An Ode to Comics, Part 2 of 3: Collecting Comics
I own 6,576 comic books. I have not read all of them. I continue to buy more. Whether you find this to be a cautionary tale or a meaningful plight, dear reader, I leave to you. Here is the story of my addiction, as told one comic book at a time.
Watchmen #1 (Sep 1986): Hah! Actually, nope, not this one. I was in the 6th grade and too immature to realize how great this was when it came out. I remember flipping through a copy of the graphic novel lent to my brother and thinking it looked boring. Now, of course, I acknowledge it as the masterpiece it is. I’ve read it multiple times, I worship Alan Moore, and yeah, all the other things that most of us comic book aficionados regurgitate regularly. Hey, I love Taylor Swift, too! But whenever people tell me I’m a mindless sheep for thinking something is fantastic because tons of people think it’s fantastic, I respond by saying tons of people must think something is fantastic because it’s fantastic! Anyway, Watchmen is worth mentioning here simply because of its indisputable place in all of comicdom. But I was just some podunk kid in 1986. No, my story begins with…
MASK #8 (Sep 1987): I was in the 7th grade and a mere dabbler in the trade. I only bought comic books based on cartoons I watched, and even then, I only grabbed them sporadically from the grocery store. MASK was one of those 80’s cartoons designed to sell a toy line—a stupid cartoon about vehicles that unfolded themselves into tricked-out weapons to fight criminals who also had vehicles that unfolded themselves into tricked-out weapons. But that’s not why I bought it. I bought it because I was a twelve-year-old boy, and MASK #8 had two hot girls playing volleyball on the cover. The addiction begins.
Uncanny X-Men #241 (Oct 1988): Before the Fox cartoon show and the movies that made Hugh Jackman a superstar, X-Men existed only as a comic book. My dad bought this particular issue for me as an innocuous Christmas stocking stuffer, rolled up and sticking out of the top of the sock, having no clue as to the impact it would have on my life. Not only was it two-hundred-and-forty-one issues into a series that began back in 1963, it was Part 2 of some crossover event called "Inferno". I had never read an X-Men comic before. I read this one in bed that morning while waiting for everyone to wake up so we could open Christmas presents, and I was both intimidated and intrigued by the intricate and quantitative canon that led to this mere sliver of an epic superhero story that landed in my sock. Comics were HUGE! Comics had LEGACY! I needed MORE! And not just future issues. I needed back issues. This was the comic that led me to forever spelunk white boxes of bagged and boarded overstock at stores and cons. Also, it had a scantily clad demon queen on the cover, and I was now a thirteen-year-old boy. Yes, there is a subthread.
GI Joe #85 (Dec 1988): I’d been collecting GI Joe off and on over the years, but what set #85 apart was that it conveyed a play-by-play scuffle between Zartan and Storm Shadow that spoke volumes without a single line of dialogue. A comic book without words! This issue forever awakened me to the true power of sequential art as a storytelling medium. It wasn’t the first issue of GI Joe to do this (that would have been the highly coveted GI Joe #21 in 1984), and there have been many well-executed silent issues in the years since (like the award-winning Hawkeye #11 in 2013—silent, unless you count “dog-thought” icons), but this was my first experience with such a thing, and it blew me away. I still revere this issue, and I own it, though wrinkled and moldy, to this day.
Gen 13 #1 (March 1995): Alternate covers had been popularized three years prior by Marvel’s X-Men #1 (not Uncanny X-Men, just X-Men—in the world of comics, superlatives matter!), and Image Comics, the upstart publisher that flipped creator rights on its head, embraced the alternate cover trend with reckless abandon. When their second volume of Gen 13 hit the stands in March, they didn’t just release a few covers for the first issue—they released 13 of them! For newbie collectors like me, this meant we had to buy the same damn comic 13 times over to fill our Pokedex. One cover was a variant of Janet Jackson’s Rolling Stone cover—the one where some dude was cupping her breasts from behind in place of a bra (the subthread continues). Another cover was based on The Brady Bunch, with all the characters looking up and over at each other from their respective panels. Heck, one cover was just plain white, providing a DIY opportunity (now quite the trend). I bought all 13 of them, of course. They were sick ass dope! But my sense of completion was short-lived. Soon I learned there was a special 14th "chromium puzzle" cover that could only be purchased as part of a signed boxed set for $240. Ugh! With rare exceptions (ahem, Battle Chasers), I no longer fall for the alternate cover ploy, but in the purest form of biblical damnation, I covet Gen 13’s 14th cover to this day.
The Sandman #75 (Mar 1996): When it came to The Sandman, I began at the end. The first issue I read was the last issue of the series. It involved Shakespeare and human sacrifice and the meaning of life itself. Before then, I’d read comics based on cartoons or superheroes. This was different. This was more. I went back and read all 75 issues in a row, not bothering to hunt down issues one at a time, but purchasing the trade paperback collections outright. The story was far, far too compelling to waste time on such frivolity! I have since read The Sandman multiple times. It is still, bar none, the best story I have ever read in my life.
Battle Chasers #10 (June 2023): The release of the first 9 issues of Battle Chasers is a story of delays and frustrations and heartbreak for its ardent fans and the store owners who sold it. In April of 1998, Joe Madureira, my favorite comic book artist at the time, hot off his Uncanny X-Men run, created and drew the most badass, eyecandiest fantasy comic, like, ever (a hill I will die on), only to have subsequent issues delayed. And delayed. And delayed. Until… It… Just… Stopped. If you have ever had your favorite network television show prematurely canceled, you may have experienced about one-tenth of the pain and trauma experienced by the legion of ghosted Battle Chasers fans. We were ghosted before ghosting was a thing! But last June, literally 22 years after Issue 9, we finally got Issue #10. With multiple covers. And it was… GOOOOOOOOOOOOD. I’d been holding my addiction in check until this came out. But Battle Chasers #10 unleashed the beast. I found myself at LA Comic Con just last Saturday, spelunking white boxes and paying an exorbitant price for a store-exclusive variant of Battle Chasers #12. Because of course I did.
And that’s where I’m at now. Trying to taper off the obsession, yet again. Grappling with my desire to hunt down and acquire, to collect with no end in sight. A cautionary tale, or a meaningful plight? Reflecting on my own addiction, I must say: I love collecting comics, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I feel blessed with this obsession. This passion. Comic books are a part of who I am. But it's not all of who I am. As Benjamin Franklin would advise, I like to think I don’t live to collect comics. I collect comics to live.
I do suggest you love something. That you obsess over something. That your life is filled with passion. In the words of The Most Interesting Man in the World, whether your passion is comics or cars, books or movies, games or shoes, his best advice rings true.
Stay thirsty, my friends.