Deconstructing a comic book collector

Jesse and I are putting together a questionnaire about people’s personal collections for distribution later in the month (hopefully). Thinking up questions has gotten me thinking about my own mound of long boxes. The question I spend the most time reflecting on is: what books/ artists/ writers informed my taste in comics?

These are the three biggest influences for me.

1. Marvel Milestone Edition: Giant-sized X-Men #1 I wonder if it isn’t weird that the book that seriously got me into comics is a mass market reprint. Right around the time I turned twelve I got a copy of this reprint from Walden Books. Changed my life. I had previously only dabbled a little in Spider-Man, Superman, and Batman, but seeing the fast pace and the variety of characters spoke to me. I loved Cyclops as a near stoic leader, and I loved seeing Professor X putting the team together. I had never seen or read anything like it, and I wanted more. The X-Men were my gateway drug into comics.

I still have a deep love of the mutant world, but I don’t follow the convoluted stories and plot threads in most of the current titles. Looking at my collection now, I see that it influenced me in a deeper way: a majority of my collection is team books. In most cases, I would rather read about a team than seeing an individual going it alone issue after issue.

2. In the same way that you can break down the group sports fans into more specific groupings, you can break down comic book collectors.  Generally, most collectors can be compared to baseball fans. Rabid, detail/ minutia minded, fact filled, and dedicated. There are a couple of groups that stand out as especially rabid and stereotypical: Legion of Superhero fans and golden age fans. Golden Age are essentially Yankee fans. There’s a love of history, tradition, an age gone by, and legacy. Legion fans are Cubs fans. It’s harsh, but true. Every time there’s a new Legion series it’ll start off with a bang, but it’ll peter out before or during the playoffs. Just like the Cubs each season. So Legion fans stand out because they stick around to the bitter end and complain, but they come back series after series knowing it’ll only end in heartbreak. This is a roundabout way to say that I’m a golden age fan. What turned me on actually wasn’t exactly a comic book; it was a book about comic books.

The summer between junior and senior year in high school, I had to spend my days with my father at work. He worked in the library of the local university. Here I found an encyclopedia of golden age characters. It was surprisingly comprehensive in both detail about character and variety of entries. I learned of Captain Triumph, Air-Wave I, Blue Beetle I, Hyrdroman, Hourman, Starman, Vision I, Angel I, etc… I practically memorized the book. Coincidentally, it was around this time that Sandman Mystery Theatre published it’s Hourman story arc. I scooped it up and that’s all she wrote. I was the comic book equivalent of a Yankee’s fan for good.

3. Kingdom Come is, for me, the best most enjoyable alternate reality story/ dystopian comic book story. I read this book at least once a year and I’m still finding new things in both the art and writing. Yes, Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen are revolutionary and brilliant, but they’re brilliant in the same depressing way that Brecht and Wagner and Dostoevsky and Tolstoy are brilliant. Kingdom Come stands out because it speaks to the optimist in me. The book ends with hope. As grumpy as I can be, it comes from a place of disappointment more than depression, spite, or plain contrarian views. A frustration that things aren’t as good as they could or should be.

Hope is what comics are about for me.  Don’t get me wrong; it’s not Pollyanna-esque or any other uninformed optimism. Hope is people using their abilities (magical or unrealistic as they may seem) to make their world a better place in some way. Certainly you stray from that goal from time to time, and you can lose your way pretty easily. Kingdom Come shows that if you can just relocate that path you’ll come out better and stronger. It’s a helluva story with art that will knock you on your ass. At the end of the day, it’s THE comic book in my collection.

These three books are what have shaped me as a collector. Each is emblematic of a theme or trend you would notice if you looked at my collection as a single body of work. What books, titles, artists, or writers have shaped, guided, or informed your collections?