On History: Ditching Your Personal History

By | Tuesday, June 09, 2015 10 comments
Do you recall a few weeks ago when I found six long boxes of comics out by the curb? What I didn't mention here on my blog was that a week later I found another six long boxes. Then last week, I saw another six out by the street, although by the time I was able to get back there with a car, they were gone. But last night, I came across another five boxes, which I was able to pick up. That's 23 long boxes in total, in case you've lost track. Of the 17 that I picked up, they were primarly Marvel and DC, mostly dating from the early 2000s to about 3-4 years ago, but there were a number that went back to the mid-1980s. All of them were in excellent condition, many of them bagged and boarded.

Doing some back-of-the-envelope math, I figure the guy (I'm assuming it's a guy, judging by the contents of the collection) spent somewhere in the neighborhood of $20,000 on these over a five-to-ten year period. From what I can tell from the collection, he was mostly just buying new stuff off the racks as it came out to the tune of $150-$200 a month (that is, most of the major titles both Marvel and DC would put out) with an ocassional bulk purchase of some 1980s runs.

Found comics
What's interesting is that there doesn't seem to be a slow build-up into a regular collector. It doesn't look like he happened across some random issue of Batamn, started picking up that and eventually spread out to Detective Comics and then all DC titles and then all Marvel titles. The collection, rather, seems to suggest he just dove in pretty quickly. Like he walked into a comic shop and started pulling everything off the "New This Month" shelves, and immediately set up a pull list with all of those titles. To me, this suggests one of two possiblities. Either A) he was a lapsed comic reader who was excited to rediscover comics as an adult or B) he was a speculator hoping to fund his kid's education later. In either case, since the books generally don't track back further than the early 2000s, I suspect his interest was kindled, at least in part, by the Spider-Man and/or X-Men movies that started coming out around then.

I'm inclined to think we're looking at a lapsed comic reader here. At most, maybe half were bagged and boarded. And while there were duplicates of some anniversary and first issues, and the books were pretty much all in excellent condition, they seemed to be that way from a lack of negligence than any particular care and attention given to them. By that, I mean that the books appear to have been read once, filed in a long box, and left alone; they weren't read and re-read and thumbed-through. Further evidence of that can be seen in the handful of non-bagged issues that were filed a little carelessly, and wound up curling beside or underneath other issues. If this were the collection of a speculator, I should think more care would have been given to the books' preservation in a pristine format.

The collection seems to stop a few years ago. Given that every title seems to end pretty abruptly, I would venture to guess this was due to outside factors, rather than any dissatisfaction with the content itself. If it were just Marvel and DC, I could see perhaps a weariness with event-driven stories and company-wide crossovers, but he also dropped Savage Dragon, Usagi Yojimbo, Invincible, and other stand-alone titles. So perhaps the birth of a child, or medical bills, or some other significant change in where his money needed to go forced him to quit.

I get all of that. I think I have a pretty clear picture of where this collection came from, who built it, and why.

What I don't get is the sudden need to purge a collection of several thousand comics that aren't that old by throwing them out. He clearly put some decent amount of emotional investment in these stories by not only keeping current with all of them, but picking up some runs of back issues as well. Not to mention the indication that he enjoyed many of the characters as a younger reader as well, whether that was via Saturday morning cartoons or actual comics or both.

I could understand just getting rid of a collection like that if there were some significant emotional distance. The notion of "Man, I haven't even looked at these in over a decade; they're just taking up space!" There's some personal removal from the version of yourself that was spending $200 a month at the comic shop; you're no longer that person and you've had time to reset your identity. Because even if you stop being "guy who spends $50 at the comic shop every week" you typically don't make a conscious decision to stop identifying yourself that way. It's only in retrospect as other forms of self-identity take over that you realize, "Hey, I'm not that guy any more."

So how does that happen? That a guy who's has self-identified as a comic book fan for at least two significant portions of his life, just suddenly decide he's going to literally throw that part of his life to the curb? What would prompt so abrupt a change and one in which he evidently no longer sees even the monetary value of trying to resell his collection?
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10 comments:

Johanna said...

