Revisiting the Gift Economy

By | Wednesday, January 04, 2023 2 comments
My wife and I were talking a bit yesterday and she asked what I was going to do with all the comics that have been stacked in our living room since last summer. About half of the pile you see in this photo is from a friend who passed away and willed to me his collection, and the other half are books my dad decided to finally clear out of his basement around the same time. The pile actually looks a bit nicer now, as I've pulled out and organized all the floppies into seven clean, new long boxes but there are still enough magazines and graphic novels that there are some of the regular cardboard boxes too. I at least tried to consolodate them out of the more trashy-looking boxes you can see in the picture.

There are two reasons they're still all in our living room. First, my comics library is full. I've put shelves everywhere I can and filled every one, including stacking books sideways on top of the ones shelved "normally." My wife has been witness to how I've built/grown my collection since I first built my library, so she knows this. Second, we really don't use the living room much. We don't watch much TV or entertain people here, so the room mostly gets used by our dog for looking out the front window. Which means the boxes of comics aren't really in the way of anything. Really, the biggest issue with their presence here is that we've got this pile of unattractive cardboard boxes to look at.

The discussion then turned to repurposing some of our rooms. Can I make one of the other rooms a second comics library? Do we need treat the living room as a living room? Do we turn the guest room into an office and the office into something else? (My wife has never been keen on the room we use as her office, but she's not keen on treating any of the other rooms as an office either.) We didn't come up with any solutions, but that's the current discussion: how to better utilize our space for how we live our life.

But that's all kind of ancillary to my what I wanted to get to. I have in my living room a significant enough stack of comics that I don't have any ready place to store them. Seven long boxes, as I said, and another twelve 'regular' boxes of magazines and graphic novels. That's probably about the same size as my entire collection would've been 15-20 years ago.

Back in 2015, I talked about how much of my current collection are books that I didn't actually pay for. Most of it -- I estimated about two-thirds -- came to me in the form of gifts, contest prizes, review copies, and such. The two-thirds is probably more like 75-80% now with this living room pile. (Which is a good part of the reason why my library is full!) So it's got me thinking about the gift economy again.

I still actively pursue and buy comics with my own funds. Naturally, if I had never shown enough interest in comics to spend what money I could on them, people would have stopped giving me comics ages ago. But it obviously wouldn't be very reliable to count on comics as gifts, much less expect to get the stories I'm most interested in reading. And I try to do at least some level of reciprocation. I often give out comics at Halloween instead of candy, and a number of relatives have gotten comics of one form or another for their birthdays and/or Christmas over the years. I know at least some of the comics in the living rooms are duplicates of books I already had.

So I find myself wondering how much of the comics industry is built on gifting? Clearly, there's a high level of purchasing going on. Even if I personally didn't buy most of my comics, someone paid for them. I'm reminded of the old notion from the 1940s where kids shared and traded comics with one another. To the point where publishers frequently claimed their readership was 3-4 times higher than their sales numbers. I'm seeing a different dynamic going on now, with infrequent exchanges of larger collections rather than weekly exchanges of single issues, but the idea isn't dissimilar.

How much comics gifting is going on today in 2023? Are your collections made up with decent chunks of comics you've received for free? Have you donated parts of your collection as you made space in your home? How isolated/unique are my experiences here? I'd love any input.
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Anonymous said...

I've bought the vast majority of my comic.

Free-to-me comix I have received:
* A book: probably "The League of Regrettable Superheroes" (either a xmas gift or birthday gift)
* a Far Side softcover (for latest xmas)
* A few comix I won from nerd trivia events (mostly Alien Legion I think)
* Do Free Comic Book Day comix count? (probably around 20 of FCBD comix)

Anonymous said...

Oh, I also received comics from family BEFORE I was a teen*. Archie, then mostly UK comix (TV Comic (magazine), Beano, Dandy, Oor Wullie, The Broons, Victor, Eagle, plus some others I think.

Comix from family probably stopped during 2nd half of elementary school.

Free-to-me comix: probably approx 300.

Comix I have bought: an obscene amount. (99.999999% of my collection?)

(Hope to slowly donate most of my collection to any local university that will start a special collection of comic/GN/etc)