As a weekly floppy collector, I try to keep up with my favourite series, but sometimes get bogged down in the politics. My favourite writer switches series, an unfamiliar artist comes on board, DC fired so-and-so and the modern editorial world of comics crushes itself under commands to event-dump, decompress and stylize. The industry responsible for what gets between the pages can be overwhelming, but when you sit back and notice your calendar has changed, what really matters about the comics? Ten years from now, when a curious kid walks down the aisles of back-issues and grabs an issue of the New 52’s OMAC for a quarter, will they care that Didio was co-publisher? Will they start rifling through the bins the next week for anything with Giffen’s name on it? Will they go hunting for the excellent Kirby or Byrne versions? Will they care that enough fans didn’t put their voting dollars forward to support the series? When all is said and done, is it those very fans that caused OMAC to end up in the cheap bins?
Questions like these are the reasons I collect. At a young age, I began collecting by gathering whatever change I could find and heading to my local shop’s quarter (sometimes dollar) bins. I didn’t save up for any special Batman back issues that would surely drain my pockets; I grabbed whatever looked cool that happened to be in my price range. It was John Arcudi’s Doom Patrol that led me to hunt down every single issue of Grant Morrison’s run. Had Doug Moench never written his mediocre Spectre series, I may never have yearned to see John Ostrander realize that character’s potential in his own seminal work. Grabbing the Helfer/Baker two issued Justice Inc. inevitably led to one of my all-time favourite reading experiences — their interpretation of The Shadow. Needless to say, diving through the cheap bins was a pastime of my childhood I’ve carried out to this day.
And what do these often forgotten, sometimes despised relics offer? Well, as mentioned above, they’re a gateway drug. For me, owning the Mantlo issues of Alpha Flight I had found cheap weren’t enough; I had to dig around for years to find the whole series. And it doesn’t stop at the stories. I prefaced this article very specifically. As an optimistic reader, I’d hope that the politics (often negative) stay behind. But as a collector, I couldn’t be happier to see the tension, excitement and backdoor drama shine between the lines. Unlike music, movies or (now that we don’t tape the commercials) television, comics are filled to the brim with tangible extras that throw you back in time. Besides the intoxicating smell of the '80s issues, the shiny foil covering the '90s variants and the overly digital approach of the early '00s, we get ads, letter columns, previews, etc. Picking up an issue of American Flagg from First Comics isn’t just a snippet of story and pictures; it’s a rundown of the era indicating the industry’s climate, the publisher’s enthusiasm, the fans’ outpour of support (or lack thereof) and the creator’s passion. Right now we may want to run down to the editorial offices of the big two and slap them silly for one stupid idea or another, but it is that kind of story-behind-the-story feeling that sucks me in. I could state that nothing matters except the quality of the story, but I’d be lying. We may frown when an announced series never gets published, artists quarrel within the pages of their own books, creative shifts seem unnecessary, reboots seem inevitable, style rules substance, stories repeat themselves, fans cry out for attention or, worst of all, continuity errors somehow seem to bring about disaster in the everyday (i.e. real) worlds of readers, but I crave it. Read between the lines and you can feel the excitement in every Milestone book. Flip to the back of a random Savage Dragon issue and you may find an extensive letter from Erik Larsen. Watch the credits in early Valiant books; you never know who will pop up. I dare you to pick up something from Continuity Comics — I dare you!
“Two different ways to spend $3.00. For me the choice is easy.”
My advice? Put down that issue of that series that’s going nowhere — which you were planning on dropping anyways but can’t seem to find the courage until the story arc resolves and has been spinning its wheels taking three to four dollars from you every month — and grab a pile of cheap stuff. What cheap stuff? Well, pay attention to the things I’ve been talking about and almost any issue will give you some small, curious joy. What series provide quality both in and around their pages? I’ll get around to helping with that too.