I Collect, Therefore I Read

This week’s column is going to be a bit of a departure from what you’ve come to expect, but hopefully at least a small fraction of the iFanbase will allow me this one indulgence. I have a few things brewing in the coming weeks but I don’t want to give them short shrift, particularly with the overwhelming reception I’ve gotten from other parties who have kindly offered to contribute their views to said “things brewing.” So for this week, I’m going to offer a bit of an op-ed that’s been on my mind for awhile.

DC versus Marvel Cover
One of the frustrating aspects of our hobby is this instantiated need to create walls. It seems that too often we’re all trying to justify our personal preferences by besmirching the choices of others.
Marvel vs. DC 
Indie vs. Mainstream
Online vs. LCS
Superman vs. Batman
Pro Morrison vs. Anti Morrison
Betty vs. Veronica
…and many, many more. To all of these, I say, “What’s the point?” I like Marvel AND DC. I read tons of indies AND a boatload of mainstream books. I order most of my comics online, but hit LCS a few times a month, too. I dig Superman (sometimes) AND Batman (sometimes). I adore Grant Morrison most of the time, and sometimes I don’t. Pumping your fist in agreement? Well then how about THIS debate?
Are you a READER or a COLLECTOR?
I’m betting not as many of you are with me anymore, are you? You see, it seems that somehow, the idea of being a COLLECTOR has taken on a negative connotation in our hobby. Many of my very closest friends regularly say dismissive things like, “Oh, I’m not a collector, I’m a reader.” OR “No, I don’t care about CGC because I read my comics.” OR “Bags and boards are for collectors, just read your stuff, it’s not going to be worth anything anyway.”
I’m continually fascinated, frustrated and mystified by the fact “collecting” has somehow become a bad word in many comic book circles. Here are a few things to consider before you so quickly high five that guy standing next to you as you regale in being READERS instead of COLLECTORS.
Reason #1: Collectors ARE Readers
There is no more artificial distinction than implying that because someone is a collector, they’re not a reader. This isn’t the mid-90s, folks. Guys aren’t running down to the comic store on their lunch break and buying up 25 copies of Youngblood #1 of the Death of Superman with the hope they can flip them for big scrilla in a few months. Today, the vast majority of people who collect comic books are also avid readers. Not surprisingly, I speak from experience. Do you actually think there are guys out there buying high grade copies of Avengers #4 or Detective #27 that don’t actually love the medium? Who haven’t read those stories in another format? It’s just not true (realizing of course there are exceptions to every rule). 
A square (collector) is a type of rectangle (reader) whereas a rectangle (reader) is not necessarily a square (collector)
Square Rectangle Picture
Reason #2: You Say Tomato, I Say Collector
There’s a good chance you are a collector even if you don’t realize it. Everything comes down to degrees. Unless you’re buying comics and then throwing them out or giving them away shortly thereafter, one could argue you are collecting them. Do you have short or long boxes? Do you have stacks of already read comics? Do you put some or all of your comics in bags and boards? If you said yes to any of these things, YOU ARE A COLLECTOR!
Reason #3: One Man's Trash Is Another Man's Treasure
Kenny Baker Picture Photobucket MarneyTheGhost
I once heard someone on a podcast go ballistic about “slabbing” and how it was tantamount to insanity. Five minutes later, that same person proudly detailed how they spent $60 to pose for a photograph with Kenny Baker, aka R2-D2. Nothing against R2-D2, he’s my favorite Astromech droid, but might it have occurred to him that most human beings would find spending $60 on a photograph with a tangential movie star as ridiculous, if not more so, than buying a graded comic book from CGC?
My point is not to pit one thing against the other, but instead to illustrate that we all have our guilty pleasures. AS LONG AS YOU GET VALUE FROM IT, BUY WHAT YOU LIKE. 
Reason #4: Buying Collector's Items Does Not Take Away From Industry Economics
This one really chaps my britches. The argument goes that if a person spends $20 for an exclusive variant cover, they are somehow hurting the industry because they could have instead purchased five regular comic books. Or recently at a convention, as I was buying a piece of original art from a dealer, my friend said to me, “do you realize how many trades you could’ve bought instead?”
Here’s the thing. If you’re at all financially rational, every dime you spend on comic books and related collectables should be DISPOSABLE INCOME. I get the notion that it’s an addiction, but that doesn’t justify spending money on something you can’t afford. To that end, anything I buy doesn’t come at the expense of something else. It’s not a zero sum game. As consumers, do we make tradeoffs? Of course. But that’s our choice. That guy who bought the $20 variant cover? He likes variant covers. If he opted not to buy that cover, that $20 was by no means guaranteed to go into buying five other regularly-priced issues. He could have:
Waited until he found another variant cover
Bought a trade paperback
Treated his girlfriend to lunch
Donated it to charity
Bought a Transformer for his little brother
Picked up a used copy of Call of Duty 2: Modern Warfare
Treated a client to a lap dance
Pocketed the money
A million other things
At the end of the day, CAVEAT EMPTOR. It’s not your job to worry about the economic value of how someone else spends their disposable income. We’re all doing all this stuff because we love the hobby. We’re passionate about the words, the pictures, and the magic that happens when they combine to tell a story that’s impossible in any other form. So long as the choices someone else makes don’t tangibly hurt your ability to enjoy the hobby, let’s celebrate each other’s choices, and the fact we even still have comic books and collectables to buy in the first place.

