Monday, April 27, 2015

My Comic Collection

(Trigger warning: this post is self-indulgent).

We had a flash flood recently. Nothing major, but it hit my storage shed hard. Along with some things of my wife's, I lost a bin full of momentos and half of my comic book collection -- the good half, arguably.

The momentos were, as you might imagine, things like certificates I got in grade school for being good at math or "language arts" whatever the hell that is, the keepsake book from my First Communion, things like that.

This was sad -- I wanted to show my daughter these things someday -- but it didn't hurt me that much. Maybe because childhood, as strenuous as it seems at the time, is no effort at all. What I mean is, as a kid you do not control your life. Your life is directed for the most part. You go to school when you're supposed to, eat meals when you're supposed to, that kind of thing. This is all for the good, of course.

The comics were something else. They were something I did on my own, with (mostly) my own money. I say mostly because some of that was my allowance. The lunch money saved by not eating, I'm not sure how to categorize that since it was given me but I chose not to spend it. Debatable.

So while a certificate for being pretty good in the band was sort of part for the course -- I don't feel I can even really count the effort I put into these things -- the comics were my own time, my own decision, all that effort entirely for myself.

I say that I lost the "good half" of my comics because these were the ones I've had for a long time, the ones I obsessively bagged, boarded and boxed, then graded and valued based on advice from that old flinty devil Overstreet. One of the boxes was probably the most valuable among them -- the original box that came with a kit put out with the Marvel Comics brand as a comic collector starter kit. It was tiny and a bit flimsy and the lid was fussy but it had Wolverine and Captain America and all those guys on the sides, and it was my first. (I tried to find proof of this thing's existence on the Internet and failed, sorry)

Eventually that collection grew to another, longer box that I bought the same place I bought most of my comics -- Mork's Comic Shop. (I changed the name because.) It's weird to think such a place ever existed, especially in the small central PA town where I spend a good bit of my childhood. Not just from the size of the place, but the very fact of a comic book store just seems kind of impossible to me today outside of a metro area. To get there I had to ride my fixed-gear BMX bike something like three miles through hilly country one way. It was worth it.

Mork's occupied what must've been an old five-and-dime store, right on the corner of Main Street and Whatever Alley. And from front to back it was filled with comic books on shelves that seemed like they went fifteen feet high to me (I bet they were close, you had to use a step stool to get at the higher shelves). Even that space was not enough. Comics collected in piles everywhere there was a flat, level surface, stuck to the walls, and of course the super-rare ones in a locked glass case that probably formerly held jewelery or something similar. It smelled like a library and was almost as quiet, especially in the fading light of a summer evening as the sun slanted through the windows and lit up the hanging dust. It was amazing, like being in the warehouse at the end of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK.

And in the back, in a loft built into the far high corner (that, I'm sure, was pretty high up, there was a staircase leading to it) crouched the malevolent homonculus that was Mork Himself. He would sit in his loft watching TV, what I had no idea but I bet now was some bootleg anime on VHS -- I prefer to think that to the alternative. The wall around the loft only went up halfway and there was a curtain he could draw around the top half for privacy. From there Mork presumably kept an eye on you to make sure you didn't shoplift anything. I doubt he was that watchful  but I never made any attempts. I was raised better and fearful by nature besides. When I wanted to buy something, I rang a little bell and Mork would shamble and stomp down the stairs, like summoning some kind of ancient god, and I'd hand over my money and get ...

Well, I was never into the obvious stuff, even then. Mostly. I liked the weird stuff. Or at least the obscure stuff. It helped that back issues of those tended to be under fifty cents, the more popular titles being a dollar or two or even more. I tended to prefer DC and indies over Marvel though I bought anything that looked interesting that I could get a lot of for not much money.

So I bought comics like:

(not googling, from memory)

CAPTAIN CARROT AND HIS ZOO CREW: basically the funny-animal Justice League. For such a serious boy I have no earthly idea why I liked this comic, but I did. As a pre-hipster, maybe I thought it was ironic or something. I don't remember.

Nth MAN: THE ULTIMATE NINJA: How could I resist? Dude was the ultimate ninja. I remember it seemed very mature with its themes of Cold-War espionage, nuclear war, and death. Of course the hero was a man with white hair grown into a ponytail, who didn't wear a shirt most of the time but DID wear a bandolier of throwing stars. That's comics for you. (Most of them are just as ridiculous now, for different reasons.)

