I do not have the world’s biggest or most valuable comic book collection by any means, but I do have one, and it’s among my most prized possessions. Very little evidence of my childhood still exists. I have not a single G.I. Joe. My collection of first-run Star Wars action figures went to a single buyer at a garage sale for so little money my brain has blocked the memory of it from my consciousness lest it drive me into Lovecraftian pits of stygian madness. I have no clue what happened to that Sealab: 2020 board game I used to love. And do not get me started on Major Matt Mason, the old superhero action figures that were actually blank dolls dressed in actual costumes. . . . Oh, my God.

But somehow, against significant odds, I still have my comic book collection.

At some point in the mid-to-late 1980s, when fan interest in the X-Men was at an absolute peak, I dipped into my collection for my pristine copy of Giant Size X-Men #1, what comic book fans who are reading this will instantly identify as the first appearance of the new mutants—heroes that present day X-Men fans couldn’t imagine a world without: Wolverine, Storm, Nightcrawler . . .

I sold it on a lark at the local comic shop for around $60.

A harrowing $1340 net loss?

That was more than $60 worth of regret, believe me. It’s now worth $1400.

But the bulk of the collection survived, including a pretty spectacular run of 1970s Fantastic Four, which I bought at the absolute peak of my comic fandom, one at a time from the spinning wire rack at the local White Hen Pantry—you tell me Chicagoans, is White Hen still around? I would suffer the tortures of the damned trying to divvy up my tiny little allowance to maximize the blended portfolio of comic books and candy. No Harvard MBA has ever worked so hard.

Then there was that fateful trip with my parents as a recent college grad to the King County flea market (far) outside Chicago. My mother trolled for antiques, I was just along for the ride. A guy who was selling “antique” furniture had a couple of old comic books set out on a table. I was instantly drawn to them, as though by some mysterious force of magnetism. I had never seen their like before, but I could tell they were old just by the ten cent price point emblazoned on the covers. There were two of them, both BLUE BOLT. One was Vol. 7—No. 10/March the other Vol. 8—No. 8 from January . . . but of what year? I didn’t even know.

Just as I first saw them. (I keep them in bags now, of course.)

So I asked the guy, innocently as I could, “How much do you want for these?”

He looked down as though seeing them for the very first time and replied, “I don’t know, five bucks for both of ’em?”

I played it oh, so cool, pausing for a moment before saying, “Okay.” I slipped a five dollar bill out of my pocket, handed it to him, and tried as hard as I could not to run back to the car in an effort to make good my escape before the guy wised up.

According to ComicsPriceGuide.com they’re worth upwards of $100 each. And though they’re the oldest (1946-1948, I think) in my collection I don’t think they’re the most valuable. Though I haven’t done a full evaluation of the entire collection in a very long time, I’m pretty sure the most valuable is my near-mint copy of Fantastic Four #100, which pegs out at $180.

If only I had held on to the X-Men book . . .

Now it’s what feels like thousands of years after those White Hen Pantry wire racks, and I’m back to comic books. At some point, around junior high, I wandered away in favor of novels, and the cynical collector bubble years of the grim 1990s pretty much passed me by. Occasionally a friend would harangue me into reading the new hip thing, which is why I didn’t entirely miss Watchmen, Wonder Man, or The Crow, but for the most part, I was out of the comics loop.

But like Al Pacino in a movie that some say has something to do with the Godfather franchise but we all know does not, when I thought I was out, they pulled me back in.

Why am I embarrassed to say that it was the movies that brought me back to comic books? I shouldn’t be. In fact, if the last several years’ worth of comic book inspired movies, some great, some good, some awful, bring anyone back to, or to comic books for the first time, that’s a good thing. So, yeah, thank you Spider-Man, Iron Man, Watchmen, etc.—great movies, and exemplary ambassadors for the comic book art form. How can you watch this scene from X-Men 2 and not want to kill yourself for selling that Giant Size X-Men #1?