Jason is a mutant with the ability to squeeze 36 hours into every 24-hour day, which is why he was able to convince his wife he had time to join the iFanboy team on top of running his business, raising his three sons, and most importantly, co-hosting the 11 O'Clock Comics podcast with his buddies Vince B, Chris Neseman and David Price. If you are one of the twelve people on Earth who want to read about comics, the stock market and football in rapid fire succession, you can follow him on Twitter.


  1. mmmm….i like reading more than collecting..

  2. I don’t disagree with any of the reasoning here, but I will suggest say that my use of "I’m a reader, not a collector" stems directly from my own experience with the 90’s and the so-called "speculator boom and bust." For me, it’s just a way to distinguish comics-as-valued-collectible and comics-as-storytelling-format.

    I had a lot of friends in the early 90’s that would buy comics for value. Would collect and maintain all variant covers, etc. None of them buys comics at all any more. So, while I agree with your point about disposable income, it did feel like there came to be a distinction between what comics were all about — at that time.

    For me, that label still just represents the type of comics-buyer I am. Is it a label that may not be entirely accurate? Sure. But semantics aside, I think it’s a distinction that still resonates with most buyers.


  4. I collect Spider-man comics, and have a real nice collection of Amazing Spider-man and Spectacular Spider-man….but like you said, I also have read every issue or at least read some of the older ones I don’t want to mess around with in trade form.  I have a nice collection of varios X-Men and Batman books too but I don’t care about filling gaps in those and I’m actually considering selling some of my books to make more room for my Spider-man collection.

  5. When people bitch about the price of comics, I will bitch about their buying habits.

    America has a debt problem and a lack of common economic sense. I don’t think people should buy whatever they like as long as they get value from it.

  6. I collect ex girlfiends.

  7. I prefer to say I accumulate comics. Every time I turn around there’s another pile of the little buggers.

  8. I think as we drift farther and farther from the 90’s era of speculator craziness, the battle cries of not being a collector will fade. The real problem was speculation not collecting. A real collector bought things they wanted to keep forever (sorta). That is the nature of the collector. Only a speculator bought things hoping to sell them in a few years for profit. I stopped thinking that way at age 15 (which was pre-90s I am sad to say).

    Collecting is fun. There is something satisfying about building collections, filling in gaps, finding rarities that not many others will have. Organizing and tracking it all. If you don’t find that fun, you are not a collector. Good for you. Less crap in your house. Meanwhile the rest of us will soothe some little OCD portion of our brain with stamps or coins or Disney memorobilia or baseball cards or vintage quilts or, yes, comic books. And hell yeah, I read them all… eventually. 

  9. Hear hear! I’m an avid read who recently rediscovered the joy of back issue diving and now I’m working on expanding my collection, and I’m having a blast doing it.

