Monday, April 07, 2003

Comic Books and Commerce II
Dave Arnold of Mark's Rare Comics (That's kind of like a man named Lam running a store called Bob's!) in Saratoga, California, recently sent me a white paper entitled "10 Methodologies for Collecting Comic Books." You can email him for a copy of the PDF if you'd like to check it out.

Having just read the four-page primer for potential comic book collectors, I'm torn. On one hand, I think beginner's guides like this indicate a lot of what's wrong with the state of the comic book publishing and retailing industries. On the other hand, the authors step back from several of the more egregious collecting traps. Given my Free-Range Comic Book Project, you may already know where I stand on the topic of "collecting" comic books. If you don't, here's the short form: No bags, no boards, open boxes.

Comic books are meant to be read. And shared. Most of the methodologies featured in this white paper skew more toward the collecting and keeping side of the equation, and that bothers me. It doesn't matter whether an artist or writer is "highly collectible." Do you like their work? Do you need more, regardless of whether they are a "superstar"? Why care about issue numbers at all? If a first issue isn't worth reading, it's not worth getting or owning, and given Marvel's renumbering scheme over the course of the years, I think it's clear that lower numbers don't necessarily indicate better reads.

Budget-price? Now you're talking. Quarter and dollar bins are worth pawing through if you've got the time -- and if you don't mind getting your fingertips dusty. Already, the box of 200 back issues I bought for the Free-Range Comic Book Project has yielded some real finds. The Pander Bros. Akiko. That said, saying that the quarter bin is "a good place to start collecting if you don't know what to collect and want to actually 'read' your comic books" rubs me the wrong way. Is "read" in quotes for emphasis? Or for sarcasm? If you don't read, don't collect. It's as simple as that. Same goes for their comments on condition. They play up the possibility of reselling comics but do mention that if you collect for a sentimental reason -- which still isn't as good as, say, reading for enjoyment -- condition matters less. Regardless, I shudder when I think about condition grades, bags, boards, and boxes. "Slabbing the books in plastic" kills comics. My comics are reading copies, but that doesn't mean that they're all dinged up.

In the end, it's hard for me to be totally disappointed in this slim guidebook for new comics readers. The authors contend that speculation and investment is the "worst way to collect comic books," which earns them some credit. Remember the death of Superman. And they close the list with some thinking about fun. Right on, but the point isn't that fun is the "best way to collect comics." The point is that reading comics can be fun. That you should read comics you enjoy. And that you should, well, read comics instead of collecting them.

When will someone write a white paper titled "10 Methodologies for Reading Comic Books"?

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