Thursday, August 17, 2017

Revisiting My Childhood Comic Book Collection 13 Years Later

After 13 years, I've started collecting comic books again.

How I First Got Into Comic Books

Sometime around the year 2000, I played a demo of the Spider-Man video game on a Playstation Underground Jampack disc. Prior to this, I had little to no knowledge of the world of comic books or the super heroes that populated them, and I just assumed such were the things that "lame nerds" were into. Little did I realize at the time that I was a lame nerd who had been avoiding my destiny.

I immediately fell in love with the demo, and more importantly, with Spider-Man. I had no idea that a super hero could be so fun, and playing as one tickled a part of my brain that made me yearn to be something more spectacular and amazing than I ever could be  I wanted to be Spider-Man. I wanted to shoot webbing at foes, jump thirty feet in the air, sling across the city, and climb walls with ease.

I bought the game (under the pretense of it being a birthday gift for my brother - but I swear it was on his wishlist!) and played it often. Not only was the gameplay top-notch for the time, but the story and characters really resonated with me. I needed more Spider-Man, and eventually I figured out how to get it.

After presumably hearing me talk endlessly about how cool Spider-Man was, my dad helped me to locate and dust off the phone book and find if there were any comic stores in the area. As fortune would have it, there was one called Collector's Edge Comics that was within driving distance. He took me there, where I bought my first ever comic book.

I'm fairly certain that comic book was Ultimate Spider-Man volume 1 issue 12, which featured a new and badass-looking version of Electro on the cover.

Ultimate Spider-Man issue #12 (2001)
Ultimate Spider-Man issue #12 (2001)

I didn't realize until later how lucky I was to have picked that issue up at random, because it's pretty much the first issue of the Ultimate Spider-Man series in which Peter gets to really be Spider-Man in all his glory. He fights bad guys, he makes jokes, and he saves the day.

Later, the first Spider-Man movie came out. I postponed my birthday party several months in order to spend it taking my friends to go see the movie on the first Saturday of its release. The movie was amazing (and shattered records and expectations at the time). My birthday cake was Spider-Man themed. I was gifted two Spider-Man tee shirts and several other Spider-Man related gifts.

By this time, I had already purchased a Spider-Man encyclopedia so I could learn everything possible about the wall-crawler, because Wikipedia was barely a thing yet.

I went on purchasing new issues at random, until I eventually found another comic book store in the area called Lost World of Wonders, which had huge bins full of older issues. (I later realized that the other, smaller comic book store had old issues as well, but they were less-invitingly kept hidden in shut boxes behind the counter.) I couldn't believe how many there were, and having learned more about the history of Spider-Man from the encyclopedia, I became obsessed with the idea of finding and collecting issues from storylines that I'd read about.

That's when I really became a collector. I was obsessed. I told my friends about the comic book stores and my latest purchases, and we'd talk about comics and our favorite heroes endlessly, eventually writing and drawing our own comic books to share with each other.

But then something changed, and I wasn't thinking about and collecting comic books as much, until I eventually stopped almost entirely. Puberty has a way of making you reprioritize your childhood obsessions.

A lot has changed since then. I've finished school, gotten married, bought a house, have a full-time job with benefits, and I stress about all that fun grown-up stuff like money and not having enough of it. Throughout everything, I hadn't really thought about comic books much. Honestly, I actively tried to distance myself from the nerds in high school because I desperately didn't want to be associated with that label. I avoided the very things that I would later realize defined who I was.

Revisiting My Childhood

Only recently, I've realized that it's stupid for me to avoid that part of my personality. I've realized that it's possible to be a huge nerd and be cool at the same time. I've realized that life is too short to deny myself the things I love.

Admittedly, it helps that nerdy things are cool now, too.

So I dug up my old collection of comic books and made a spreadsheet to document every single one, with columns for publisher, starring character(s), series, issue, year of publication, and any significant notes. Because it turns out I also love organizing things and making spreadsheets. Yup. I'm a huge nerd. No turning back now.

Here's the resulting data organized into neat little graphs:

As you can see, my three most collected characters are Spider-Man, Venom, and Spawn. If you know the basics of those three characters you'll think that's kind of funny, because Venom is basically a more badass and evil (most of the time) version of Spider-Man, and Spawn is basically Venom if he was a demon from hell. Each one is a mere stepping stone away from the last.