  10. I’m curious to understand the mindset of THAT GUY at the comic shop who grabs the entire stack of books, looking for the mint gem in the bunch as he does his own pulls each Wednesday (usually at shop opening). I wonder how one little frayed edge affects his/her reading experience or if they read all their comics with library gloves in climate controlled rooms?

    Those obsessed with condition and completism are def a different level of collector. I don’t understand what they’re getting out of it, but more power to them.

  11. Personally, as a collector I am mainly concerned with completism over the condition of the comic. As long as the comic is in good enough shape that I feel I get an idea for the original reading experience, I’m good. I have many silver and bronze age comics with tears, nicks, writing (usually a price), or frayed spines. I could have gotten more mint versions… at 5x the cost. In most cases that is just not worth it to me. In general, I am fighting against that internal crazy teenager that tripled bagged everything. They are magazines, not heirlooms. If I want my wife to read one, I need to be sure I do not gasp every time she bends the cover. It’s still a work in progress.  

  12. Y’all be some crazy muthas.

  13. I have "corrected" people when they ask if I collect comics and my answer is that I read them.  But I say this knowing that if I did not collect them I wouldn’t have stacks and boxes of them.

    Good stuff, Jason.

  14. @JimBilly4: I was going to make the same point and then saw that you beat me to it. I’m definitely a collector in the sense that I bag and board my comics and try to fill in the gaps in series that I really love. But I do these things because I love those comics and want them to be durable so that I can enjoy them years from now. I’ve never had any intention of profiting from them or bought a book because "it’ll be worth so much in a few years." It’s speculation, not collecting, that I think a lot of readers want to disassociate themselves from.

     P.S. I read everything I buy before bagging and boarding. 🙂

  15. Jason,

    Consistently the best stuff to be found online about comics.  Keep up the good work.

  16. This was a great article… serously brilliant!  You’ve said things I’ve wanted to say to many on here for some time!!!

  17. Just another in the chorus of comments to the effect of, hey Jason, in case I haven’t said so yet, your articles are a consistently excellent addition to my favorite site!

  18. A lot of tap dancing going on.

  19. Jason Wood, I love you.

    Oh no, I’ve gone and made this awkward now, haven’t I?

  20. Great article.  I read my books monthly but consistently pull giant runs out of my "collection" to re-read.  It doesn’t have to be a trade or hardcover for you to re-read your comics, and keeping them bagged, boarded, organized and in good condition to do just that shouldn’t be a bad thing.  Just because people don’t roll, fold their comics up, spill shit on them and throw them away doesn’t mean they don’t read them, and I’ve always found it crazy that there are actually people out there ("readers") that even imply that not treating your comics like shit is a bad thing.

  21. I love reading, but I often wonder if anyone will buy what I will not read again??? re-sale value is low.

  22. I love that rare sweet spot where my collecting interests peak at the same place as my reading interests. I find a series that I can buy as an "investment" but also is an awesome book I wanna read. Like that Kupperberg/Infantino Supergirl series from the early eighties. I can get that for a good rpice but it does have moderate historical significance and could potentially increase in value in high grades. The art and story are very enjoyable to boot! It’s the perfect series for me to collect!

    The collector market in my town is quite healthy so I like to be educated on the collecting aspect. I have been able to sustain a bit of an economy in trade credit at the LCS by raiding flea markets and trading over at the shop. To do that I have to understand grading, pricing, values of books now and potential, local and global. Research into these things has opene up a world to me that has taught many fascinating things!

    I would venture to say that it is a misconception that only golden and silver age books are valuable. There’s a good market for back issues around here and out there. Even for eighties to current. To me 1980-now books are like a kiddie pool. You can buy and sell for lowish prices and have fun without the risk of drowning.

    Will I get anything CGCed? Not unless it’s worth several times more the price it costs. Will I move stuff from bag/boards to mylar/halfbacks/fullbacks? If it’s speculative value justifies it, absolutely.

    Do I buy books for speculative purposes only? Occasionally. I always think really long about it though and do my research.

