I hit a realization last Wednesday as I made my pull-list in the wake of Orson Scott Card-gate. I could not, last week, bring myself to buy “Batman” and “Wonder Woman,” even though those titles and their creators have absolutely nothing to do with last week’s entry in the ongoing Internet Brouhaha series. I could not bring myself to buy them. But this is not an article about boycotting. This is an article about collecting and my realization that not buying last week’s “Batman” would mean I would not physically own the finale of the “Death of the Family” storyarc. Comic book fans, you know that that’s a completist’s nightmare.
I want to know how the story ends, sure; in all honesty I’ll most likely check it out digitally in a month once the price drop hits. I’ll probably do the same for “Wonder Woman” (see? If this were an article about boycotting, it would be the most inefficient one ever). The real argument I had for picking up “Batman” #17 last week (despite having two articles that were highly critical of DC Comics published in a48-hour span) was one based on my completist mentality. “If I ever want to sell my Snyder and Capullo run, it’ll be missing the final part of their second big story!,” I kept repeating in my brain over and over again. That part of my brain also has a magic wallet and infinite shelf space, in addition to knowing nothing about hypocrisy. But that was a dumb argument, because history has taught me that I am never going to sell these things.
That’s the revelation.
As any comic book reader who jumped on board in the early ’90s, the notion that these fantastical stapled paper concoctions could be worth anything was burned into our brains. We bought two copies of polybagged issues. We believed it when issues proclaimed themselves to be “1st ISSUE COLLECTORS ITEM!” I started an obsessive bagging and boarding practice at too young of an age. I memorized the value of key issues of “Uncanny X-Men” found in the back of “Wizard Magazine.” The thought that these would someday make me money to buy a ridiculous amount of toys/other comics (screw a college fund!) was as integral to the hobby as the stories themselves. I was convinced when I acquired “Uncanny X-Men” #28, Banshee’s first appearance, that I had made a solid investment in my toy-buying future. The thing is, all of that is contingent upon me actually parting with these things.
I’ve come to realize that value is dependent on factors out of my control. I can’t control how many copies of “X-Men Unlimited” #1 were sold. I can’t control how much other collectors want to pay for the hidden gem that is “Slingers” #1. I thought the former would be worth way more than its cover price in the future, and I’d sure pay way more than the cover price for the latter. Both of them are now quarter-bin finds, as is most every comic book released from the past 30 years.
During Deadpool’s unpopular period, I would find copies of “New Mutants” #98 (his first appearance) carelessly tossed aside in cardboard boxes filled with other discounted comics. Now that same issue goes for ten times its cover price. The market changes too rapidly. Buying comics for the explicit purpose of flipping them on eBay for profit is itself a full time hobby. It’s not one to be done casually in tandem with just collecting comics. I realized that I don’t have the energy to obsess over what is hot, seek out those not-yet-hot comics, and then sell those newly-hot comics at the exact right time. Plus, shipping things is a nightmare. Post offices, am I right?
The comics I have sold in recent years are ones that I no longer have any emotional attachment to, if I ever did. The comics that I hoarded from the free table in the Wizard magazine cafeteria during my time with the company I’ve either donated to charity or gotten dimes for. I’ve sold off most of my single issues of “The Walking Dead,” after I realized that I was much more interested in the iPad I could buy from selling Michonne’s first appearance than her first appearance itself. But I did not buy “Walking Dead” #19 years ago with the intent to sell it. I bought it because I wanted it. I kept it because I enjoyed it. I sold it because I learned that other people valued it way more than I did, and I still have the issue in trade paperback form.
So with “Batman” #17 I had to make a decision. Do I collect “Batman” with the intent to sell it later on? Without #17, any hopes I have of selling “Death of the Family” as one uber-desirable lot are dashed. The answer I have come to is “no.” I still keep all of my comics bagged and boarded. I still pull copies of each issue from the middle of the stack on the shelf at my shop. I still take care of them and keep an elaborate spreadsheet detailing my collection. I still keep tabs on what my collection is worth (old comic book habits die…never. They never die.). But now when I am surprised to learn that the latest “Hawkeye” #1 is worth almost three times its cover price, I don’t have any delusions that that issue is going to put my kids through college (my long-term goals have matured, even though I still regularly purchase toys). I don’t own “Hawkeye” #1 because I want to sell it; I own it because I love it.
There are comic book fans that buy variant covers and key back issues for the purpose of making money. I can now state that I am not one of them. There have been some “Walking Dead” shaped exceptions in my past, but even those comics were purchased for story content, not their potential value. I can’t let my comic book buying decisions be determined by an action that may never take place. I’m not here to sell my comics, I’m here to read them.
But if Marvel decides to make a “Slingers” movie, all bets are off.
Brett White is a comedian living in New York City. He co-hosts the podcast Matt & Brett Love Comics and is a writer for the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre show Left Handed Radio: The Sequel Machine. His opinions can be consumed in bite-sized morsels on Twitter (@brettwhite).