In the summer of 1985 I was with my mom at our local Safeway, she was grocery shopping and I was sitting on the floor flipping through comics. Yes, those ancient days when you could buy all your monthly books from a spinner rack next to People Magazine and Time. There was never any rhyme of reason to the book placement. One week Action Comics would start the line of comics, the next Uncanny X-Men would annoy my alphabetically charged senses.
Still, it didn’t matter. Every week, while mom was filling the grocery cart with food, I was filling my imagination with its own brand of food. A few financially forced breaks not withstanding, my weekly feed of the fantastic has continued since that summer day in 1985. In a short amount of time, my bedroom transformed into the warehouse scene at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Sans the stenciled boxes detailing the contents within. Every kid had that special place that was his or hers alone. A place where anything and everything can happen. Not so with I.
I had a multiverse of infinite worlds…
Each week fresh issues would add to my multiverse, and each week my room became a more treacherous location to tread. Not many people realize this, but a good stack of comics on synthetic fiber carpeting is quite possibly the slickest substance on Earth. Then, there was the random chance of hoofis laceratious via pulpitis, aka, getting a wicked paper cut between your big and index toe on an issue of Son of Ambush Bug #4. (Something that is embarrassing on multiple levels). It was becoming clear that I needed to do something about my growing collection. I know some of you comic book Geeks are already yelling at me for keeping my monthlies in such a lackadaisical manner. Well first, I was but a child at the time and knew not of the care and love of the 4-color world. Second, my town only had two locations where one could buy comics, both involved spinner racks and the word “- Marts”.
Hell, no one had even heard of the term long or short box. I was on my own. Taking a cue from my grandmother and her near-mythical ability to keep any paper item in mint condition, I went to the local hardware store and bought about six square blocks of cedar. Then, I just stacked my comics into neat piles and stuffed them into my empty dresser drawers. (The clothes having long since been shoved under my bed, next to Mitchell, the imaginary demon with razor-blade fingers, but that is another story). Oh and why cedar blocks? I have no idea, but I was convinced those chunks of wood would protect all my books until the end of time. Or, until I needed that down payment on a house that I was absolutely convinced my Spiderman vs. Wolverine #1 would buy. (While I now have a home of my own, Weapon X had very little to do with buying said home).
That lasted about four months.
The system could have lasted a bit longer, but parents have this lame habit of asking why all my clean clothes were covered in carpet fibers and why my fingers constantly smelled like the backyard. (Considering where I grew up, having my fingers smell like cedar trees should have been a blessing). Still, the clothes had to go back and the comics needed a home, yet again. Enter Mile High Comics. I know some of you old school comic fans are nodding your collective heads. Especially you old schoolers that didn’t have access to the wonders of a local comic book shop. The mythical Mile High Comics in Denver, Co. Their ads were inside every book of the day, which that cheesy squirrel clutching a flag waving in the cool Colorado air. They had the key to all my woes. Not only would they send me my monthly books, but they’d send them with glistening cardboard backs and sheathed in plastic slipcovers. (Although you had to pay a grip for the coveted acid-free Mylar bags, those were for rare books only). Plus, you could order all manner of comic book storage.
How my mind raced at the image of a room covered in wall-to-wall comic book boxes. Each one meticulously labeled and cross-references as only a 10 year-old can! For years, Mile High Comics was my pulpy savior. They made sure I never missed an issue. When Jean Grey died (again), Mile High Comics sent me the book. When it came time to toss in my 50 cents and sentence death upon Jason Todd, Mile High Comics got me the number. Whenever I found a sweet stash of back issues from a day of garage sales and I needed pounds of archiving supplies, Mile High Comics stood ready and willing. When I foolishly decided to start a small comic book store out of my bedroom for other neighborhood kids, Mile High Comics set me up with an honest to goodness business account. To a young comic book fan in a (literal) one-stoplight town, Mile High Comics was a saint.
Although I’ve had an opportunity to visit the legendary Mile High Comics, I don’t think I want to. How can anything, especially a store, even attempt to match the comic book Valhalla of my youth? Truth or not, I want to keep my mental image of a massive Ziggurat of a building containing every single comic book ever made, each one perfectly cataloged and accessible by that damn squirrel.
This is a long way to get to the point, isn’t it?
What is this point? Well, I’m not there yet. Thanks to Mile High Comics, I had rows and stacks of pristine short boxes with which to store my glorious comics. I treated my comics with more care and respect than most family heirlooms. When the time came for my family to insure our household items, my comics were the only items I included. When I moved from that hellhole of a town to glorious Portland, the comics were the first items packed. When I lived on my own, free of any significant other, I made sure I had room for my comics. Go ahead and make all the jokes about Geeks and our obsessive nature. Yes, I was only two steps away from turning into Brodie from Mallrats. Didn’t matter. My comics were perfect little slices of entertainment. My comics were also a window into a time when I didn’t have to worry about rent, bills, student loans, term papers, and lack of health insurance. However, I knew the time would come some day that my comics would go away. Not my love for them, which will never go away. No, I knew the day would come when I had to bid a final farewell to my 23 pages of youth.
That time has come.
Why now? Why have I picked my 32nd year on this green planet as the one where I finally say goodbye to the floppies of my youth? Well, to put it simply, I’ve outgrown my own collection. I just can’t bring myself to store the comics any longer. And, to be honest, I rarely go back and read those books anymore. That isn’t to say I don’t love the characters or the stories. I’ve read them so many times, I know them as well as , followed by Ed Brubaker’s glorious run on Denny O’Neil, hell, I, can even reminisce about “From the Den” editorials. (It should be noted that the lack of well-written editorial are seriously lacking in comics, but that is an article for another day). The day came when I moved my wondrous short boxes one final time. With a heavy heart, I dropped my boxes at a local comic book store and asked with a sigh, “What can I get”?
About as much as I expected.
Long gone are the days when a comic could buy you a new car. The speculative market of the early 1990s made sure no one would ever be able to retire on their books ever again. I was ready for the cold reality of modern comic economics. The low amount I received for my decades of collecting didn’t shock me one moment. I know the state of the comic book industry. I was a collector no more. However, lest you think I need to cash in my Geek card, I should say that my collection went to the only logical item a Geek of my caliber: Graphic Novels.
What? You actually thought I wasn’t giving up on comics.
My collection simply shifted into a more refined unit. Say what you will about the modern “writing for the trade” format, it makes some glorious hardbacks. Hardbacks that will form the basis of my newly budding Graphic Novel library. Some people fill their homes with literary classics. Well, I’m filling mine with modern classics. I started with the fantastically oversized Absolute Edition of DC’s New Frontier, followed by Ed Brubaker’s glorious run on Captain America. The Absolute Watchmen, Absolute Kingdom Come and the Absolute Sandman won’t be far behind. (To say nothing of the fact that DC has been printing archive quality hardbacks for years and I will have each and every book in that collection). Sadly, I am still left with a quandary and the point of this meandering rant.
What about my weeklies?
Per issue sales are the lifeblood of the comic book industry. If an issue doesn’t sell “x” amount of issues, then like an under-watched television show, the comic ceases to exist. That is the proverbial Catch-22. If you want to see a fantastic story make it into a wonderful hardback collection, it needs to sell well during the monthly run. However, as one that simply lacks the room to maintain a thriving monthly collection, I don’t know what to do next. I love going to my local comic book shop every week and pick up my floppies. That is never going to change. Does this mean that every few months I march back into my local store and try to trade in my paltry collection? Do I simply toss the books in the recycling bin, treating the books like the disposable entertainment?
And so, I leave it to you, the fine Geek in the City reader…