Recently I sold about half of my comic book collection to a local dealer. I’m in the market for a new instrument, and like too many other things, instruments are really expensive. I thought that by unloading a few boxes of comics I’d get ahead on the saving a little bit. This meant that I would need to sort through my collection and make tough choices: What comics should I keep? And what comics should I let go of? This process got me thinking about the difference between collecting and hoarding (which led to my first post on the topic).
To recap my first post, according to Webster to collect something is to “gather together” that thing. As in, “I’m going to start a baseball card collection,” or “The bank has called and they want to collect our late mortgage payment.” It also has another definition; “calm and controlled.” As in, “After the mugger took off with his wallet, Charlie tried to remain collected and walked briskly home.”
Also according to Webster: to hoard something is to “accumulate something and hide it away.” Or as a noun, “a supply stored up and hidden away.”
I’d like to add my own definitions to collect and hoard, however. To collect is to accumulate meaning. To hoard is to search for meaning and in the process accumulate. Here’s the story of how I got there:
Comic books for me are more than just some hobby of my youth. They aren’t even “of my youth,” actually. I began to seriously collect them when I was 17 (almost a man to most people) after I broke up with a high school sweetheart. Like most artistically bent 17-year-olds who have just suffered a break-up I dove deep into reading and music. I spent most of my family’s waking hours playing electric guitar, bass, or drums in my bedroom and garage, and then after they fell asleep I stayed up late reading in bed. I read more than just comic books at the time…but not much more. I fell in love with the rise and fall of the simple story arcs, got geeked by the weird powers and secret identities, and was entranced by the art. Comic books are a medium that requires more of you imagination than you might think. It’s not just reading a book with pictures. It’s reading a dialogue-heavy story filled with visual gaps that your mind has to fill in. The real magic in a comic book is the space between the panels.
But enough romanticism about the art-form. The point is, this comic book collection was filled with meaning for me. In part I draw a bit of my identity from it. I can pick up certain issues and tell you were I was when I bought it, who I was with, and what the story-line is about. Others in the collection were gifts from friends. Others were bought on trips, or were ‘buried treasure’ finds at a flea market or garage sale. This collection is filled with so much meaning that I’ve carted it to and from my college dorm rooms, to several apartments, to the home we live in now. Never, until recently, have I ever considered breaking up the collection.
Two of my favorite comic book heroes are Spider-Man and The Flash.
So why the break it up now? Something else came along that has more meaning for me…
I’ve been a musician since I took my first piano lesson in kindergarten. Learning a new instrument is a great joy for me, and I fortunately have just enough talent that I can eek out a few notes on most instruments I try. If I’m ever going to get this new instrument (a cello), I’ve got to put together some cash. But how was I going to decide which ones to get rid of? I certainly wasn’t ready to part with the whole batch cold turkey. This was going to take some work.
So, there I was. In my basement. On a Saturday afternoon. Cold. Sipping coffee. Pulling out heavy boxes of comic books and sorting through them quietly because my toddler’s room was above me and I didn’t want to disturb his nap. As I flipped through them I started to see many that I couldn’t remember. How could I have possibly forgotten the plots to these things? I practically lived on them for three years. It disturbed me. Where was the meaning in each issue that I remembered? Then, even more disturbing, I started to see one to many that I really didn’t like. “Oh, yeah,” I would think. “I remember being really disappointed in this one and wanting my money back.” Comic books don’t come free, you know.
Here’s where the hoarding part of the story comes in. I realized as I looked through my collection that I had long sequential “runs” of a series of comics that I didn’t really think were that great. In the comic book world it’s not uncommon for writers to work on a certain comic book (“Batman” for example) for years and then move on to something else. So, that means if you’re a Batman fan, every couple of years, or sometimes every couple of months, the creative team will change. Some creative teams are better than others. So, if you collect Batman for ten years in a row you end up with many comics that you really like, a few that you really don’t, and a bunch that you are indifferent about. I had many comics in my boxes that I didn’t really care that much about. As a part of my whole collection they had meaning, simply because I collected them. But on their own, they were meaningless. The only thing they brought me was a shallow sense of identity. Something like, “I’m a real Batman fan because I’ve collected every issue from 1998 to 2008″ (for example
This is my short box. It is stuffed to the brim with issues of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. A promo issue of Spider-Man is laying on top of the box in this picture.
This brings me back to the difference between hoarding and collecting. As I looked through my collection that afternoon I eventually made choices about what issues to keep and what issues to sell. I realized that I was also making identity choices. Who would I be? A collector? Someone who gathers something that is filled with meaning? Or a hoarder? Someone who accumulates stuff in his search for meaning and then hides away all of the meaningless things he ends up with.
I hope I’ve made the right choice. I said goodbye to half my comic book collection and opted to save up for a cello, something that I hope will continue to bringing meaning to my life (and the lives of others) for years to come. When I was making decisions about what comics should stay and what comics should go I tried to keep only the issues that I had a real connection too – a memory, a feeling, an unforgettable plot, or groundbreaking artwork – anything that gave it a story worth remembering.
I feel like my identity changed a little bit with this sale. It marks a shift in my thinking, and now in my actions. I’ll let you know if and when I ever get that cello.