Although it seems like I collected a lot of comic books in 2003 and suddenly stopped, I most likely collected new issues in that year and then moved on to old issues in 2004, eventually stopping collecting altogether sometime late 2004 or early 2005.
This last one is pretty self-explanatory. I had a heavy bias toward Marvel, mostly because of my obsession with Spider-Man, including buying "What If?" issues featuring him, as well as my collection of Venom comics. Interestingly, most of my DC comics were ones I simply grabbed on various Free Comic Book Days because they were free, though I have a Superman issue that I bought simply because I was really curious how such a "perfect" character could be written interestingly at all. If I were to go back in time I'd probably tell my younger self to check out Batman in particular, but it should be noted that the movie Batman Begins didn't come out and make Batman cool again until 2005 so my younger self would probably laugh at my current self for suggesting something so absurd.

I Take Pride in My Collection

Even now, I don't feel like any of the time or money I spent on comic books could be considered a waste. I'm actually really proud of myself for some of the issues I managed to get my hands on. I especially had an affinity for grabbing first issues of some cool series, including:

  • Biker Mice From Mars issue #1
  • Predator issue #1
  • Spawn #1
  • Spider-Man (1990) issue #1
  • Spider-Man 2099 issue #1
  • Web of Spider-Man issue #1
And more. Though I need to draw special attention to the issue #1 I'm most proud of, because it happens to be the first issue of one of my favorite series, features my favorite character, and is the oldest comic book I own:

What If? issue #1 (1977)
What If? issue #1 (1977)
That thing originally sold for 50 cents to some lucky kid, and I had to spend $15 to get it 27 years later. I remember the purchase fondly, because my dad took my friend and I to a miniature comic book convention/pop-up market in town with only $20 in my pocket to spend. I wandered off to check out some vendors on my own and came back with this beauty and almost none of my money left. My dad was confused why I had spent almost all my money on a single issue instead of trying to get a couple different ones for less, and I explained to him that this was the holy grail for me. What If? issue #1, which happened to feature Spider-Man, from 1977. Wow.

I've only ever opened and read it once.

The Start of Another Era

As you can probably expect, revisiting my childhood passion also reignited my passion for it. This is in part because comic books are just cool, but also because there are some holes in my collection that my organization-loving brain desperately needs to fill.

To celebrate my golden birthday, my parents took me out to eat at a restaurant in Bay View, which is an area of Wisconsin that I have very little familiarity with. On the walk to the restaurant, I noticed that there was a little comic book shop just down the block called, you guessed it, Collector's Edge Comics. It was one of their three locations that I hadn't been to yet because the one I grew up going to was much closer. Well, after dinner I mentioned it a few times and how cool it would be to go in and "just look around."

Folks, comic books have changed since I was 14 years old. There's just so many of them, and so many versions of each one. I walked into Collector's Edge and my head started spinning.

My wife had previously expressed an interest in comic books, so I focused on looking for something for her first, since that seemed like a more focused task than looking for any of the dozens of things I would want to find for myself. I decided to look for a strong female hero that odds were she would enjoy, so naturally I looked for Gwenpool and Spider-Gwen, because I knew for a fact she would like Gwenpool's Deadpool-like humor and that she could relate to Spider-Gwen. My wife really wanted to start at the beginning (duh) and the store didn't have a copy of Gwenpool issue #1 in stock, but they did have Spider-Gwen issue #1, so I suggested that to her, and she held onto it.

Now it was time to look for something for myself. Where oh where could I start? I desperately needed to find issue #4 of the 1995 comic Venom: Separation Anxiety, because I own issues #1-3 and it's a 4-part series. The only problem was I couldn't remember if it was that series I needed or Venom: Lethal Protector (of which I later remembered I own issue #1 but not #2-6), and I was having trouble finding those anyway. So I checked out the crate full of Spider-Man comics, and that's where I found issue #1 of the 2016 ongoing series Spider-Man/Deadpool.

Spider-Man/Deadpool issue #1 & Spider-Gwen issue #1
Spider-Man/Deadpool issue #1 & Spider-Gwen issue #1
And so officially begins my second era of collecting comic books, as well as my wife's first.

Final Thought: Why couldn't all this nerdy stuff have been cool when I was a teenager?