How Not To Get Rich Reading Comics

An acquaintance said to me several weeks ago, “Oh, I didn’t know you collect comics,” to which I responded, “I don’t. I read them.” I sheepishly apologized for being a smart ass, but underneath the sass the sentiment was sincere.

I went on an organizing spree before we left for Pittsburgh for the holidays and attempted to catalog all of my comic books. In hindsight this was a laughable endeavor; I neither finished the job itself nor got to a reasonable stopping point that would be useful to pick up from next time. Instead, I spent a number of late night hours making stacks of favorite titles, building spreadsheets and reminiscing about reading comics in the early 90s.

(No one has ever said that before.)

But I’ve never considered myself a collector. How could I be? I started reading regularly when I was eleven or twelve – old enough to make my own choices about titles, but young enough to be clueless about the industry as a whole. I got hooked on characters (I still do) rather than creators, although the Rob Liefeld influence was impossible to escape in those years.

I bounced from Marvel to Image and back again, dabbled with Vertigo but never mainstream DC books. If I found a character I liked, I tried to read every title in which that character appeared. Or was featured. Or mentioned. Obnoxious crossovers were made for kids like me.

Cannonball was the first character I remember going out of my way to find. Liefeld created X-Force in 1991 at the end of his New Mutants run, and there was a lot of big corporate publicity about the new title. For some reason rather than being excited about Cable or Domino or perennial favorite Deadpool (!!) I was swooning over a goofy kid in goggles with a lazy Southern drawl. I am positive it was his affected speech pattern that caught my attention (and not his wormy hair) although I also got sucked into the whole Externals is-he-or-isn’t-he storyline. I let Cannonball guide my reading for years. And when the previews for Hickman and Opeña’s Avengers #1 came out this past fall featuring dear ol’ Sam Guthrie on the cover, twelve year old me totally squealed out loud.

(Hickman isn’t writing him with the drawl, though! Twelve year old me was sad. Thirtysomething year old me is pretty stoked for this book and got over it. It’s also a lot easier to read.)

(After my infatuation with Sam came Clint Barton, first by way of his Thunderbolts appearances and then with the Avengers. My love for Hawkeye’s unique combination of self-deprecating wit, defensive arrogance and mad marksman skills remains to this day. I have a lot more to say about his classic redemption arc, how I think he’s the heart of the team and ultimately why Matt Fraction and David Aja’s Hawkeye is the best new series of 2012, but I’ll save that for another time.)

More than twenty years later I’m pretty sure I don’t own any single issues worth more than $10. I have some Death TPBs signed by Neil Gaiman, but they’re for reading not hoarding. And I was lucky enough to have Chris Ware sign my copy of Building Stories, but it’s not going to just sit on a shelf wrapped in plastic.

Maybe it’s because I’m such a tactile person, but collecting comics always struck me as a sad alternative to the rich escapism and excitement that reading them could provide. An open door vs. a closed door, if you will.

Instead, I buy them – print and digital and sometimes multiple copies of each with variant covers because I swear I will buy anything David Aja draws yes he is that good – and I read them – over and over and over – and I share them – with friends and family and hopefully more with my son as he gets older – and I kind of love them a little bit.

There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate’s loot on Treasure Island.
-Walt Disney

Nah. Not rich at all.