Every day, at least once a day, a loud thud reminds me how much I love comics. I was never the kind of obsessive geek who sees the world through the prism of superheroes; I'm not someone who gets caught in a rainstorm without an umbrella and can't help thinking, "What would Animal Man do in this situation?" Normally, I would only think about comics on Wednesdays, if it weren't for The Box. As it is, though, I'll get in my car to run an errand– maybe I need to mail something, maybe I've just been reading Geoff Johns' Twitter stream and need to satisfy a Slurpee craving– and at some point I'll reach a stop sign. I'll hit the brakes, and a loud KA-THUNK will jolt me from behind.
"Yaaagh!" I'll say. "What the hell was…? Oh, right. The Box."
The Box has been in the trunk of my car now for, I would estimate, two years. The Box has roughly the dimenions of an industrial-sized microwave, and it weighs seven thousand pounds because it is filled to bursting with comics that I do not want but cannot throw away. At one point, I put The Box in my car to donate to someone, but we never got around to setting a meeting time, and things got busy, and my wife and I created a human being out the very building blocks of life, and then two years went by. Two years hurtling back and forth in the trunk have not been kind to The Box. One very near day, The Box is going to become The Lurching Pile.
Let me emphasize that I am not at all precious about throwing comics away. In the last few years, I've shredded and recycled enough comics to earn me at least three Deadpool variant covers to also shred and recycle. The comics in The Box are not holofoil Spider-Clone Fantastic Force hogwash, though. They're not in The Box because I was trying to make room in my closet for the good stuff. This is the good stuff. These are runs of books like Astonishing X-Men that I liked so much I replaced them with hardcovers and deluxe editions for posterity. Some of them are books like All-Star Superman, which did absolutely nothing for me but which the rest of the world recognizes as one of the greatest works of the decade (which… clearly, either the rest of the world is crazy or I am, and in this case I am pretty sure it's the rest of the world, which I guess all but guarantees it's me, but never mind all that now) so I respect it too much to line a birdcage with it.
"I don't want this," I said as I filled The Box, "but someone with taste does."
And, yeah, there are some Heroes for Hire Civil War tie-ins in there too. Mostly, though: good stuff. Good stuff that became a millstone around my neck without my realizing it had happened, but good stuff nonetheless. Or at least I thought it was good the last time I peered in there two years ago.
I'm sure I could rid myself of The Box if I focused, but I can be pathologically incapable of solving my simplest problems. I will die from the splinter I never bothered to get out of my finger, and my tombstone will be engraved, "OH, RELAX – I'LL GET AROUND TO WRITING AN EPITAPH – LET'S SHOOT FOR SOME TIME AFTER LUNCH."
In that daily moment when The Box does its Telltale Heart impression, though, I always think, "It used to be so much easier to get rid of a comic." Didn't it? I don't know about the rest of you, but when I was a kid my comic shop was also a used book store. It was a monthly ritual: I'd go in and offer the clerk a comic. He'd say, "I'll give you three bucks, store credit only." I'd say, "The Overstreet Guide says it's worth fifteen." He'd say, "Go sell it to the Overstreet Guide, then." I'd take my three dollars and a hearty handshake and be rid of my comic. I'd come back the following week to find my comic under glass and selling for $375. (I was able to test out of Microeconomics just by telling my guidance counselor this story.)
Today, though? In my neck of the woods, unless your grandfather's estate just found Action Comics #1 in his airlocked vault, the comic shop's not buying your comic. The comic shop has plenty of comics. That's why they have that shop. The few times in the past I've asked store owners if they'd buy The Box, all have been courteous, but all have given me the politest possible version of the answer, "Take a gander at the Great Wall of Longboxes in the back of this room, and tell me how many more old comics you think I need." It's all they can do to sell the ones they ordered.
One time, four comic shops ago, I brazenly just abandoned The Box in front of the shop, thinking, "Tomorrow, some early customer is going to have the best day ever. Free at last! Ha ha!"
I didn't notice that my name was on The Box. That took some explaining the following week. I had to stand there in the middle of the worst episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm ever written, going, "Is that where those went? Thank God you found them!" all the while thinking, "Oh, goddammit."
Before you even start: I don't want to hear about eBay. Every book in The Box has already been put up on eBay, lovingly photographed and eulogized; the auction started, the auction ran, and the auction ended, and it was back in The Box. Have you seen what happens to comics on eBay lately? I did an extremely unscientific study this evening, and here are the sorts of things I saw:
BEYOND #1-6. Four dollars, no bids with a minute remaining.
SPIDER-WOMAN ORIGIN #1 2 3 4 5 + Variant #1. Five dollars, one bid with a minute remaining.
Okay; not great, but those weren't huge series. I can see that.
Marvel Essential Captain America Vol 2. Steranko art, goes for $15-20 brand new… two bucks, one bid. There's a trip to the post office that doesn't feel great.
Eight of Jim Lee's X-Men comics, five of which are all variant-covered #1s. You can Buy It Now for $25; he will accept nothing less. Best of luck to you, pal.
It's the same for All-Star Superman, or Astonishing X-Men, or just about anything you care to mention. If you're buying, this is a glorious time to be alive, but suffice it to say this is not a seller's market. Certainly not a lazy seller's market.
Besides… eBay is the last refuge of the CGC slabbing guy, the guy who fantasizes about a post-apocalyptic world where he's a hero since archaeologists were only able to reconstruct our civilization because he was wise enough to encase his entire life in Lucite. I don't want to get into it with the eBay Feedback Warrior over my grading prowess. "You said this book was VNM 9.2-9.4, when it is clearly VNF 8.9-9.1." "I'm sorry, sir, but I actually graded the book IDAGAGGDAT, which is the standard grade for I Don't Actually Give A Good Goddamn About This." I left these books in the car for two years; would you really trust my judgment grading them?
I'm not sure how much of a secondary market exists anymore, at least compared to a few short years ago. Sure, there will always be collectors, and there will always be dealers with vans full of the classics on the convention circuit. Largely, though, if I want to read a back issue now, the paperback is probably in print. If not, there are the digital comics initiatives, along with some much more widespread ways of reading the oldies that don't make anybody any money, matey, yarrr. This is by no means a bad thing; hunting back issue bins to complete a story was wonderful when it worked, but I also spent a lot of time biking around town for an issue I never did get to see. Still, I have a feeling this brave new world is going to be keeping The Box in my trunk for quite a while.
Maybe I'll just chuck it at a grade school and hope for the best.