What Should My Library Look Like Anyway?

By | Monday, October 01, 2012 5 comments
One of the exciting prospects involved in moving and getting new digs is the notion of starting fresh. A way to force yourself to break out of old habits and old thinking. That was the great thing about going off to college -- it opened up a lot of possibilities, not only in terms of a formal education but just by forcing you to perceive the world differently by virtue of the fact that you're seeing it from a different vantage.

Anyway, just the idea of getting a new house has really sparked some thinking for me lately. I've mentioned some thoughts about setting up my library, but I been doing some more thinking on the subject. One of the things that helped was actually setting something up digitally. I had already mostly decided on the type and amount of shelving I would need to get, and was playing around with Ikea's old planning software. I placed the furniture in a kind of generic room (obviously, I don't have any real dimensions yet, much less window and door placements) and then threw a snapshot of that into Photoshop to get a better sense of what things might actually look like. Here's what I threw together...
Nearly everything there is actually stuff I already own. In fact, the comic covers and book images are from photos of my old library. The only pieces shown above that I don't already have are the Asterix wall decal and the Strange Tales print.

This exercise has proved very useful in a couple respects. First, it shows that the basic structure/layout that I was shooting for generally works as I was hoping, by providing lots of storage space for my materials (comics, graphic novels, reference books, etc.) with a handy work area for actually doing whatever writing I'm trying to do. Plus, I'll have ample flat surfaces in which to store either items that don't fit on the shelves (oversized books, for example) or related items that I just want to display (like the handful of nerd hummels I have there). It also shows that I'll need an additional small work surface for my microfiche reader, but that can easily fit to the right of the chair.

The second noteworthy thing that this highlights is what the overall impression of the room is. One thing that I would very much like to avoid is having the room look like a shrine to superheroes. While I've certainly spent more time reading superhero comics than anything else, I want to ensure that a wider variety of formats and genres are represented. What we're looking at here, I think, is still pretty heavily weighted towards superfolks. I've got a statuette from One Piece, another from Fairy Quest (Although, technically, I don't have it my possession yet, Paul... just sayin'!), the Asterix decal and one piece of original comic strip art. Technically, the Jack Kirby piece is more of a science fictiony thing, too, but it's hard to escape Jack's connection with the superhero genre. The one newspaper strip reference I have is still tied to the Batman daily strip. I have some different original art I could put up in place of that Thing on the back wall, but few that work as display pieces. I could maybe put up one of my High Moon pieces, but those are horizontal, and I might not have enough space there for them.

As I noted in that previous post, I might try to procure a Winsor McCay print. And I've got a Hobbes plush animal being shipped. Those will help in the newspaper strip department. I don't have thoughts on much else, though. Most of the manga I read doesn't have much in the way of commercial products attached to them, at least nothing more than the occasional poster. Ditto with most European comics. I was hoping to see more materials around the new Judge Dredd movie, but I'm not seeing much there beyond a new statuette.

As I said, I spent many years reading superheroes, so it should come as little surprise that I have more stuff from that genre. And when I started really getting into materials outside that niche, I had largely stopped getting representations of those new pieces in favor of putting my money towards the new stories themselves. But taking a few moments to reflect on that (as I've been doing the past couple weeks) I think not doing that has skewed what my library will look like, and if I want it to reflect what I'm reading now, I might need to make a few additional decoration purchases than just some nice furniture.
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Matt K said...

Hobbes plush toy?

Yeah, you better get out of the state of Ohio. Bill Watterson ain't gonna like that! :)

He'll need to tackle the folks selling them on Etsy before he gets to me. I know it's not licensed, but damn if this woman didn't do a stellar job interpreting the character. I mean, it's like a REAL Hobbes!

Matt K said...

Yeah, I did a search last night and saw some images; they look sharp.

It's a stuffed tiger, of course, and BW didn't invent tigers. I've always figured Hobbes in toy form was (intentionally) so generic that it might be difficult to press the issue (especially over the crocheted one). Though I suppose selling it as "Hobbes" asks for trouble.

Beyond that, I've never entirely decided how to feel about the absence of licenced C&H products. On the one hand, I respect Watterson's rights as a creator and the integrity of his decision. On the other hand, people loved that strip, and it seems like the missing toys, etc., represent a lot of joy that has been sacrificed to one man's demands.

Can that be right? And if it isn't, well, does this mean I can't take offense at "Before Watchmen?"

Of late I've tended to conclude that if you truly want to control your idea and restrict its circulation, you ought to keep it secret. Whereas, at least in an ideal imaginary world of reformed IP law, ideas, once made public, should be truly released rather than locked behind glass, i.e. look but don't touch. Maintain the right to revenue (at least until The Singularity), but not control. Compulsory licensing is probably the way to go.

Which would open the door to more crap like "Before Watchmen," but also to lots of good things too. And I think the good material would generally survive the threat of dilution by inferior spin-offs, particularly when those spin-offs couldn't claim "official" status (at least, without the original creator being a participant). On balance I look at the flood of Sherlock Holmes material and see no reason to be afraid of letting 1,000 flowers bloom.

(And yes, I know, not happening any time soon. But this is stuff I've had on my mind a long time and this finally seemed the occasion to voice it.)

It's an odd balance: control and revenue. Even the most idealistic artists I've read about/talked with are grounded enough in realism to know they have to relinquish some level of control by way of selling their works to the masses in some capacity in order to make a living. You can still, in this day and age, live off the land as it were (dumpster diving, urban foraging, etc.) but, as in the past, doing so takes so much time that you have precious little left to devote to art. So, yes, if you really want full control of what you create, you have to keep it secret from the world, but then you have to "work for the man" in order to survive. So guys like Watterson, Ditko, Rickheit, etc. give up the smallest amount of control they can (by publishing their work) in exchange for the ability to live in a market driven economy and still create art.

Watterson found himself in a slightly different position than other idealistic artists in that his art spoke to a very broad swath of people. (Spider-Man does as well, but it's not really Ditko's despite his work in creating the character.) So people want to have more interaction with the characters and ideas embodied in Calvin & Hobbes, but that of course also inherently means less control for Watterson.

The issue is that licensing is, by definition, a willful relinquishment of some control. I think Watterson recognized that ANY licensing agreement is going to be most advantageous to the people who have the highest-paid lawyers (i.e. not him). That's precisely why/where/how Moore got screwed on Watchmen and why we now have a toaster that burns Rorschach's face onto your bread.

I think that Watterson was conscious enough of his limitations of lawyer-speak to know that even a single Calvin & Hobbes toy (or t-shirt, or frozen ice cream treat, or whatever) license could spin wildly out of his control before he realized it, and suddenly there's a guy on every street corner hawking Calvin t-shirts right next to Bart Simpson ones. Financially lucrative, perhaps, but how much control does Groening really have over the Simpsons these days? Roughly none, I'd wager.

Am I disappointed that there aren't Watterson-approved action figures and plush toys and video games and everything? Yes. I wouldn't want all of it, but a token physical acknowledgement that I like and appreciate the strip would be nice. Because you're right -- as soon as he shares the strip with anyone, it's in my head and beyond his control. And while Watterson controlled the destiny of the strip proper, the Calvin & Hobbes in my head is ultimately more powerful.

Related to the Watterson discussion: yesterday's "Indexed"... http://thisisindexed.com/2012/10/nothing-helps-a-bad-mood-like-spreading-it-around/