    Surprisingly, becoming more of a "collector" has saved me some money and has helped me determine which books I really want in my collection. Where before I would have sampled this and that and read a little of everything, now I put a lot of thought in my purchases. Sometimes I think I’m interested in trying a story but I think of the potential value it might add to my collection and realize I’m not really that interested in it after all. So I skip it and buy only the books that I absolutely want in my collection.

    Finally, sometimes I buy a book and never read it. Why? Because I have no interest in the story but the cover art is special. It is more oof a display item to me. It doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate comic books but rather that I appreciate the cover art. My goal is to have "themed" cover galleries in my eventual man den when I own a house. With proper gallery lighting and everything. So when I have friends over to play poker, brilliant comic art will proudly be on display.

    Ifanboy needs a collector’s corner or something. It’s a fascinating facet of our hobby.

  23. @JumpingJupiter: I agree. Because I, "put… all of [my] comics in bags and boards," I only buy comics that I actually want to read … which means (I think) that I actually enjoy and appreciate the experience better.

    Yes … the industry and reading fanbase has changed, but these numbers are instructive, IMO:

    Batman, avg copies/issue — 1946=1.5 million; 1987=193,000; 2005=60,000

    If so many readers think collecting is bunk, then what will the rarity factor of issues bought today be in, say, 2075? I won’t be around to enjoy them but someone will!

    Thanks for another great article Jason! 


  24. Cahubble, yes print runs are shorter but more people bag and board their books so I’m guessing that the high grade to issues ratio is probably higher than it was in the forties.

    People throwing books in boxes and reading them in the bath is great in my opinion. It generates creates high grade rarity. So all you "readers" out there, please put all of your comic books in the dishwasher. Thank you.

  25. @cahubble; The difference is that in 1946 (almost) no one kept their comics. They read them and threw them away. In 2005 I’d say 99% of readers bagged and boarded and stored their comics. When there are 59,400 Batman comics they are worth nothing (monetarily). And in 2075 today’s comics will truly be antiques and probably rare and probably worth someting. But who’s to know?

  26. Great article, Jason!  Bravo!

    I will admit that I speculated in the 90’s and got burned.  I’d like to think I’ve learned my lesson. 

    Today, I am first and foremost a reader.  Reading comics at the end of a hard day is my little reward for making it through.  The problem is I want to read EVERYTHING.  Due to budgetary constraints, I find that I spend more and more time thinking about what I am going to purchase in single issues vs. trades vs. in dollar bins, as well as online vs. LCS vs. comic conventions.  In addition to my "To Read" list, I now have a "To Buy" list for when I am at conventions, or searching online for a deal. 

    My budgetary constraint has in essence turned me into collector.  Because I cannot purchase everything that I want, I am forced to weigh my purchases very carefully.  Only the most desired make the cut.  In addition, my budget has prompted me to sell (read: weed out) from my collection any issues I don’t  really care about so that I have more money to buy the issues that I truly do want.  To avoid spending money, I have even traded issues with other collectors, like baseball cards.  In short, my budget makes me appreciate the books in my collection all the more.  I now have to think about and (personally) value every issue in my collection, which only makes the books in it more special to me.

    You might think that with my strict budget and the work effort I am puting into finding books that my "hobby" would be less fun for me.  The truth is I am having more fun now than when I was younger and could blow my entire paycheck on comics if I wanted to.  There something thrilling about finding a book in a dollar bin that you’ve been waiting for a long time that is so much more rewarding than just plunking down your duckets every week at the LCS or DCBS.

     My advice — everyone should have a budget. 

  27. @Conor: Yes and no. Kick Ass #1 first printing sells at roughly 10 times the cover price recently. There’s not few of those.

    If there are 60 000 of a thing but 120 000 people want it, it’s rarity increases but if 10 people want it, it will sell for pennies.  The ability to understand, predict and profit/break even from the mix of rarity and demand is an interesting and rather opaque science.

    The big guns deal in silver and golden age books and generate bigger numbers but they also spend bigger numbers. It is not uncommon for relative percentages to apply to current comic books. Even if the market for currents is a lot more fluid than the one for golden and silver age books. It’s still a similar math, just the numbers are not impressive.

