Friday, September 09, 2005

When I started buying comics, I had to walk uphill both ways in the snow just to get to the one store in a 50-mile radius!

I have a stack of floppies here that I haven't read yet, so you'll have to wait to slavishly buy what I bought since I know you all do that. But sitting here with my old-school monthly pamphlets and thinking about what the crap I'm going to do with the long boxes in my garage, I began to think about trade paperbacks and why I haven't become someone who waits for the trade.

I have 20 long boxes in my garage. Okay, that's not exactly true - 2 of them are still in my old closet at home, but my parents are driving out to Arizona this Christmas and are bringing them with, so I'll soon have 20 long boxes in my garage (and I'm very excited about the new arrivals, because of two words: "Suicide," "Squad"). And these aren't those stubby boxes, either - these are your standard long boxes. I know the hip thing to do these days is to e-Bay your old floppies and pick up the trade paperbacks or not buy the monthlies at all and wait for the trades. Hell, I do it with 100 Bullets and Ultimate Spider-Man (and have done it with other titles that are no longer with us). I understand the arguments for the trades - more compact, easy accessibility, can store them on bookshelves instead of in garages - all of which I agree with. I still can't leave monthlies behind.

Why am I living in the past? I don't know. For the current stuff, I never know what is and what isn't going to be collected in a trade. That may sound lame, but I'm serious - you just don't know. If I had thought to myself, "I won't buy Automatic Kafka or El Cazador or Kiss Kiss Bang Bang because they'll be collected," well, I'm shit out of luck, aren't I? And I like all those titles. There are no guarantees!

As for the old stuff - why don't I auction off my collection and stock up on trades? Well, I don't want to spend money twice, of course, but there's something more. You can probably tell that I don't buy comics as an investment (with a couple of exceptions, one of which is mentioned below, but none of which have panned out either, so they don't count). I buy them to read them, and they have become part of who I am. I love dragging out a stack of comics and sitting down and just reading through them - pulling the tape off, occasionally tearing it because it's been so long, pulling the fragile book out, placing the mylar bag on the coffee table and making sure the tape doesn't get stuck on anything, reading the book, sliding it back in the bag and carefully smoothing it out to let the air escape. It's quite the ritual, and it's comforting.

The biggest reason for reading the individual issues is, of course, the letters columns. I still read the letters columns, even if I've read them before. I love the fact that goths with nothing better to do with their time actually wrote sestinas to Neil Gaiman because Richard Madoc mentioned one in passing. I love that Charles J. Sperling and Malcolm Bourne and Mark Lucas (where the hell are those guys, anyway?) could dissect a comic so effortlessly in such few words. I loved seeing my own name in the letters column (if any of you have Morrison's JLA run, I'm in there). I just discovered, while re-reading Avengers Forever, that Laura Gjovaag got a letter published in an issue. You can't get those cool little feelings from trade paperbacks.

Like any collection, comics for me have become ways to access my memories. I don't feel the same way about my trade paperbacks as I do about my pamphlets. There's no emotional attachment to them - they're just books. I have A LOT of books, but I rarely attach any specific memories to them - I just go into a book store and buy them, and move on (I just bought Fan Tan by Marlon Brando - it looks like a hoot!). It's the same with trades. But the individual issues - that's a different story. I have memories of certain ones - not all of them, obviously, but certain ones, and that's why I won't get rid of them. It's silly nostalgia, but we should never summarily dismiss silly nostalgia - yes, I've ranted about it before here, but I'm not against it philosophically.

For instance, when I drag out Batman #426 to read for the thousandth time, I'm reminded again that this was the first comic book I ever bought. I remember my best friend (who has collected comics a lot longer than I have) and I walking by a Waldenbooks at the Montgomery Mall in Pennsylvania and stopping at the spinner rack with the latest comics on it. He told me that this was the storyline in which they were going to kill Robin. I was interested, so I picked it up. It's very vivid to me, and I give him the credit (or blame) for hooking me into this world.

When I read Doom Patrol #19-63, I remember digging through the back issues boxes at The Comic Swap in downtown State College, PA, a cool little store right off College Avenue. The proprietor put the price of the books on a piece of tape instead of using that pricing gun thing, and when you bought it, he took the tape off. I can now pretend I bought them all when they first came out!

