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On Collecting Comic Books April 14, 2006

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Comics, Odds and Ends, Ramblings.
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Since coming back to New York in January, I’ve gone on a graphic novel buying spree. It started with a couple of graphic novels right before Spring Break; before i knew it I’d accumulated enough to consider myself collecting comics again for the third time in my life.

It just makes a lot of sense, value-wise. First, I’ve come to realize that comic books are really priced for the US market. In the Philippines, comics are expensive relative to all the other things that a person can spend on for the same price (not to mention relative to the average salary a person receives). Here, the cost of a comic book is largely marginal. The same is true for graphic novels, which cost the equivalent of a decent dinner or slightly more than a bestselling pocketbook.

Second, graphic novels themselves have changed the comic book market considerably. It used to be that graphic novels were either compilations of limited series or specially commissioned one-shot stories by a writer or artist. Now, comic book companies have wised up and begun collecting story arcs of ongoing series as graphic novels. This makes it easier for those who want to get back into comics to do so, as well as for casual readers to simply pick and choose the stories and creative teams they want to follow. This last point I appreciate a lot. My past flirtation with comic book collecting has made me realize that not all comic books are created equal. Some artists and creative teams are better than others, making collecting a monthly title somewhat of a crapshoot. Collecting comics entails a certain degree of “devotion” to a particular hero, mythos or canon; yet I’ve always found that my devotion goes only as far as how good the creative team behind a specific title is, and have been frustrated on more than one occasion by a creative team I’ve come to like leaving in midstream. At least now it’s easy to follow a creative team and get a complete story in the process.

More, comic book stores here, like many American retail stores, offer a lot of value for money. Walking into one is almost like a religious experience: shelves packed with every conceivable title out there, the freedom to browse as long as you want, and staff that are themselves comic book enthusiasts and often know more about what’s in stock than you do. And of course, there’re the discounts. My neighborhood comic book store, Midtown Comics, offers a 20% disguised discount on graphic novels: for evey $100 spent, they give me back $20 store credit. And it’s not that hard to run up $100 over time. Life just couldn’t get much better.

(Aside: Ten years ago, when my family went to New York on vacation, I happened upon Midtown Comics. So it was a pleasant surprise to discover that the place was still doing well so many years later. In fact, I ended up picking up those first couple of graphic novels recently while killing time at the store before going to Mass. So I guess passing by that one time was very much like a religious experience…)

Actually, it is a whole lot of fun to spend time at a comic book store just to watch the people who frequent it. I’ve noticed that comic book collectors here are more diverse than back home, and it makes for interesting observations. They come in all forms, shapes and sizes. There are people decked out in business attire who go through the new releases shelf with a pile of X-men comics in one hand while fielding a business call on the other with their Blackberry. There are parents who drop by with their kids. Sometimes, it looks like the parents are indulging the children, telling them what they can and can’t buy and when they’re going over their budget; other times I think the children are the ones indulging the parents, waiting (im)patiently for the store clerk to dig up that issue of Green Lantern their parents missed two months ago. Occasionally there’s the well-dressed lady whom I never would have guessed was a comic book collector (collectress?), and I wonder where they have been hiding all my life.

And then of course there are the geeks and nerds. I can spot them a mile away. They come with their (occasionally) unkempt hair, clad in t-shirts or basball caps that proudly display the logo of their favorite superhero. They walk through the aisles and browse the shelves debating some finer point of comic book lore: whether Kevin Smith had a better run on Daredevil than Brian Michael Bendis, who the real Holiday killer was in Batman: The Long Halloween, or whether Marvel’s Ultimate Universe is better than the more established Earth-616 one. I find them amusing, but every time I see a bunch of them animatedly discussing comic book minutiae I can’t help but think them a bunch of weirdos.

Somehow, I suspect that they think the same thing of me.

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