    Green Lanterns (2005-present) are wicked hot in this town! If you’ve got first printings, you can take ’em to the shop and sell them for more than you paid. That’s pretty good for a book that’s 5 years old! So in this town, the demand for GLs exceeds the supply. What’s interesting is that the online market does not really affect us because the prices stay relatively low. Unless you can find GLs at low enough price that the shipping won’t break the cover price of each GL you won’t be able to turn them over and make money on ’em. Plus you have to get them in high grade to do that. That’s not easy to do on-line for low-level books especially if you want them cheap. Only if you bought them at their release are you able to turn them over now in this town (not that I would really want to, just discussing). The local low-level collectibles are like in a bubble of their own while the rest of the world turns. So bizarre…

    Anyway. I wish there were more flea markets around here. I need a raise and then I’ll hit the auctions. 🙂

  28. @JumpingJunpiter: Ten times the cover price. So, what? $30? Check the price again in a few years.

  29. Correcting Noto says:

    Modern Warfare was Call of Duty 4, not Call of Duty 2. Fake Fan! Fake Fan!

    I firmly fall into the collect and read segment of the population. 20 years in the game and never sold a book, or threw one away.

  30. @Conor: Lol. Well yes of course!


  31. @Conor: in 2075 I won’t know of course, but my godson/nephew will, since he’s the one they’re going to …

    I try to look for indie books with far smaller print runs than Batman. That wasn’t the best example. Radical’s "Shrapnel" is a better example, IMO … good story (I think … written by Carl Sagan’s son), great artwork (again, that is all subjective to a certain extent) … then again, in 50 years, no one may even remember it…

    As a simple matter of curiosity, I would love to know how many comic book "readers" really do bag and board… 

  32. It’s just that I take care of my books (I bag and board them) for them to be organized and protected (because they’re expensive).

  33. @conor

    99% bagged and boarded their comics? Really?

  34. Since 1973, I buy comics that I like, and that I think are well-done, to encourage the publishers to make more like those, and reward the creators, in some small way, for making stuff that appealed to me. I’ve always had a limited budget, so I can’t buy everything, just that which appeals to my rather pedestrian interests. Eventually I learned to treat the artifact in such a way that it might appreciate in value, rather than preclude that possibility though caprice, ignorance or neglect. They are, after all, periodical pamphlets of men in tights fighting like no men ever fought while speaking as no men ever spoke. Historical heirlooms, yes, but only to people like us who can get excited over an unused Carmine Infantino Black Canary page from his heavily-influenced-by-Caniff period.

    Also, for Jason, I would say to whoever said that buying original art kept you from buying trades, did they not see you handing money directly to a comic book creator or at least a dealer who was selling art made by an actual comic book creator? How utterly silly. Old artists practically live on commissions and selling pages at cons, from what I’ve heard. I shouldn’t buy a page from some hard-working old pro, or a sketch from some up-and-coming kid, because I could have bought more trades or comics with it? But I just bought the actual art that the comic was made from! How is that not supporting the industry? Wow, the fine distinctions some people make. That one just makes absolutely no sense to me. Buying sketches, commissions and pages is part of the hobby. It has been since I started collecting, and that was like 4 decades ago. People will still buy complete comics. The industry isn’t going to die because we are all going to go out and start buying pages instead of books tomorrow. The same people who buy art buy finished books. Yes, one guy will decide to collect only art, and may never buy books again, but for every one dude who does that, there are dozens, if not thousands, who buy art and still buy comics. That is just a really silly statement. How does spending money on anything comics-related hurt the industry?

    Thanks for the article. I still hear "reader, not collector" all the time. I even find myself saying it. (I’m actually more of a hoarder.) The 90s hurt us all. Deeply. The speculators are gone now. They’ve moved on, to bundled derivatives and short-calls against overnight currency swaps. It’s safe here. It’s time to heal those old wounds, time for collectors and readers to bask in the warm glow of sheer fanboyism. It’s your comic. Do with it what you like.

    I’ll read all of mine. Eventually.


