest" room for, anyway?

Well, Eric, come round and stay some time, and all of a sudden, when I start laying out the stretcher-bed in the kitchen...

But Brother Eric, we can feel your pain, and we know your temptation. I made a very difficult when I made my first cancellation - all three Punisher titles in 1994. I changed my mind back and forth twenty times, driving the guys at the comic shop crazy. I tried to cancel the X-Titles at the same time, but couldn't keep to the decision. (It was a year later, with the death of Xavier and the temporary renaming of the titles that gave me a clean point at which to break for good).

But once I did it, and got through the first few months, I felt great! As the number of X-Titles bloated even further, I felt like a huge weight had been lifted. I was only buying the comics I really wanted to buy.

I guess I just can't handle an open-ended addiction centred around the unending acquisition of stuff. I need to know that I control the boundaries of my hobby, and that quality is one of those boundaries.

Of course, when it comes to quality, I appreciate the quality of an original Silver Age VF copy of Lee/Ditko number whatever (there's no TPBs in my collection, thanks Nate!) And I appreciate the quality of a painstakingly collected run of NM issues purchased from fifteen different dealers scattered around the world.

Hey, I'd love to know how other people feel about their collecting habits. I think I'll set up one of those on-line mini-quiz thingeys on the main page. Look for it in the coming week...

 In: Rave > 2001
 Posted: 2001
 Staff: The Editor (E-Mail)
 Staff: Nathan Chattaway (E-Mail)