THE HUMAN FLY: Inspired by Evel Knievel, the hero was a stuntman who used stunts and stunt work to solve crimes and help people. Yeah. He had a cane with a knob that flipped open to reveal a button he could push to trigger an explosion or some other work he'd rigged up to aid in his work, though he had lots of other gadgets.

JADEMAN comics: These were I think published in Hong Kong and were basically kung-fu comics. I loved kung-fu movies so, no-brainer there. Really cool art. Back then you could kind of dabble in "japanimation" type stuff and still come out OK. Ranged between super-deformed to FIST OF THE NORTH STAR style art.

FLAMING CARROT: more SERIOUS COMICS that I had no hope of understanding at that age. I just thought the guy was cool, he had a giant carrot for a head that was on fire and he'd ejaculate "UT!" at the slightest provocation. No boobies or anything but maybe I shouldn't have been allowed to buy these? I can't remember much about them. UT! My memory is shit.

THE PUNISHER: In case it wasn't obvious I was 11-12 at the time. I wish I could read through these again to see how they hold up.

THE QUESTION: I thought he was the most complete badass. I feel lucky to have gotten to read a good bit of Denny O'Neil's run at the character. His mask was a blank face, he wore a fedora, he knew kung fu and he teamed up with the kind of heroes I liked like Green Arrow, guys without powers. Another "serious" comic. Still in my top 5 favorite comic book characters of all time, close to the top if not #1.

TOO MUCH COFFEE MAN: What was it about this one? No idea except I found it funny somehow.

THE HECKLER: Another one of my all-time favorites. Ultimate badass hero. Take Ambush Bug and make him ironically nasty rather than a harmless imp, that was him. Even Superman couldn't lay a hand on him. Even then I had the idea that comics were dumb fun but I still enjoyed them. I really hope these aren't gone, but I'm pretty sure they are.

There were others, of course, lots of random ones here and there that I bought but didn't like much so I didn't buy more -- remember, these were bagged and boarded so you had to just buy them. You couldn't open and read them to see if you'd like them. Actually I bet I could've and Mork wouldn't have cared but I've always been the type to assume there are rules.

I think I still have some of the old ones left, but what survived is mostly stuff I bought years later. I know for sure that both boxes that were destroyed were all old comics. Including, I bet, my MINT IN FUCKING BAG XFORCE #1 ! Yeah, I took that one out a couple of years ago -- the bag had started to decay and ruined the colors. Anyway, most of what survived looks like comics I bought years later -- which, while I'm sure they were of higher (?) writing quality, just don't have the same magic for me.

I didn't bother to catalog them to see if they were worth anything. Honestly I not only was pretty positive they were worthless, or at least not worth enough to bother making a claim on my insurance given the time it would take -- I kind of didn't want to know. It was this weird hipsterish pride I had, that I had all these comics that were not even worth the paper they were printed on anymore, for which I'd laid down good money, but that I'd whiled away so much time with and enjoyed so much.

It's like for the magic to work, you have to give up something; it has to be about more than just the collector's value -- this was the sin that almost killed comics in the 90s, I think. They went from fun ephemera enjoyed by boys of a certain age and temperament to OMG I FOUND ACTION COMICS #1 IN DA ATTIC WE SAVED THE FARM MAW!

I know that was true for me, at least. With every holographic cover that came out, every ISSUE #1 -- COLLECTOR'S ITEM! I saw on the shelves (I think you could've had a shelf of just those back then), the scales fell more and more from my eyes. I never really looked at comics the same way again.

So in the end these soggy and destroyed comics just went in the garbage, where they will hopefully rot and return to the earth ...

...SHIT, they were polybagged. Well, they're for future generations of intelligent cockroaches to enjoy then, I guess. Consider it my legacy. ("YOU MEAN YOUR CRIME AGAINST THE EARTH SHITLORD")

I trucked them along with me for years, always feeling guilty about it, like I should've got rid of them years ago, yet refusing to out of -- what? nostalgia? sunk cost fallacy? Now they're gone and I don't know how to feel about it exactly.

Maybe I'll go dig out the ones that survived and have a look. I might do another post with more images and more stupid comics series I enjoyed.

Until then, don't fuck with the Heckler.

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