Probably the most common question people ask me when they find out I have an extensive comic book collection is “how much is your collection worth?” I couldn’t say. I’m obviously well aware of how much I could get for some of the “big” issues I own, but as I mentioned last week, the vast bulk of my collection consists of run-of-the-mill issues that retail for pennies on the dollar. Plus, figuring out the sum total of a collection’s worth is usually indicative of a desire to sell something – why else do you need to know its worth unless you’re going to crash a dinner party bragging about the endless amount of riches you have with your comics. I tried that recently with someone who worked in high-finance and I don’t think it really impressed anyone.
What I usually tell people is I have no intention of selling my collection. In a perfect “Cats in the Cradle” kind-of way, I dream of passing my collection on to my first-born, though the idea of my child then turning around and selling my collection after I spent so many years keeping it in-tact breaks my heart – so maybe the solution is to just for me to be buried with the collection. That last part is a joke, though writing it out has now at least planted the seed.
Maybe I’m idealizing my collection. Maybe I should be more like Anthony Falcone, who recently wrote on Comic Book Daily why “you” should sell your comic book collection. For Falcone, it was because his collection had gotten too big and he was running out of room in his home and he found he wasn’t reading his collection enough to justify their existence:
There isn’t enough time in the world to re-read everything you own. And if you aren’t enjoying it why do you have it? If you have a small collection you can re-read and re-enjoy continually, but a larger collection is prohibitive for such scholarly pursuits.
Maybe some of you have a collector’s mentality. Okay, I’m fine with that, but then sell your 20 boxes and buy 1 great copy of AF #15, Batman #1, FF#12, or whatever. Collect the best that is out there and let the rest go. Bring your boxes to your local comic shop; they will find a good home for them. However, don’t expect to get guide for your collection.
As you might have guessed, I respectfully disagree with Falcone’s premise. Maybe I don’t have a leg to stand on in this fight because I’ve done a pretty good job at limiting my collection to Amazing Spider-Man and a few other Spider-Man books, along with a minimum number of graphic novels and trade paperbacks. I don’t have to compete with 30+ boxes of comics overwhelming my apartment. And even if my collection expands to other Spidey titles once my Amazing Spider-Man chase comes to an end, I can’t imagine there being a scenario where I amass quite that many comics. But I still disagree with Falcone.
I’ve always had a “collector’s mentality” and not just about comic books. Someone once asked if there was a collector’s gene. There may be something to that. Because for me, collecting is as much about obsession and sense memory as it is enjoyment. When I was younger, I always needed to buy postcards from everywhere I visited, not so I could send them out, but so I could stuff them in a photo album. Keep in mind that I was so obsessed with my collection, I would buy postcards just of states I was passing through at a rest stop. So even though my vacation was to Boston, I’d be sure to grab postcards featuring Hartford, because, hey, it was something different and it was “technically” a place I visited, even if it was just to use the bathroom.
So, using Falcone’s logic, what was the point of my postcard collection? Shouldn’t I just be buying postcards of places where I was vacationing? And really, why am I collecting postcards in the first place when they’re designed to be mailed out to people? And of course, the ultimate kicker – here’s a collection that was totally worthless.
But I like to think for some collectors – like me – there’s more to it than practicality and value. Comic books are designed to be read, and yes I’ve read the vast bulk of the comic books I’ve collected (and plan to read those I haven’t), but I don’t think comics are something you need to continually reread with any frequency (or at all) to justify their long-term existence in your life. Sometimes, a comic book means more than just what Spider-Man accomplished in a specific issue.
People thought I was crazy when I’d buy a postcard of some random state or town we were passing through on the way to our destination, but if I’m ever in a mood to reflect on my life, I can pick up that old album of postcards, see the Hartford one and remember that details of my travels that otherwise would have been forgotten. Years later, I did get to see Hartford quite a bit when I was working in Connecticut, but as a 9-year-old, it was like some kind of foreign land that took hours to get through. And that postcard is my connection to that memory.
Every one of my comic books is a connection to my past. I can remember the circumstances behind the purchase of almost every comic I own, and in the cases where I don’t remember, or where the story behind the story simply isn’t all that exciting, I still can come up with some kind of personal memory that links my life with that comic. When did that comic originally come out and what was I doing with my life? Who’s on the cover and what kind of memory does thinking about that character inspire? Sometimes, the personal connection evolves or changes due to real-world events.
Maybe this approach to a collection is just a little bit too Proustian, but it’s the primary reason I can’t just sell my collection and be done with it. Falcone says after much debate, when he finally did the deed, the feeling was “freeing,” but I can’t imagine feeling anything but regret. You spend a lifetime getting these little trinkets. To turn around and cut them from your life would be emotionally painful for me. Plus, I would know somewhere out there, someone owns “my” comic book.
It brings me to one of my favorite monologues from one of my favorite movies, Sideways. In the scene, Maya talks about why she loves wine so much, and her sensitivity is just beautiful:
No, but I do like to think about the life of wine, how it’s a living thing. I like to think about what was going on the year the grapes were growing, how the sun was shining that summer or if it rained…what the weather was like. I think about all those people who tended and picked the grapes, and if it’s an old wine, how many of them must be dead by now. I love how wine continues to evolve, how every time I open a bottle it’s going to taste different than if I had opened it on any other day. Because a bottle of wine is actually alive—it’s constantly evolving and gaining complexity.
A comic book collection (or any collection) is very much the same. As each day passes, it’s constantly changing. Maybe you add a few issues. The issues you already own are getting older. There are issues on their way, either by mail or after you make a weekly visit to the comic book shop. Your collection is unique to you. Unless you sell the whole thing in one lump, no one has the same collection you do. If/When I succeed in collecting every issue of Amazing Spider-Man, even though there are plenty of other people out there who have a complete run of ASM, no one has the exact run of comics that I own. Some have seen better days. Some are pristine. Some remind me of my childhood. Some remind me of someone else’s childhood. This comic book has someone’s name written on it on the inside cover. This comic book was purchased at a newsstand, or in a bookstore, or at a tobacco shop, or at a garage sale.
The variables go on and on. For some of us, the collection becomes a part of us. Selling it is like selling a piece of ourselves. Sure, there are always some extreme circumstances where you need to be pragmatic and logical and either make the money you need, or free up the physical space you need to free up, but otherwise, I say you have to preserve these reminders of yourself and your life. Because what are we without our memories?