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How I Learned to Love Collecting Comics Again

Image by Emilie Farris from Pixabay

I’m a pretty common comic book collector. My love of comics goes back decades to the Bronze Age, which is pretty typical. I have 15 long boxes in my home, which is a goodly number but not so many that you are embarrassed for me.

But I’ve also dipped in and out over the decades, which is also pretty typical. I realized in the early 90s that dating girls was fun, so I looked up from my comic books for several years despite dabbling a bit in Gen13. Because, you know.

I then jumped back in in the aughts because I really enjoyed the Morrison run on the X-Men and getting each issue sequentially was fun for me at that time. Every floppy was meticulously bagged, boarded, and boxed away.

But several things happened in the decade that followed.

  1. Comics got much more expensive and the stories much more decompressed. I grew weary of paying $3.99 or more for a 22-page floppy where the story advances super slowly.
  2. Frequent relaunches meant there is no point trying to collect comics sequentially. Runs don’t exist anymore, so why bother?
  3. Crossovers insisted that following a story meant bouncing from title to title and my peon brain loses the plot. Many agree with me, as evidenced by the dramatic rise in collected editions as the preferred reading choice.

All that left a long-time collector like myself burnt out. I’m a completionist, so I enjoyed filling in gaps. I enjoyed following just the characters and titles I had always liked. I enjoyed bagging and boarding until I didn’t, at which point it became easier to pick up an occasional trade.

But I’m really into comic book collecting again! What changed? Well, now I look for an issue here and there and that’s good enough for me.

I have two things to thank for that: First, there are wonderful shops in the Twin Cities where I live. The Source has new comics, plus board games and D&D. Hot Comics has two locations, plus vintage toys. Comic Book College focuses only on comics and is a dream. Such great shops can’t help but keep the love of comics alive.

A screen cap from the web interface of Key Collector. There are dozens of such categories, each curating the “key” comics. Never loose track of what big events happen in comics again.

The second thing I have to thank for my rekindled love of collecting comics is Key Collector, an app that launched just a couple years ago. Key Collector is a database of about 20,000 comics but its is spotlight only on the “key” issues.

If it’s a first appearance, a major costume change, a death, an introduction of a new villain team, or even a hot variant, Key Collector catalogues it and gives collectors a couple sentences of context for why that particular issue is special.

It’s a breath of fresh air. Oodles upon oodles of titles are released each Wednesday and the marketing campaigns have spun them higher and higher. “Nothing will ever be the same, true believer!,” except readers know this isn’t to be the case because we burn through that 22-page floppy and honestly never think again about what little happened inside the pages.

But Key Collector just highlights the issues where something actually does happen. The completionist in me bristled at first, but I quickly warmed up to not getting a no-gap run. I now just scour back issue bins for stuff that interests me.

I was Claremont obsessive in the 80s, so I missed much of titles like Hulk and the Avengers. Using Key Collector, I’ve identified a few fun issues of those titles to sprinkle into my collection. I’m not driven, the joy is in the hunt.

Some retailers don’t like Key Collector because they feel it turns collectors into “day traders” who are looking to gobble up key issues only to flip them for a profit on eBay. After all, if everyone is being fed the same buy information, then it will undoubtedly change the market, if only unintentionally.

But that line of thinking overlooks nerds like me who have been reconnected in a fresh way with the hobby they’ve loved for decades. When I’m flipping through a long box full of 80s Avengers comics, it’s helpful to know which ones I should have my eyes on. And if the cover is cool and the price is right, I’ll bite. Retailers have to be stoked about that.

A screen cap from the web interface of Key Collector. I now own a few back issues that feature Shang-Chi.

Now my collection is more all over the place, out of order, and full of gaps. And I’m into it.

It’s the hunt. I hadn’t owned a Shang-Chi comic previously, as that title was a little before my time. Now I own two, both found via the Key Collector app. They have cool covers and were purchased at a fair price in a local shop.

And now my collection has never been better.

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