Now, it’s not often that I will admit to the general public that I watched a reality show on TV, and it is even less often that I can admit to actually relating to the apparent struggles and challenges outlined in such a program. However, because we are friends, I will just go and tell this indeed did happen, and it was just a few weeks ago.
You see, a friend of mine is a contestant on FaceOff, SyFy’s (I still hate typing that) makeup challenge show (I’ve known Rod for years), and, immediately after that show there’s this show about collectors-gone-bad, Collection Intervention. And, of course, the episode had to feature a guy whose fiancé was struggling with his 30,000 issue comic book collection.
Now, I’m nothing like that guy (really!), but after watching him hem and haw and try to rationalize his collection, I found myself going through my various bookshelves around the house that were housing the last 10-12 months worth of comics and stacking them up on my dining room table, ready to sort the keepers and the doomed, er, ones to be given to Goodwill. I had been meaning to do this for most of the summer, but it’s always been too hot, I didn’t have any boxes to transport them in…I had a whole litany of excuses. But this time, I just went for it and, again, I went through the “why did I keep [insert title here] the last time I did this and why am I okay with getting rid of it this time” tango. But this time, it was a little different.
We’ve all done this post-mortem catalog analysis, and, the longer I have been buying comics I’ve found it has become both easier and more difficult each time I go through this surprisingly personal process. I think it gets easier for a few reasons, but the one that really stands out is that the longer you stick with modern comics, the less attached to the storylines you get.
Now, I know — that sounds bad, real bad. Indeed, is not the whole reason we love comics the fact that comics can tell the kinds of stories that no other medium can? I agree with that statement, totally, but then I point to the myriad of event books that seemed so insanely important and current and cool and significant at the time, which now I just roll my eyes at while I stick them in my giveaway bag. Series like Siege, and anything to do with Secret Invasion and the like are just beyond useless to me now, as stories. As I went through my various shelves, I got more and more frustrated with my past-self that I bought into these series in the first place—when you see the books all at once and realize just how inconsequential and predictable they were, I just see them as books that were designed to take my money. Seriously, looking at all of the event books I was giving away just made me even more cynical about series like Avengers vs. X-Men and whatever that one with all the hammers was. For many (not all, obviously!) comics, at least in recent years, the stories have been depressingly stale and derivative, especially with the events.
But I didn’t throw them all out. This time around, I kept the ridiculous that “One More Day”, partly because I was just curious to see how it held up, and partly because I wanted to keep it is as a kind of time capsule of just how crazy things had gotten with Spider-Man. (I also kept that The Sentry: Fallen Sun just because it was so bad and reminded me of laughing at the various comments the iFanboys and Tom Katers would make about it way back when. Priceless.)
Once I got rid of Siege and Secret Invasion and other books, I found myself also making the hard decision of basically giving up on Northlanders, which used to be one of of my “go-to” titles, but, now that it’s all over, I realized that there were only a few story lines that I really wanted to keep around. I actually ended up getting rid of most of those issues, but kept all of the single-issue stories, which tended to bring in different artists and had stories that really crystallized what that book was when it was really good. I thought the last massive arc was tedious and confusing, and wonder if Wood lost control of that book in the end, especially when I compared those issues to the one and done’s. I ended up keeping the beginning of the series and the single issues as representing the “best” of Northlanders and will resign myself to basically forgetting the rest.
Indeed, as I went through my stacks and stacks of comics, I found myself being ruthless with what I was getting rid of once I started thinking in terms of making sure what I kept were representations of the best the title could be. Unlike the guy in the TV show, I pushed away the concept of being a completist for the first time ever, using a kind of “Desert Island” way of thinking when approaching titles. So, shorter arcs and single issue stories were way more likely to be kept than entire runs, even with Jonah Hex, a book I enjoyed a lot, and always expected to keep around, but, in the end, was happy with a few key issues and a general memory of the rest of the stories.
As I was thinking about this article (I am on jury duty this week, so I had some time), I realized that this was the first comic book culling that I have done in the age of fairly universal digital comics availability. As ruthless as I was about getting rid of these titles, I knew in the back of my head that if I truly need a particular issue, there was going to be a good chance that it was available on my iPad in just a few seconds. I know, it’s not the same and that I would be paying twice for a book, but, honestly, having fewer comics hiding out in my shelves makes me sleep better, it really does. I hate having these books just taking up space, and my embracing of digital comics has made that irritation just even more intense. I am in this medium for the stories, for the characters, for the art. I am not in the medium for the media. I have been surrounded by books, comics and magazines all of my life — I know what paper smells like, I get it. And given that comics look better on my iPad than they do on paper…well, for me, culling my collection has become way easier.
Now, if you follow me on Instagram you might have seen that just a few days ago I took pictures of two recently purchased trades: Incognito and the New X-Men Omnibus (which is awesome). Yes, I bought Incognito in single issues and no, I did not love the series, but I really like how they are approaching these trades. (I am going to buy the second Criminal trade as well for the same reasons.) I like having these books around, I think they are special and I realize that I may sound like I am contradicting myself by writing this paragraph, but honestly, I think I am just realizing how much easier it is to craft a comic book collection that I will actually enjoy — or, at least, make it easier to get a chance to enjoy. Now I can go beyond feeling good about “boxes of comics” and feeling better about having specific stories I can find on my bookshelf instead of hunting for them in a fortress of long boxes because even if I don’t have a comic in trade form, the stories may very well be available in a digital format. No, maybe not today, I get it, but eventually, as the years go by, it will be easier to find those books.
And this, perhaps is most enduring difference digital comics will make: slowly making it easier for us to build libraries consisting of single issues, trades, and digital versions. No, it won’t satisfy the comic book collector — he or she, after all, is collecting comic books — but for people who treasure the stories and the characters, it makes life a helluva lot easier.
I still have a lot of my printed comics, and I doubt there will ever be a time when I stop loving these things. I have basically three short boxes of “must keeps” and I am fine with it. And as I went through my three or four paper bags full of comics before dropping them off at Goodwill, I won’t say I did not hesitate. I won’t say I went back in and dug out two or three books just because I couldn’t stand the thought of letting them go — I did. But when I looked at all of the comics I was giving away, I mostly hoped that someone else would find more enjoyment out of them, that perhaps some “real” collector would find an issue that he or she had been looking for, that would make their day somehow. I just feel better now because even as I say goodbye to these modern comics, I know it’s not farewell — I’ll be able to come back to them again whenever I feel like it, no matter where the actual books end up.