Time to Collect is a series of posts exploring collecting comics. We’ll focus on recognizing and exploring our collecting motivations and uncovering some common mistakes we seem to be prone to. The goal is a better understanding of how and why we collect and how we can be “better” at collecting, “better” both in terms of enjoying our collections and making “better” financial decisions while collecting. I’ve kept the parameters tight in this introduction but we’ll allow ourselves the right to deviate from them as we see fit.
I had a nice chat recently with my pal Chris Owen: Chris and I have recorded the Comic Culture podcast for the last 10 years and have talked a lot about comics. Recently we tackled the generic term “comic collecting”. What is comic collecting? I own a couple of comic book shops, Big B Comics in Hamilton, Ontario and Big B Comics in Niagara Falls, Ontario and I got to thinking how many of the people coming through the doors are comic book collectors? I initially blurted out “all of them” but quickly realized I was wrong. Comic collectors might actually be in the minority.
A comic book is a periodical, sequential art entertainment presented to the reader most often in a serialized form. Is a person consuming this entertainment a comic collector? A customer walks in and picks up Part 2 of the latest Batman story arc, she goes home and devours it with joy. If the utility of ownership has been satisfied with her reading the book, meaning if she felt what she paid justified the enjoyment she received from reading the comic and enjoying the art, then her relationship with the book has ended. She can toss it out, give it to her roommate, donate it to a school etc. She may have zero interest or motivation tin putting the book in a bag and board and then in a box and then find a dark, cool, dry place to store it. Are these comic book consumers collectors?
A comic book is also a collectible and our comic chops have a large clientele that comes in regularly looking for new issues that they can speculate on, and/or rare variant issues they can immediately flip online or through the various social media platforms. Are these speculators/flippers collectors?
We have a large back issue comic selection, especially in our Hamilton store and in both stores we have a great selection of bargain comics priced at $1.99 CAD or less. I know lots of guys that scour our bins looking for comics that recently appreciated in value as a collectible because of some movie announcement or some actor being cast. They also dig for our ‘mistakes’ – books of value put into the bargain bins. Are these customers digging in the bins and turning a quick profit collectors?
Defining comic book collecting it turns out isn’t that easy. I’m certain there are a percentage of our customers that are just consumers and I’m sure a smaller percentage are just investors and speculators that do not read what they buy but I’m also sure that there are many customers that collect what they buy.
A collector can be a consumer but not necessarily so. A collector can be an investor but not necessarily so, I know collectors who have donated their collections to University archives, local charities and even reading programs like Big B’s Comics for Grades program.
These Time to Collect posts will focus on the collectors and investors and not spend much time on the consumers. I see a collector as a default investor whose decision on what to do with the collection when it is “time to collect” as their choice and not relevant to this exercise.
I mentioned above my hope that these posts will help us to collect “better”. The first thing we need to do to become “better” collectors is to step back and figure out what type of collectors we are. What are our motivations, our goals? Why do you collect? For nostalgia? For a quick payday? For long term investment? For the thrill of the hunt? To read the stories? Are we hoarders that will never look at this stuff again? For other reasons? I’m sure there are other ways people collect that I have not mentioned above.
Over time our motivations and collecting patterns will most certainly change and that’s fine; it’s realizing that we will be changing that is helpful. So, as of right now, what kind of comic book collectors are we? I asked myself this question, and it turns out I’m a mix of many motivations so I’ll assume most of us are. I’m now trying to work out which motivations are the strongest, do I enjoy looking at my copy of Detective Comics #18 (connoisseur Walt), my copy of the Marvel Value Stamp booklet (nostalgia Walt), my collection of Romance Comics with wild, corny and sappy covers (fanboy Walt). I could go on but I won’t: it’s safe to say my collecting is driven by many motivations.
I did notice this about my collecting though: when I buy a nice copy of an Amazing Spider-Man book I look for the best deal possible because I’m buying it as a reseller/investor, I want to leave myself some room to make a bit of money. But, when I come across some Charlton Romance comics that I like price in relation to resale potential, it’s no longer the main decision driver: now it’s the condition, gloss, aesthetics. I’m always mindful of an eventual exit strategy though, as much as I’d like to I won’t buy a book if I sense that later I won’t be able to recoup even half my investment. When adding to my personal collection I’m still mindful of value but I’m more than happy to grab it if at least I can sense I can maybe get my money back down the road, maybe even take a little haircut. It turns out that to a good degree investment value is important to my collecting.
Writing the above paragraph has made me realize that I have not fully identified what kind of collector I am. I’m basically flying blind and I can tell you that I’ve made some purchases lately that I wish I did not…
Your homework this week is to try and figure out what kind of collector you are, identify your motivations, your goals, what brings you the most joy, what brings you the most stress etc. For motivation I’ll leave you with a quote from Lao Tzu – “He who knows others is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened.” – I’ll add – “… and has a damn fine comic collection!”