“Man, if I didn’t love this place so much, I’d have gone digital years ago.”
– Me, on any number of occasions, speaking to my Local Funnybook Pusher
So I think I mentioned, in last week’s column about nothing, that I’m in the process of pulling some stuff out of my comics collection to sell. Here’s a picture of that:
Yep. It’s a big ol’ pile of crap.
Well… Not crap, really. There’s some good books in there. In fact, I’d argue that 75% of the stuff you see there qualifies as good funnybooks. I mean, there’s some crap in there, too. Not everything I buy is a winner. But for the most part, that’s good stuff.
So why am I selling it?
Not because I need the money (though the money wouldn’t suck). And not because I’m dumping my comics collection to devote myself to some kind of spare Buddhist asceticism. Trust me, even if I sold everything in that pile, I’d still have more funnybooks than I know what to do with.
And that, right there, is the real motivation: I have more funnybooks than I know what to do with. Even though I’m getting rid of stuff, I still have tons of books I just can’t bear to part with. Stories with depth. Stories inspired by powerful imagination. Stories that mean something to me. I love those comics, and I love having them. But when I look at the stack of boxes I keep them in… sometimes I despair.
I’m constantly running out of room for the things. I’ll do a purge like the one I’m doing now, and all it really does is get the collection back down to the maximum size I can allow it to take up in my house. Then the next week I go out and buy some more. And more, and more, and more, until one day I look around again and think, “Jesus Christ! These comics are taking over my life!”
Heh. Well, okay. I think they actually took over my life when I was, like, five. Now they’re just taking over my SPACE. Which, for me, is far worse. So I pare things down. There are a lot of comics that, while I very much enjoyed reading them as they came out, I know I’ll never read again. About half of Ed Brubaker’s work falls into that category, for instance. Not stuff like Fatale or the recently-completed Fade Out. That’s meaty work I’ll revisit one day. But most of his work-for-hire super hero stuff, like his Captain America run…
…is not something I can imagine ever sitting down with again. It’s great pulpy fun. One of the best runs that character’s ever seen. I still love the audacity in how Brubaker resurrected the one super hero pretty much everyone agreed should stay dead, made everyone love it, then turned around and killed the title character to make the book into an ensemble piece just in time for the Red Skull run for president (!). But it’s all surface. I got it the first time through. There’s nothing to reward a re-read, so… why hold on to it?
About the only work-for-hire Brubaker I’d have a hard time parting with, in fact, is a single eight-issue story in the middle of his Catwoman run. In this one, rival villain Black Mask rounds up some of Catwoman’s friends and puts them in his torture dungeon.
It’s brutally sensationalist stuff, hearkening back to the pulp magazine the bad guy takes his name from. But that’s not why I’m keeping it. No, I’m keeping it for the back half of the story, where Brubaker and artist Javier Pulido spend several issues dealing with the aftermath.
Suddenly, the book goes from lurid pulpy awfulness (which, don’t get me wrong, I totally dig) to painful, understated character study. In a series of short vignettes, only a few pages each, Brubaker and Pulido examine the cast, their relationships, and how the events of the first half of the story have simply, utterly, broken them.
It’s stunning work, written and illustrated in a minimalist style you just don’t see in a big super hero series from a major publisher. I love it, and didn’t even consider selling it when I came across it in the current purge. But you know what? I don’t own that story in single issues. I love it so much that I wanted it for my bookshelf. So I own it in its collected edition, under the title Relentless:
Which, finally, brings me to my point. These days, any comic I love enough to own will almost certainly be published as a trade paperback within a few months. If I want it, I can get it. And the monthly single issues… which are still one of my very favorite ways to read anything… are available digitally. Sometimes that’s even cheaper than print. Also, they don’t fill my house up with things I really don’t need to own. Which is really sounding good to me right about now. So, yes. There is absolutely no reason for me to buy print comics anymore. It’s dumb. I should just stop.
But of course, tomorrow I’ll be down at my local funnybook store, picking up my weekly haul, just like I have every week for the last quarter-century. Why? Well…
I like floppies. They’re fun. Sometimes the art’s really nice, and I like to have it full size in the real world, because it’s more enjoyable that way. The physical object connects me to the book in a way a digital copy never quite manages to do. I like the ritual of it, too, the weekly trip to the store, poring over the racks, the excitement of seeing the latest issue of a book I love, or the thrill of trying something new… It’s a quiet little highlight of my week. There’s also a sense of community about it, just spending some time with other people who like comics. I’ve made lots of friends down at the funnybook store, including the guys who work there.
And that, ultimately, is what keeps me going in this vicious circle of bibliographic binge and purge: I love my local funnybook store, and I want it to stay in business. So I keep going, and I keep buying, in spite of the inevitable annoyance all those books are going to cause me. That’s a price worth paying, I think, in return for… whatever it is I get down there. Comfort. Camaraderie. Fun.
And with that, I bid you adieu. That big pile of crap ain’t gonna price itself, after all…