Thursday, January 10, 2013

From the ashes, like a phoenix - Part 1


Welcome to this new blog, which I call "Statues and Superheroes" (S&S for short).  I am an old-time comic collector (my first comic-books were dated 1975 or so) who ceased collecting comic-books almost fourteen years ago, and has just gotten back into the hobby in the last month or so.  This blog will chronicle my journey back into the world of collecting both comic-books, and associated collectible materials, such as superhero busts, action figures, statuettes, and the like.  I love to write, so over the coming months, I will hold forth on a variety of topics such as what I think of today's comic-books, which comic creators I like (or dislike) the most, and which action figures or statues I think are worth buying (or are best avoided).  But today, I am going to start by explaining why I quit reading comic-books in early 1999, and what caused me to return to the world of comic-book collecting about a month ago, in 2012.

I began reading comic-books in around 1975, although you really couldn't call what I did "collecting" back then. I was barely old enough to read, and I had no concept of serialization.  The idea that comic-books were numbered sequentially, and that it might be desirable to have a long "run" of comics in numerical sequence (say, ten issues in a row), never occurred to me at that age.  Then, in late 1976, by sheer luck, I ran into Godzilla, King of the Monsters #1, which was published by Marvel Comics.  I loved monsters, and Godzilla was my all-time favorite, so the idea of a comic-book about Godzilla was like manna from heaven.

However, at that point, I did not yet understand that comic-books, like magazines, were published monthly.  Buying comics was a random event -- I would happen to be with my father at the news stand, and he would say, "Steve, would you like to buy yourself a comic?" Then I would go to the rack and spin it, looking for a cover that interested me.  One month it might be Action Comics starring Superman and Supergirl.  The next it might be Brave and the Bold starring Batman and the Metal Men.  And this time, it was Godzilla #1.  And so, although I enjoyed the comic and read and re-read it until I wore out the spine, it never occurred to me to go looking for #2, #3, and so on.

My father, however, knew I liked Godzilla, and so occasionally he would see one in the news stand and pick it up for me. He got me #5, then #8, and finally #10.  At this point, I started to realize what was going on. I was nearly a year older. I noticed that some of the events in issue #5 had follow-ups in issue #8, and so forth.  At that point, which I believe was late 1977 or early 1978, the idea of collecting "every issue in a row" finally hit me, and I got every Godzilla comic from that point until the series ended (on #24).  From that point on, I was not just a reader of comics; I was a comic-book collector.

As the years passed, I expanded my horizons from comics about monsters and toys, to superheroes.  I collected Thor and X-men, Avengers and Captain America.  Until 1981 or so I was a loyal Marvel fan, refusing to even look at a DC comic. But then a friend introduced me to the Legion of Super-Heroes, and those books happened to guest-star Supergirl, a character I had always liked, and who really grew on me during that series, probably due to the excellent writing of Paul Levitz.  I then began to collect Supergirl's series, The Daring New Adventures of Supergirl, which even though it wasn't very good, turned me into a die-hard fan of Kara Zor-El (the original Supergirl).

As time went by, my tastes slowly evolved.  I began to dislike the expansion of the mutant storylines in Marvel, from X-men into nearly every book they published by the late 1980s.  I stopped collecting Marvel Comics except for Captain America (since I had an unbroken run of over 100 issues in a row), and switched entirely over to DC.  I followed DC comics until 1999, at which point I stopped collecting them.

Why, though, did I stop collecting comic-books?  There were several events in the late 1990s that killed my interest in comics.  First, many of the series I was collecting had gone downhill.  By 1996, I was collecting only a handful of comics (Legion of Super-Heroes, Catwoman, Power of Shazam, and the new Supergirl series).  I tried a number of other series but none of them caught my eye. And so I was already starting to become a little frustrated with comics.

The mortal wound, however, came in 1996. I was in graduate school, in a small one-bedroom apartment with very little room, so I had left my collection of nearly 2,000 comic books in my old room in my mother's house.  In early 1996, however, mom retired and moved to a smaller place, and no longer had room for the comic boxes.  My sister had just moved into a large house, and had room in her basement, so she took them for me temporarily, with the understanding that the next Christmas, when I came home in my car, I would pick up the boxes and haul them off to my own apartment (and where I would have put them, I have no idea).  Unfortunately, before this could happen, there was a terrible rainstorm, and my sister's basement flooded. Although she was able to salvage a box or two (perhaps 200 comics total) the vast majority of my nearly 2,000-comic collection was destroyed.

Needless to say, this was a devastating blow to a collector.  After spending more than two decades and thousands of dollars collecting new issues as well as back-issues, and buying protective bags and boards to store and defend my comics, nearly everything was wiped out, and I was back to square one. The comics I was currently collecting were not immune... LSH was up to issue 80 or 90 at the time, but 1-50 had been in my sister's basement, destroying my nearly 100-issue run of that title.  Catwoman met a similar fate.  I almost gave up on comic-books completely at that point. But not quite.

The collector in me had been mortally wounded but was not yet dead.  I still had a few series I was enjoying, particularly Supergirl and Shazam. But I began to struggle to keep the series going without gaps, in a way I never had before.  In fact, I only succeeded in doing so with Supergirl.  What happened was difficult to understand at first. You see, I knew what day was "new comic day" (back then, I believe it was Thursday).  I would go to the shop each week (though I could not always make it "on the day"). I knew on which weeks the series I collected were published. For example, I'm fairly sure Power of Shazam came out on the 3rd week of every month.  I would make every effort to drop by the comic shop each week and pick up my titles, but sometimes I missed them even so.  This became very frustrating to someone who likes to collect unbroken runs of issues.

I eventually discovered that the reason behind this was a new ordering practice that was rapidly becoming common.  Comic shops, barely able to make a profit, could not afford to order extra copies of issues that did not sell.  And so they would only order enough to fill their in-store subscriptions (the so-called "pull lists"), and perhaps one or two extra.  Thus, the issues would sell out almost immediately -- which was great for the comic shop (no waste) but terrible for a browser like me.  Finally, I realized that if I wanted to maintain unbroken runs, I would have no choice but to subscribe to the in-store pull list.  And so I did.

However, although that worked for a few months, eventually even that failed me.  For a few weeks in a row, when I walked into the shop and asked for my comics, I was told my folder was empty. Then one week, I was told I had no pull folder.  I asked what had happened, and they claimed I had not picked up my comics in over a month, which had led them to canceling my pull list subscriptions.  After arguing with them, and explaining that I had been in every week and they had screwed up, they offered to re-institute the pull list, but the damage had been done. I had missed every one of the most recent issues for the last few series I was collecting, and I was so angry at the shop that I no longer wanted to do business with them.  I walked out of the store and gave up on comic-books.

Over the years since, I occasionally would see comic-books in a book store or at a news stand and flip through them, but I always felt so confused and lost that it was overwhelming to think about going back.  I also didn't like what they were doing to some of my favorite superheroes ("Matrix" Supergirl being a prime example).  And so I stayed away, until a month ago, December of 2012.  For almost 14 years, I continued to enjoy superhero movies, like Spider-Man and Batman Begins, and even to play superhero video games, like City of Heroes and Champions Online. But I never bought any comics until last month.

What happened to change my mind, to cause me to rise from the ashes, like Jean Grey/Phoenix? I will explain that in the next article... stay tuned!

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