“Why do you even have these?” a friend of mine asked me.
I was applying some paint to the recently-constructed cabinets I'd made in my garage, cabinets that were custom-designed to hold comic books. I stopped, looked up, and found myself at a loss.
I mean, I had an answer, it was there, but articulating it was proving difficult.
See, I love comics. The medium, the wide variety of cartooning styles found in them, the characters that have permeated our culture, the more obscure works that most people have never heard of. (Well, not all of them, but a lot.) I started reading them longer ago than I can remember and was a fan from a young age of Batman and Captain Marvel (the original '40s one, during his '70s revival) and Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four and other superheroes. I read the occasional Archie comic or Yogi Bear issue too, but mostly I was into the standard DC and Marvel superhero soap operas.
Then, when I was around 11 or 12, I discovered comic-book specialty stores. Back issues. The collector's market.
It was a revelation. At that point I became not merely a fan, but a collector. I learned that the condition of one's comics is vital. That one needed to invest in protective sleeves for them, that storing them lying flat is bad—they don't actually lie flat, you see, the spine side creates a bend in the stack and bent comics are worth less—they should be stored upright. That comics drawn by certain artists are in more demand than those by other artists, that there are "key issues" of long-running titles that command big bucks (or at least "big bucks" by the standards of a 12-year-old in the early 1980s).
Back in the day, my goal was to acquire every issue of Fantastic Four. Never did it, as the first dozen-plus were too pricey for me.
My friend had been holding a copy of Secret Avengers, which was in a small pile of comics destined for the "eBay box," which had by then become a series of boxes. I stalled a little bit in answering her question as I tried to find the right words for my response by going on a tangent. "Well, that pile I'm not keeping," I said. "Those are eventually going on eBay. Even with these new cabinets, I don't have enough room for everything so some stuff will have to go."
But the majority of them, yeah, I was keeping. And I was adding to the mix all the time, spending anywhere from $40 to $100 a month on new comics (which, accounting for both inflation and the changes in the comics biz since then, equates to what about $8-$20 would have bought in 1987, so I feel like I've cut down a lot since my teenage comic-buying heyday). Why do I have them?
Sure, some of them have decent monetary value well above what I paid for them and keep increasing over time. But most just kind of hold steady or never had much to begin with. If it was about "investing," I'd only have kept about 30% of my collection over the years.
I have them because I like them. Because it's a hobby. Because I am, at my core, a huge nerd. Because my growing-up years were so influenced and tied to the morality plays of Marvel Comics and because I developed a deep appreciation for the talents of people like Marshall Rogers (RIP) and Steve Rude and Neal Adams (RIP) and Mike Deodato Jr. and Terry Moore and Alex Ross and Brian Bolland and Clay Mann and the recently-deceased George Pérez (RIP), among quite a few others.
But that doesn't really get at why I keep them and collect them. I mean, they take up a lot of space. Moving them is a royal pain. Keeping them organized is time-consuming. I've spent a lot of money on their storage (though a lot of that was fun too, building the cabinetry on my own and, on some of them, with my dad). There are reasons not to.
Yet, I do keep them and I do have them. My inventory software (yes, I have inventory software for this) has my current tally at about 8,700 comics, not including some of the 1,000-plus in the eBay boxes. Storage capacity is now once again full up. More keep coming in. Why do I have these?
Because I want to.
Any attempt at articulating the not-rational yet deeply held reasons for it basically comes down to that. I have these because I like them, or in some cases because I did at one time. I keep them because I want to.
As space continues to get tighter more chaff will be moved into the eBay piles, but eventually I will probably make yet another storage unit. It's my own version of the never-ending battle.