Thursday, September 29, 2016
This comic, this collection.
It started with a Richie Rich comic.
When I was a little kid, it took me a while to stop thinking about comic books as totally disposable, and the first one I ever held on to for longer than a week was a Richie Rich comic when I was six. It had a spunky yellow cover, and the story inside was so funny and clever, with a robot named Trebor, and I just wanted to hold onto it forever. It was the first comic I ever properly collected.
Thirty-five years later, and that collection is a sprawling mess of a thing, with a solid core of comics I’ll never get rid of, and uncertain borders, where I still don’t know if comics I’ve had for 20 years are really a definite part of it. It’s a fair indication of personality, looking at the choices that make up that collection. It can be a pain in the fucking arse to haul about, but it’s all me.
I’m certainly more of a hoarder than a collector. My comics frequently get scrunched up, or ripped, or damp. I stuff them into big banana boxes and shove them under the bed. It’s the stories that matter, not the things they come in.
But I still love the actual physical objects in a way I never could with digital, and I still file away the latest additions to the collections, somewhere in the vast archives of the collection. I put a lot of thought into the maintenance of it. I put way too much thought into it.
Comics have always been so fucking expensive, so a couple of years after Richie Rich stuck around, I was holding on to every comic I could get my grubby little hands on, and I planned to hold onto them forever. The parents were naturally concerned once they started spilling out of the single box I was allowed to keep them in, but I got good at the art of bullshit pretty early, and justified the swelling by pointing out that some of these comics would be worth something one day. (They probably still think I’m paying for my retirement with Ghost Rider #1 from 1990.)
There was always a bit of slippage. Some comics were lost to that lazyiness about protecting them – a decent chunk of Battle Action Force comics ended up in the mud, and favourite comics would literally be read until they fell to pieces - and there would always be swaps going on, giving up a bunch of Archie comics for some Alan Moore Swamp Thing. And there were even a few rare comics that were too rubbish to hold onto, like the awful Charlton horror comics of the seventies, or the terrible Commando comics that were everywhere.
But in general, the collection kept growing. And growing. And growing.
It all reached a peak somewhere around the turn of the century, when I had about 40,000 comics, including hundreds and hundreds didn’t give a shit about – bland, post-death Superman comics and almost an entire run of the thuddingly average Fantastic Four run by Defalco and Ryan. I used to make an actual list of all the comics I had, and briefly considered transferring it to a database, but I haven’t worried about that kind of shit for 20 years now.
It’s all in my head, where it belongs. There is a filing system to it all that makes perfect sense to me, although I never expect anybody to understand. Everything in its right place.
But 40,000 was too much, and a massive purge about 10 years ago saw that limp reduced by three-quarters. The collection slimmed, became more focused, more refined. It looks better. The personality starts to shine through, once the excess nonsense has been pruned.
Once things got settled down to a reasonable amount, the collection has been relatively stable. There are nine bookcases in the house, and about two dozen boxes of various sizes, stashed under bed and in cupboards, and it all stays roughly the same size, as vicious purges run rampant over sentimentality and nostalgia. It’s always a matter of sharpening at the edges.
The only part that keeps growing is the substantial 2000ad subsection of the collection, which gets bigger by 52 new issues (and 12 Megazines) ever year, without fail.That’s the bedrock of the collection, the solid core. I would get rid of every DC and Marvel comic I own before I would start chipping away at the Tooth.
There are some stable things that are almost as solid as that 2000ad infatuation - the Vertigo comics I accumulated in the nineties like Preacher and Invisibles would be the last to go, but the first four issues of John Byrne’s West Coast Avengers will also be there until the end, because those comics mean more to me personally than almost anything else I have. The collection is varied, and not exclusive. It's my party, I get to choose the guests.
Then there are things that are right on the edge. Things that are not quite part of the collection and probably never really will be - Alan Davis comics and random issues of Trencher and more modern Vertigo titles like Sweet Tooth and all the Fables spin-offs are slipping out, even as they are still filed away. It’s still changing, always changing.
But the Richie Rich comic is long gone. The oldest comic I still hold from the first few faltering years of the collection is X-Men #151, which is now missing its cover and first few pages and I’m never throwing it out. There are still some 2000ads I got off the shelf in 1983, and I can tell which ones they are because they’re also falling apart.
Some parts of the collection are as old as I am. Some of them are as new as last week.
There are other collections in the house, of course. Tonnes of novels and bookshelves full of movies and boxes of music that everybody tells me I should just get rid of because you can trust the Cloud. (I don’t fucking trust the Cloud.)
But for a pure and unfiltered snapshot of personality, it’s in the comics. It’s in this collection.