If you ever want to have the majority of your lifestyle choices called into question, try moving. In addition to being incredibly expensive and stressful, nothing will make you examine your life as closely as you will while shoving all of your possessions into dozens of boxes — fifty boxes, actually, in the case of me and my boyfriend.
I’ve spent the last week constantly evaluating many things in my life. How important is living close to a subway? Will I mind having a longer commute? Can I get past not calling Astoria my home neighborhood after almost seven years living there? Is living so close to a full-blown mall in New York City really a good thing? And, of course, why in the world do I need to have this much stuff? What started as a nagging thought turned into a straight-up waking nightmare, sometime around what felt like my twentieth straight hour of packing last weekend, when I realized I hadn’t even touched all of my hardcovers. Yeah, moving apartments when you’ve been collecting comic books for over two decades is hard.
After everything was packed and loaded into the moving van, and after three of my friends bucket-brigade-style helped me unpack all of my comics while I painstakingly re-sorted them on the IKEA bookshelves I keep them on (I swear, one day I’m going to get around to writing my anti-cardboard longboxes piece), I was overcome by just how much stuff I have. When it’s all sorted and in place, it feels like a blessing. When I have to pick it up and move it across a borough, it definitely feels like a burden. And now, while all the single issues, trades, and hardcovers are at home on a shelf, I still have sandwich bags full of action figures in a pile on the floor of my new office, which also has stacks of posters leaned up against every wall. They’re all sitting there, waiting for me to decide their fate.
My mother is also a collector, so I know this has to be something deeply ingrained within me. I grew up in a house full of miniature schnauzer and Basset hound collectibles, not to mention the room in my childhood home literally filled with University of Tennessee merchandise (go Vols, I guess?). If I wasn’t collecting comic books, I would surely be drowning in sitcom artifacts — and yes, I do own a number of original “Bob Newhart Show” TV Guides from the 1970s. Thankfully over the years I’ve managed to transition most of my TV, movie and music purchases over to digital. I’ve only bought one record since I moved to New York, and I’ve outgrown my habit of buying anything Muppet-related at thrift stores. My collecting is pretty limited to comic book stuff nowadays, but that in and of itself encompasses… too much.
I have rules when it comes to buying single issues, which I have written about before. But now, after unpacking a collection of well over 5,000 single issues spread across over thirty boxes, I have to question why I have any of them. As I stare at the blank walls of a new apartment and fight back the urge to plaster posters of She-Hulk and the X-Men over every square inch of them — yes, even in the bathroom and closets! — I wonder why I feel like my fandom has to be both shown and told. It’s like it’s enough that I write about comics regularly, read them daily, and talk about them nonstop when in the presence of at least one other person who remembers who Night Thrasher is. People know I’m a comic book fan without even seeing what t-shirt I have on or — and this is for real — what shoes I’m wearing. Why did I feel the urge to buy X-Men shoes?
But of everything I have collected, the single issues give me the most pause. They’re the ones that were impossible to move; I initially loaded all 5,000 of them into nine plastic boxes — boxes which were then rendered immovable probably even against the mighty forces of Juggernaut. When I try to convince myself why I should keep all of them, I can only come up with one reason. It has nothing to do with the stories, because I either own most of my favorite ones in nice collections or they’re available digitally. I try to trick myself into taking pride in owning full runs of “Generation X” and “X-Factor,” but I know no one who is impressed by that. Heck, I’m not even that impressed by it, considering that I don’t even like huge runs in those series. The only reason I keep my single issues is because of nostalgia, and I’m not entirely convinced yet that that’s a bad reason to keep things around.
I think I’ve watched enough episodes of “Hoarders” to get how dangerous it can be to keep things around because of emotional attachment. I know that getting rid of my original “X-Force” issues doesn’t erase my love for those stories, and I know that the original Marvel “Star Wars” comics I inherited when I was in first grade do not have feelings to hurt. I just like having them, and right now they’re preserved in bags and boards and neatly on shelves. I got them under control. Logically, no, there’s no reason to keep single issues that you haven’t touched in years, but I’ve collected comics non-stop since 1992. This hobby and collection is a constant in my life, one that stretches back further than most every other relationship I have right now, and certainly longer than almost all of my pop culture obsessions. It’s a pain to move, but it’s comforting to have. I know that comfort can become dangerous should I let it start adversely affecting my finances and/or life, so I’m keeping an eye on it — but I don’t think I’m “Hoarders” material just yet.
All of this may sound like I’m down on collecting things. That’s not true, not at all. In fact, I’m way too up with collecting things. Buying things makes me happy, but I can then be indifferent towards the having of things. Yeah, it felt good to buy all of those “Marvel Holiday Special” comics last year, but do I need them? Moving apartments has made me realize that I need to make sure my focus is on things I love, and that I don’t necessarily have to have a thing in order to express love for it. I agreed to a new entertainment center that hides the Blu-rays, whereas a few years ago I insisted that all the spines be showing so people would know what I like.
The thing is, I’m sharing my life with someone that I love, and the three and a half years we’ve been together have been a constant lesson in compromise and sharing, from one youngest-child-of-four to me, the recovering spoiled kid. Collections can run rampant when you’re the sole person they affect, but now that I’m with another person, I’ve had to take into account that I don’t have the only say in how I buy things — after all, I wasn’t the only person who had to move those stacks of “Amazing Spider-Man” comics that I have not read in over fifteen years. As I prepare to make this new apartment feel like home, I feel the need to be fine with easing off a bit on the showing.
But as soon as comics start piling up on the floor with nowhere to go, it’s over.
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 comedy podcast Left Handed Radio. His opinions can be consumed in bite-sized morsels on Twitter (@brettwhite).