I remember driving furiously down Warminster Road to the comic book store near the Willow Grove mall on my Friday lunch break at Sunoco, where I worked one summer between college years. Why did I drive so furiously? Because I just had to buy the new Spider-Man title, with Todd McFarlane writing and penciling. Don't be shy - you have it too! Sure, it sucks, but it makes me laugh when I think of it. Usually I waited until after work, but not on that day!!!

Whenever I drag out my 100 issues of the latest Wonder Woman series (before Byrne jumped on, after which I quickly dropped the book before picking it up again when he left), or my Garth Ennis run on Hellblazer (or even the Morrison/Lloyd issues), I think of the Sundays spent at the Portland Comic Book Convention, digging through boxes looking for the critical missing issues. I just had to have them! Portland's convention isn't a big one, but it's still a convention, and the glorious weirdness is just all around you. It's a wonderful thing.

These are just some of the things that I don't think you get if you "wait for the trade." Sure, you can still go to the store and buy the books, but it's a different feeling. The information you get from the book might be exactly the same, but the feeling is different. Unless monthlies stop coming out, I'm sticking with them. Call me old-fashioned. Hell, call me old. I don't care. I'll keep walking uphill both ways through the snow (yes, I live in Arizona) and calling those "wait-for-the-traders" whippersnappers. Consarnit!¹

¹ I'm perfectly aware I could have been reading comics the whole time I was typing this. Shut up.

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Anonymous thekamisama said...

Man the eighties were the best, Comic Shops exploded then and even small towns had one. I still prefer buying single issues mostly for the lettercols, which never get reprinted ( I imagine the old GrimJack lettercols could warrant a TPB all by themselves).

Pssst.. you forgot to mention Uncle Elvis in there! He used to work at the first comic shop I ever shopped at and eventually got me a job there. My soul is now damned thanks to that guy, but even if I didn't know him.. he was often a more consistent staple of the comics than the artists and writers that made the books!

9/09/2005 07:38:00 PM  
Blogger Greg said...

I forgot about Uncle Elvis. He was always fun.

9/09/2005 09:32:00 PM  
Blogger Bill Reed said...

Comic Swap! Yes. I know of it. I've sent friends there to get me things, but I never actually made it in. Curses. I blame PJAS scheduling.

Not sure if I was at the one in Willow Grove, as my memory for locations isn't so hot, but I may have. Heh.

Mmm. Comics.

Yeah, I love letter columns, too; and people like Melissa Page and Uncle Elvis and the oldies like T.M. Maple were the closest thing to demigods in fandom.

9/09/2005 11:14:00 PM  
Blogger Greg said...

Bill, I forgot you are a Pennsylvanian. Shame on you for never going to The Comic Swap. As for the one in Willow Grove, it is no longer there, but it was just off of York Road just south of where York and Easton Road split, if that helps.

9/10/2005 02:21:00 PM  
Blogger Bill Reed said...

There were a good number of Philly-based comic shops I have seen go under in my time...

I have a curse, that way. Nearly every comic shop I've been to has suddenly gone out of business. Except the last one; my bad juju was diverted across the street and got the drug dealers arrested.

9/10/2005 05:08:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I used to work at Geppi's Comic World in Largo, Florida in the early 80's. This of course is the pre-trade era, and I've always enjoyed the wait between issues. The process is still the same: new issue is released, buy it, read the previous issue again to catch up and then finish the new copy, look forward to the surprise in the next issue.

This ritual, put best by our esteemed blogger, is why I'll never buy trades. "I love dragging out a stack of comics and sitting down and just reading through them - pulling the tape off, occasionally tearing it because it's been so long, pulling the fragile book out, placing the mylar bag on the coffee table and making sure the tape doesn't get stuck on anything, reading the book, sliding it back in the bag and carefully smoothing it out to let the air escape. It's quite the ritual, and it's comforting."

There is also the unexplainable pride I feel when I look over the vast expanse of long boxes and reminisce the time spent reading and rereading these wonderful stories. My 10-month old son will never be lacking for reading material once he stops shredding every piece of paper he can get his hands on.

9/12/2005 02:54:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Speaking of those letterhacks, Charlie Harris I believe now runs a store in Tucson, called Charlie's Comic Books, and... well I have no idea what happened to Joe Frank, from Scottsdale, but he would write a lot of letters too. I'm only mentioning the Arizona lettercolumn people so far because I'm from Arizona and you live there, but I was reading about Uncle Elvis earlier and it's pretty interesting to see John Ostrander talk about him:

8/05/2009 07:48:00 PM  

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