On Fandom: Passing the (Human) Torch

By | Friday, March 07, 2014 Leave a Comment
I know of several people who have been deliberately thinning out their comic book collections over the past six months or so. The two most recent are Mike Thompson and my dad. Both have said that they basically have a bunch of old books that they haven't looked at in years and are unlikely to look at again, so they're just sitting in the basement taking up space. Why continue holding on to them?

This is actually my father's second comic purge. He gave me most of his long boxes of comics back in 2008 when he realized he'd been retired for five and still hadn't re-read any of them. When I talked to him on the phone this weekend, he's decided the same about his graphic novels. Both times, he's opted to pass them along to me, believing that I would get something out of them. (While I haven't read each and every pamphlet comic he gave me yet, I've read and referenced many of them. So, yes, I did get something out of them!)

To some degree or another, this type of thing has gone on as long as there've been comics. Someone who collects them for years and decides to get rid of them. Sometimes they get passed on, sometimes they're sold off (as Thompson is doing). Sometimes it's a combination.

But does this collection purging mean they're ending their life in fandom?

In more cases than not, I suspect no. I think there are two types of people who get rid of their books en masse like this. First is the person who still actively enjoys comics but simply needs to clear out some physical space and/or needs a short-term cash influx. Essentially, practical life-getting-in-the-way-of-a-hobby concerns. Second are people who actually lost interest in the medium some time before and just didn't get rid of their comics, either because they simply forgot they still had them (stored in the basement or attic somewhere) or they didn't want to let go of the time/money they'd invested in the hobby.

I think this last group is worth exploring. The people who don't actively read/collect comics but refuse to get rid of their collection out of some sense that doing so would invalidate it. Or, more precisely, that it would invalidate the emotional investiment they put into it. They put their comics away in storage, come across them every few years, and say to themselves that they ought to get rid of them. But they don't because... well... They might trot out some excuses for a significant other, but they're flimsy at best.

This approach strikes me as something akin to nostalgia. Even if they don't read the comics any more, they like what they represented. They liked the fun or excitement or adventure, and the great times they had alongside Spider-Man or Scrooge McDuck or whomever. And getting rid of those comics might mean they're rejecting those great times.

What seems to be lost on them is that the comics are not the great times themselves. They're just pulped wood that have been ascribed some emotional value. The great times aren't inherent in the comics; they're in the reader's head. Getting rid of them has no impact on what went on in the reader's head when s/he was first reading them. There's nothing to invalidate, unless the reader her/himself wants to invalidate those feelings or memories.

I hold on to my comics because I continue to research and write about them. There are many that I haven't read in years, I'm sure, but I never know when I might need/want to reference them. I wrote a piece just this past weekend where I pulled out a dozen books I'm sure I haven't looked at in ten or fifteen years, some of those I even forgot I had! But they were relevant to the piece I was working on and their quick and easy access made the writing go by very smoothly.

But if you're not doing that -- if you're holding on to them because you're afraid of what it means to get rid of them, it might be time to truely look at why you're keeping them around. I highly doubt anyone reading this has that concern (if you're reading this, you're likely still pretty engaged in your hobby) but it's something to keep an eye out for in others.

And, hey, if you're able to show those people what they're doing, you might get some free comics out of it to boot!
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