Comic Collecting Precepts

Ever since the '80s, I've held two precepts regarding comic book collecting:

  • Don't buy what you don't read.
  • Don't read what you don't enjoy.

I thought this pair clever because the unstated third is therefore, "Don't buy what you don't enjoy." ("Obvious," one would think, but maybe not; I've witnessed plenty of people complain about series they paid good money for but obviously weren't enjoying.) Actually, now that I'm thinking of it, "Don't buy what you don't read" came out of my original cardinal precept which was, "Buying new comics and not reading them is stupid" (... "therefore, don't buy what you don't read," was the original unspoken corollary). That was all well and good until I added an actual third precept.

  • Buy it when you have the chance.

I like to re-read my favorite comic books; the more often I read them over the years (I believe) the better value they are. There are those, I know, who buy them, read them, enjoy them and keep them, but may never read them again. That's okay; I don't re-read everything. But I am likely to buy something I'm not in the mood to read at the time, knowing I'll be in the mood to read it someday. I'm just as likely to buy something, hang on to it for 20 years, then read it. In either case it balances out: once in 20 years (or whatever). 

Oftentimes, however, rule #3 bumps up against rule #1. Back in the '90s my LCS opened up their legendary backroom and sold everything there for a quarter apiece. (To give you an idea of the bargains to be found, the very first thing I bought was the entire run of the O'Neil/Adams Green Lantern/Green Arrow series; the second thing I bought was the then-recent four issue Marvels series by Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross.) I ended up buying three longboxes of comics that first night... at a quarter apiece! Most of them I have read by this time, but many (many) of them I have not. those are the ones I'm going to be concentrating on for the next little while. But I digress.

Eventually I joined this community and ended up incorporating one of Captain Comics' precepts as my own.

  • If you can't find it, you don't own it.

That's incentive to keep my collection organized.

All of which brings me up to the point of this post. I was happy with two precepts and likewise three seemed like a good solid number. Four seems out of whack, though. There's either one too many or one too few. Five would make a good number, though. So I'm asking you to suggest precepts and/or share some of your own. Who knows? I may end up adopting the one(s) I like best. 

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  • Here's one I'm considering as I start to pare down my collection (while still brining in more issues every week):

    Duplicates are unnecessary.

    For example, I loved DC's original Who's Who series. I have all of the original issues, and buying them was a treat when I was a kid. And yet... I've got the Omnibus now. It's both more durable and also printed more sharply -- important for all that text. Why not get rid of those originals? So I'm doing just that. There are other things that I'll do the same with.

    That said, I'm beginning to develop a mindset about a collection rather than an accumulation. My Flash comics and my Legions aren't going anywhere. Those books are important & sentimental to me, and I'll want them forever.

    But other books -- plenty of DC and Marvel, particularly -- are just things I wanted to read. And I might want to read them again. But...with DCUI and Marvel Unlimited, I very likely *can* read them again without owning them, and with more ease than by going into my basement and sorting through the the heavier-every-year longboxes to find them. Digital is a different reading experience, but it's one I'm getting more and more accustomed to. So digital duplication is still duplication. And unless the physical object is part of what I want to consider a collection -- something I haven't quite defined the contours of yet -- maybe that should go, too. Especially if, as with Sandman, it's a book that people want to pay actual money for right now. 

    So that's my contribution.

  • Ooh, that's a good one!

    Goes right along with my "How Many Versions Does One Man Need?" topic.

  • "Buy it when you have the chance" Is really a cruel mistress. Because the corollary is, "if you decide to buy it five years from now, that $3 item will now cost you ONE BAZILLION DOLLARS."

  • Good guidelines Jeff. I've a couple others for discussion...

    "No duplicates" isn't as tough these days, but in the era of 80 page giants and 100 page Super Spectaculars, it was a bit of a challenge. And then came the DC Showcase Presents and Marvel Essentials; good (and rare) reprints, but not quite the same; it could be a color single issue or a B&W collection, both of which have value to me. The Archives and Masterpieces fixed those both but boy were they pricey.

    Pricey? Then came the Omnibi and those were really expensive; but GREAT collections of stories FOR READERS. For collectors, they weren't so much so.

    Maybe that's the fifth rule:

         Buy comics to read, not to collect.

    The times I violated that rule for myself was when I was buying really good books that I was reading anyhow; Uncanny X-Men, New Teen Titans, and Crisis on Infinite Earths. I still have most of those (greedies NEVER prosper...) but I don't mind having bought multiples too much,

    There's one other situation that fell into my six-issue rule. What of when a new comic came out? In the late 70s and 80s, that happened pretty frequently. My rule of thumb was to buy the first six issues of each book to see if I liked it or not - and then continue or not as I would.

    Of course, that rule is impossible today; simply too many new books from too many publishers and too many "duplicate" titles (just the Superman, Batman, X-Men, and Spider-Man titles would have bankrupted me.) If I started to collect today (and I were rich...), Jeff's rules would be a pretty sound guide, I think.

  • I almost didn't include this one because I thought it dealt more with reading than collecting, but, Like Eric's above, it really applies to both.

    • Comics should be fun.
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