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Monday, July 16, 2007

“No, I Don’t Own THAT!” or, “Let’s Not Take Ourselves So Seriously - We Read Comics, For Cryin’ Out Loud.”

(Originally posted at Komikazee. Edited.)

If there’s one thing every long-time comics fan probably has in common, it’s that there are some comic books in our collection that we’re not quick to admit we have.

No, no, own up. In the very back of that long box, with no classification and under no specific filing, there is at least one four-color-ish periodical that, though you’re loathe to part with it for some inconceivable reason, you don’t want anyone to know about. Ah, the sensitive psyche of the highly-evolved comics fan.

“Evolved, you say?” I do, indeed. And, while the following may not be exactly how it happens for every collector, based upon my own experience and observations, as well as that of many folks who I've observed and with whom I’ve conversed, it’s in the ball park.

You see, given time, the average collector grows quite discerning. Assuming the hobby is begun in childhood, it most likely progresses along these lines, or something similar: They begin collecting as many comics as possible, enamored simply with the sequential magic that brings such a distinctive kind of escapist entertainment. From there, they choose one or more favorite characters, seeking to acquire as many stories as possible containing that character - all of them, if possible. Eventually, they begin to notice the work of specific artists, selecting a favorite, and this leads them to follow the work rather than just a specific character. For a time, they may even seek to categorize their collection by artist, though this ill-conceived plan is usually, thankfully, short lived.

Then, as age and maturity bring expanded horizons and interests, they begin to explore different genres. Oh, not that the spandex scene loses it’s charm for all (as it does for some), but there grows a desire for something more - deeper, more meaningful storylines and characterization that resonates to a greater degree with that individual. Quite simply, something more mature.

Over time, the collector becomes “refined.” Their discerning tastes lead them to pour over the new comics rack with great care, scoffing silently at much of the flotsam that seems to crowd the all-to-rare comics gems nearly out of view. They are often found rifling through the back-issue bins, seeking out those treasures of old, the heady scent of newsprint bringing on an almost euphoric state. But, alas, they sometimes come up empty handed and are left to muse over the sorry state of affairs that is today’s comics industry with a sympathetic retailer. Long-standing questions once again take center stage. “Where is today’s entertaining and affordable anthology book?” “Where are the great stories that can be read in one to three issues?” “Why can’t Erik Larson fill an issue of Savage Dragon, with great characterization, instead of meaningless fight scenes and impossibly-proportioned objects of pubescent fantasies?” Oh, the sorrow and suffering that is the collector who, esthetically, has grown more mature than the artistic field in which he or she used to find such joy.

Yet, despite this elevated sense of self, well-earned by two or more decades of ink-blackened fingers, and from having survived the almost-totally-art-driven cultural desert that was the comics industry of the early-to-mid-nineties, there remains hidden in the dark places those long-denied acquisitions. Could it be Dell's Frankenstein or Dracula, in which such long-time horror classics are made into costume-wearing superheroes of the painfully-below-average variety? Perhaps an issue (or, THE issue) of Bitter Young Cranks' Poop Jelly, purchased solely on the basis of that silly, yet somehow magical title? How about the amazing, if less-than-gritty adventures of Tod Holton: Super Green Beret? Or, even a copy of the first issue of Power-Puff Girls. After all, having been such a discriminating reader for so long, it’s only right to occasionally placate your inner..8-year-old.....(gulp) girl..? Oh, wait, you bought that because you knew it would appreciate, considering the popularity of the cartoon. Whew! That’s a relief!

Heck, even the adventures of M.F. Enterprises' Captain Marvel have been known to show up in some long-time collectors' boxes. "Split!" Hmmm. As a battle call, it's not exactly up there with "Avengers Assemble," or "It's clobberin' time," but it has it's own subtle charm. Or not.

So, be honest about those secret comics. You’ve nothing to be ashamed of, as you are a distinguished collector of the highest order! Still, it might not be a bad idea to seek out some kind of support group. Or even better, you could start one in your parents’ basement! Just be sure to let me know when the meetings are held.

(Mark Allen would like readers to know that he owns none of the comics mentioned - he’s just sympathizing with those who do. Honest.)