Every so often I like to take inventory of the ol’ comic collection. Even if it’s just to thumb through some pulpy old friends and reacquaint myself with my own comic book past, I enjoy the tactile sensation of pulling out issues and connecting the proverbial dots of the past via these unique works of art. The more comics I buy digitally, the more I realize that this simple pleasure, dusty and dull as it’s likely to seem to some, could someday become a thing of the past. Thus I indulge myself; revel in it, even. I’m like a mad scientist and my wife wonders what the hell I’m doing fidgeting with “those books” again. I’m constantly organizing and reorganizing, shifting books from sections divided by title to others divided by creator or artist. It’s good clean comic book busywork and it’s something I enjoy. But while this is usually a pleasurable activity that I complete with relish (and without much fanfare), my latest foray into the long-boxes of the last three decades has me questioning the way I do my comic book business.
This latest session of thumbing, organizing and perusing the time capsule that is my collection has made me realize that I’m a mess. A big unfocused mess. I think I need help. Simply put, my comic collection is a ringmaster-less circus of incomplete runs, sampled issues, random pairings, issues I should probably give away or throw away and other just plain inexplicably purchased conundrums. Simply put, I’ve sampled a ton of books, but never really made a concerted effort to focus my attention on one character or set of characters in any genuinely meaningful way. And when I say “meaningful way” I mean in a way that the experiencing of something edifies you and becomes part of who you are as a being on this big blue marble we call Earth. Okay, that’s being grandiose, but I’m talking about the expertise that comes from true unadulterated focus and study, areas where I seem to be sorely lacking. Simply put, that stray copy of Dazzler #17 that I bought for lord knows what reason back in 1982 and its random comic brethren in my collection aren’t doing a lot for me as a person or as a comic book fan.
This certainly isn’t how I planned it. Various times in my comic collecting life I’ve told myself that I’m going to focus my mental laser beam on fewer titles and really delve into what it means to be the consummate Avengers fan or a diehard X-Men fan or the expert in all things Fantastic Four. And while there’s always the risk of limiting oneself, there’s a certain nobility in mastering something and becoming an expert in a particular field of character study. Truth is, I love the idea of immersing oneself in something so fully that it becomes second nature, that it becomes a part of your very being. Unfortunately, that sort of laser focus has never come naturally to me. Can you force this sort of comic book knowledge osmosis into oneself? Or, does it have to happen naturally over time? I aspire to be the person who knows their stuff, to be that crackerjack Amazing Spider-Man aficionado who can pull out minute details from any issue that comes up in conversation. Unfortunately, the smorgasbord of comics that’s out there makes it tough. I’m impulsive and prone to random excess; at least that’s what my collection is telling me.
Reading comics is entertainment and escapism first and foremost for me, but being a student of the medium, the stories and its history, is also something I feel is essential to the experience. I want to know about the artists, the writers, the history and all the rest. There’s so much to learn and that’s what makes the hobby so great. But damn it, to look at this hodge-podge that is my collection, someone on the outside looking in might comment, “I guess this guy really likes Groo the Wanderer #4” or “Those four scattered issues of World of Krypton must be there for some reason.”
I suppose you could say that when it comes to comics and how I experience them, I’m a jack-of-all-trades, but a master of none. I don’t for the life of me know why I have random issues of DC’s Loose Cannon or that strange old one-shot featuring Obnoxio the Clown. But I do. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Don’t get me wrong, amidst the randomness are lengthier runs and fits of cohesion, but all in all, it’s a printed potpourri reflective of a mind that wants to taste a little bit of everything. I wander into the comic store, determined to buy one thing and come out with ten. I can’t help myself.
Can I change? Should I change? Should I commit to focusing my attention on specifics and becoming an expert on Wolverine or aim to be that person who knows every last tidbit about Batman and his world? I can’t help feeling that I’d be better served by narrowing my view and abandoning my tendency toward knee-jerk purchases. Random issues be damned! Ultimately, my collection is a testament to a brain that is capable of liking many things and is willing to jump around willy-nilly to validate the notion that variety is the spice of life. I suppose that’s okay, but I’d still like to be the go-to guy for something, whether it be the Defenders or the Guardians of the Galaxy or Dazzler, for that matter. Maybe 2013 will be the year I become an expert on Doom Patrol in its various incarnations. Or maybe it’s the year I fully commit to a crash course in all things Martian Manhunter. Or maybe 2013 is the year that I accept that I’m just a big old kid who can’t help but randomly gorge on a plethora of comics because immediate gratification is…well…immediate. Come to think of it, that sounds about right.
Gabe Roth is a TV writer trapped in the suburbs of Los Angeles. He believes the universe is utterly random. He’s @gaberoth on Twitter.