  35. I think that with the advent of digital comics (as you read that, when you hit "digital comics", imagine a choir going "Aaaaaaaahhhh" in the background), the collector/reader divide is going to widen. For a lot of stuff the only way to read it has been tracking down back issues, but now you can get dang near anything you’d want online, either legally or otherwise. For someone who has the mindset of "I just want to read it" that’s going to suffice. For the collectors, even the ones who actually read the books they buy (which, I will agree, is the majority of them), they’re still going to want to have the paper. Personally, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. Everyone collects something, and if your thing is old Daredevil issues, good on ya.

    I do have a problem, though, with people who buy comics, never read them, and have them slabbed or similarly made inaccessable. To me, it’s the same as buying a nice guitar and putting in a glass box, never to be played. Not only are you not enjoying it as much as you could/should be, you’re preventing someone who would from doing so, in a lot of cases. There are exceptions, of course–no one in their right mind is going to be pulling out their original copy of Detective 27 to read–but that just gets my goat.

    And I love my goat. It’s been just like a goat to me.

  36. Great article. I’m not a fan of the “why do we all have to fight, let’s just celebrate our differences” point of view, or the fact that you called collectors a bunch of “squares” (see diagram above), but I thought you made a lot of good points. I’ve always thought it was incredibly ironic to hear people comment about how beautiful the art is in a particular comic book, how they were nearly drooling at the pages, but then when they were done reading the book, the so called beautiful art wasn’t worth preserving by doing the minimal act of putting it in a bag. Is this really the way good art should be treated? Doesn’t it just make sense to preserve good art? I understand the argument about how it’s difficult to read a comic after it’s been bagged, but how hard is it to remove the tape and take it out? I agree that collectors have been wrongly villified by the majority of current comic book consumers. The laziness of current readers bothers me too. I’ve heard discussions by comic book “experts”, about how tragic it is that certain comic books runs aren’t available in trade or current print, so there is “no way” that current readers can enjoy these stories. This point of view completely overlooks the collector market. Just because something was printed more than five years ago doesn’t mean that the public can’t get it. You just have to pursue it and locate it from the appropriate collector or vendor. Unfortunately, most people will probably never experience the joy of digging through a back issue bin, because they’ve been repeatedly told that “collectors” are what was wrong with comics, and have been indoctrinated to buy in to the odd belief that they should pay an arm and a leg for a piece of “beautiful art”, but that they are a sucker if they save and hold on to that prized work of art. It’s time that people stopped feeling ashamed that they are preserving good art and protecting books which can be enjoyed by others in the future. Long live the collectors.

  37. The "joy" of digging through back issue bins is extremely relative. I hate doing it. Especially when I can order stuff online.

  38. This is a fascinating thread!

  39. Thankfully, the internet makes digging through back issue bins relatively unnecessary … 😉

  40. @Cahubble: I’d say it makes it easier.

  41. Silly Jason.  People who buy variant covers don’t have girlfriends.

  42. What do you guys say this becomes the de facto iFanboy "collector’s" thread?

  43. @JumpingJupiter: Yes … I’d say there is certainly some enjoyment associated with browsing … but it is also really easy to just hop online and go to Ebay to look for something … I suppose it depends on your preferences … 🙂

  44. @JumpingJupiter: Maybe we should set up a forum thread …

  45. Bleeding Cool has an interesting column dedicated to "collecting"… http://www.bleedingcool.com/category/speculator-corner/

  46. I’m a smeller, not a taster

  47. @UncleBob: Well done!

  48. Interesting article, and the comments that followed. Good to see the different points of view.

    I’m a reader. I don’t bag and board, and if i like a comic its liable to follow me round in my back pocket or get passed on to someone else to try and get them interested. 

    I think for folks like me, the easy/lazy assumption is that everyone who "collects" does it with a value in mind.  But that is a lazy assumption. Not everyone collects, bags and boards for that reason, some just like to keep their stuff in good condition. Nothing wrong with that.

    I can’t get my head round the value side of things. I can’t see the point in keeping a comic for that reason, in the same way that the novels on my shelf are there because i like them, NOT because they might make me or my family some money one day.

    But even then, if thats what people want to do, the all power to them. One way or another, we ALL collect.