It started slowly, though. First, I went retro, buying the Marvel Essentials books for some of my favorite series, of course starting with Fantastic Four, then I couldn’t help myself, there were those graphic novels calling out to me. I bought some, found others at the library, and before I even realized it I was reading two or three of them a month, sometimes more.

Then the comic shop opened in the mall really close to my house, where we go all the time for the surviving Borders store, Game Stop, and a great game store called Uncle’s. That’s how they do it to you. First they remind you how great the stories and characters were, then they sell it to you in easy to read collections, then they suck you into the store—you know those stores. They smell kinda funky from that 4-color process, but how is it possible for anyone with the tiniest sliver of imagination to resist those walls full of brightly colored comics whose covers promise endless action, adventure, escape . . . Oh, man, and am I back in. I am so back in.

I’m so back in, I’ve actually seriously considered asking the guy at the comic shop if I can set up a box.

I know.

I’m just worried that I’m not buying enough every month to justify it . . . yet.

Oh, and then there are the conventions. In a couple weeks I fly down to San Francisco for Wondercon. Tomorrow I’ll at least try to book my hotel for San Diego. I actually blew off Emerald City Comicon right here in Seattle, and regret it.

Speaking of regret, I’m just sick about having missed issue 3 of 4 of IDW’s Star Trek: Khan: Ruling in Hell, and all but the first two of Samuel L. Jackson’s Cold Space.

And before I go, does anybody know when the second issue of the new Batman: The Dark Knight series is supposed to come out?

—Philip Athans

About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Writing Monsters. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, (https://fantasyhandbook.wordpress.com/) is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
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  1. hippogriff says:

    I love the backstory. Mine is similar. My huge Hotwheel/Matchbox collection was given to my cousins by my parents. The big Space: 1999 spaceship was thrown away. My Dark Tower board game – who knows where that went. But unlike you, my comic books (mostly old Detective comics with Batman and lots of Carl Barks Disney comics) were liquidated by my parents while I was in the military. Nothing remained.

    I stayed away from comics for some time. But in the last few years I’ve started up both comics and graphic novels. My favorites are Dynamite’s Red Sonja (and Queen Sonja), as well as the Batman: Return of Bruce Wayne series, Arabian Nights, and Thor. With Things From Another World, Cosmic Monkey, and Dark Horse right here in Portland, it’s easy to stay on top of things.

    I just came back from the Emerald City Comicon. You wouldn’t believe how many people were there, it was packed! Barely enough room to move around. I’ll have some pictures up on my blog later today.

    Welcome back to comics…


  2. Pingback: LOOK OUT, WONDERCON, HERE I COME! | Fantasy Author's Handbook

  3. Steven says:

    Don’t get me started, Phil, on parting with one’s comics.

    I finally broke down and liquidated/sold most of my comics the summer of 2008 for roughly $35-40 a long box…and that was around 30 long boxes of random and not-always-sorted stuff. It was a tough decision but the right one at the time. I kept about six long boxes of stuff that mattered the most to me and picked up a number of the DVDs from GIT Corp for 40 year runs of FF, Spider-Man, X-Men, Avengers, etc. They’ll do for the nostalgia trips when I need them, but I sometimes miss the random things that’ll rarely see the light of day again–my full runs of ‘Mazing Man, the Roger Stern Starman series, etc.

    Until comics writers and publishers stop with the “extended storytelling” pace that pads a 2 issue story out to 6 or longer (Yes, I’m looking at you, JMS and Thor, BMB and any Avengers…), I’m out of buying monthlies. Collections, I’ll look at, but I don’t have time or money for the weekly trek to the comicshop (let alone with a 14-month old in tow).

    If you’re looking for good nostalgic materials that might not be on your radar, check out http://twomorrows.com/ and more specifically Roy Thomas’ ALTER EGO magazine. Brilliant stuff every month, and it’s just hitting #100 next month.

    who does regret not supporting Levitz’s return on the Legion of Super-Heroes (among the collection he kept), but he’ll be looking for the TPBs soon…

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