Spitballing:
1. Major life change. For instance, sudden conversion to a religion that doesn't look kindly on this kind of entertainment. If that's the reason, you don't resell, because you don't want the "evil" corrupting someone else.
2. Personal disagreement. Someone in his life said "it's them or me".
3. Sudden need to drop possessions. Moving soon or remodeling wherever these were stored.
4. Original owner doesn't know about it. He (we're assuming he, right?) went into the hospital, perhaps, and someone's cleaning out while he's gone.

Shame we'll never know.

Brigid said...

I think you're the obvious explanation is that the collector died and his family is clearing out his effects.

I'm inclined to think they were still in the hands of the original owner. I think if someone were completely ignorant of comics' values, they'd try to take them to a store to sell them thinking they'd be worth a fair amount more than anyone would actually buy them for, or just throw them out more casually/aggressively than the neat stacks they were left in.

Interesting ideas, though. I suppose it's just so anathema to me that you would just give up so many comics in a random fashion like that (as opposed to gifting the lot to a friend or institution, or selling them) that I'm having trouble thinking outside my own sphere on this.

Matt K said...

Dang, there were six more boxes that you didn't even get hold of? This is just the wildest thing.

I wonder if this is it. I suppose the missing boxes make it more difficult to sense whether the whole collection has been jettisoned yet.

My guess is that this was the last batch. There is absolutely zero order to the books in each box, so each set has books from A to Z from all sorts of time periods so there's not a definitive start and finish. But he kept putting the boxes out six at a time, and then switched to five for the latest. I'm guessing he just divided them into lots as close to even as possible and left the oddball number for last.

But we'll see if there are more next week!

Matt Emery said...

I think your first 6 long boxes were not the FIRST six longboxes. perhaps the origins of the collection disposed of before you found them. My money is on the collector having passed.

John Platt said...

Last year I recycled about 1,000 comics (maybe more) before moving across the country. Moving them would have been too expensive and no stores in Maine (not that there were that many to choose from) would take them. It hurt, but it had to be done.

It's also possible, as people suggest, that the owner passed away. I've heard of several other examples where people died and their relatives didn't know what their collections were worth or didn't care. They just went right into the dumpster.

The average comics collection isn't so liquid as some folks might have you believe.

I purged a similar number of comics from that same era late last year. I was moving to a smaller house and it was just time for them to go. Multiple attempts at eBay found that many of the titles were valueless, even when sold in bulk and for below cover price. More than once I thought I would be as well off by throwing my books in the street as I was selling them for pennies by the pound -- this person may have come to the same conclusion.

Between eBay and donations, I did slim down to six longboxes of keepers which just fit in my new place, but I wouldn't have gotten there if a good comics friend hadn't taken the last three boxes of orphans off my hands at the eleventh hour.

Philip G. said...

For me it was as-yet-undiagnosed depression. About three years ago I pared down from 13 long boxes to 4. And I pulped everything. I'd had it with the idea of being a comics collector. I wasn't enjoying it anymore and I was feeling overwhelmed by this giant stack of comics I was never going to read ever again following me around for the rest of my days. And my collection looked like every quarter bin at every comics convention so I didn't want to waste the time/energy trying to get somebody to buy them. I have since gotten a handle on my depression but I do not regret purging the bulk of my collection. I honestly don't even remember what I threw away (oh, there was the complete run of Hellboy up to that point, that might have been worth a couple bucks, but there it is). And as I slowly get back into comics, I usually buy trades and then re-sell them at used book stores. In short, I completely understand the impulse to divest yourself of an albatross of a collection. And whomever put those boxes out there had to know somebody would feel like a lottery winner for finding them.

Chuck said...

Love the mystery. So why not knock on the door and ask? Maybe they'll be glad to hand the rest over (if any), knowing they're going to a good home.