For the last few weeks, my office floor has been covered in piles of old comic books, sometimes to the point that there is no room for me. For a variety of reasons, I decided it was time to go through my collection and trim out a significant number of comics. And so I started going through my boxes, starting with Astro City and ending with X-men. I should clarify at this point that my goal was not to read all these comics, but simply go through and decide which titles to sell off and which to keep. Indeed, my hope was to avoid reading the comics because I hoped to finish the task in a reasonable length of time. Of course…
I have been reading comics as long as I have been reading, and buying comics ever since I had spending money. The Richie Riches and Casper the Ghosts have long since disappeared, but I have comics going back 50 years. I have, from time to time, trimmed the collection, selling off some old series, usually to make room for new comics, but this was the first time I set out to go through everything with an eye towards culling the collection. It proved an interesting experience.
I knew some of what I would find, but not everything. I knew I had a run of The Avengers and of The Uncanny X-Men. I knew there were off-beat series like Tales of the Bean World and Fish Police. But there were also series I had forgotten about like ‘Mazing Man and Blaze of Glory. There were series that I knew at once I wanted to keep, like everything I just mentioned. And others that I had to stop and debate over. Of course, that debate usually involved sitting down and reading an issue. Or two. Or more. So much for my goal of going through it all quickly.
So what was it that tipped my decision one way or another? Sometimes it was an emotional connection (Weird Worlds was one of the first series I ever collected, and I picked it up because I had just discovered the books of Edgar Rice Burroughs, so a comic based on those books was irresistible.) Sometimes it was the significance of the issues – like the earliest issues of the modern Uncanny X-Men. But really, the biggest factor came down to the story. Again and again, I asked myself is this was a story I would want to read again? Even that question was complicated. Notice the conditional tense. Given the amount of comics I still have, it is highly unlikely that I will read all of them again. So this question carries a promise. Someday I might have the time, and if I do, is this a story that I want on hand? The New Teen Titans was a great series (actually, a couple of different, overlapping series and many short spin-off series) in the 1980s. It was well-written, often innovative, but not so much so that I knew I would invest the time to reread them all. It was a close call, one that required sitting on the office floor and reading a lot of good comics. But in the end, I knew this spot reading and skimming was satisfying enough that I did not feel the need to keep the series on hand.
Even so, I could not help feeling disloyal in giving up the Titans. Marv Wolfman and George Perez (the writer and artist) and the rest of the creative team put a lot of time and effort into all those Teen Titan stories. And now I was turning away from them. Once we were a team. Writer and reader (for me the writer was key.) We need each other. What good is a story if no one reads it? What is there to read if no one writes? This bond is particularly close with comic books, because every month, there is a new issue out, an new installment in the on-going story, but only if enough people read and enjoy the previous one. Reader input often shapes and influences the stories told. Readers form a bond with writers. Indeed, one thing that clearly jumped out at me going through the collection is my bond with certain writers. Again and again, series by John Ostrander and Neil Gaiman and Roy Thomas and, yes, Marv Wolfman showed up in my boxes of comics.
So what does it say if I leave the team? This was always an issue. Many times I kept buying and reading a series long after I had lost interest in it, partly out of a sense of loyalty. I should stay around and see if the story improves, if the art gets better, if the team can pull it together and once again return the series to its full potential. Eventually, of course, I would realize that the stories I loved were not coming back, and that I should move on to some other series, some other stories that did work for me. And that moving on was always easier if the writer left the series. The team was breaking up, so I could move on as well. And now, even decades later, I still feel that tug as I contemplate selling off this series I had not looked at in decades. But I was a fan. Still am a fan of what Wolfman and Perez created and the stories they told. And to be a fan is different from simply being a consumer. A fan is emotionally invested. Part of the team. So it was a wrench to let those comics go, but I can hope that now they are out in the marketplace, they will find their way into the hands of new readers, new fans. And if I ever run into Marv Wolfman, I will tell him about how much I loved that series. But probably not about how it did not quite make the cut when I had to trim the collection.