Some Holes in Your Want List Will Never Be Filled

Val Mayerik, Steelgrip Starkey 5, Epic Comics

Art by Val Mayerik, co-creator of Howard the Duck. I promise he’s done far, far better work in his time.

Every collection has gaps. Every collector dedicates a certain part of their hobbyist enjoyment to filling those gaps. It’s all part of the game.

Most collectors who consider themselves organized and serious about collecting certain collectible things for their collection have a want list. Sure, you could attend conventions or flea markets and simply buy random issues from whatever boxes lay in your path. The dealers and older collectors who have hundreds of pounds of pamphlets to unload won’t stop you.

There’s something to be said for spontaneous browsing and impulse buys up to a certain point. By adding the element of goal-setting, though, suddenly your hobby becomes a full-fledged quest. Now you have bragging rights because you’ve made it all seem so noble.

I’ve been reading comic books since age six. I’d say I began Collecting with a capital C around age twelve, when I first discovered comic dealers at a local antique show. I was used to buying comics off the spinner racks at Marsh or Hook Drugs, but the dealer’s approach was a radical new paradigm to me. All the comics stood in longboxes, were alphabetized by title, were filed in order by issue number, and went back several years. It was a mind-blowing moment to discover that I could buy old comics that went with my new comics. Years’ worth of them, even.

Not long after, my comics want list was born.

Evan Dorkin, Pirate Corps 4, Slave Labor Graphics

Art by Evan Dorkin. His latest Beasts of Burden special hit shops this week, and Eltingville arrives in April. Before those, there was this.

After you first realize that all the best comics are published in a series with sequential numbering, it’s all too common for the most awestruck fans to decide that they want more of that series, possibly even all the issues. If your local comic shop doesn’t have all the issues you need, then you ought to keep track of what you’re missing in hopes of encountering it elsewhere someday — at other shops you don’t normally visit, in other cities while you’re traveling, in 3-for-$1 bins at flea markets, at conventions if one should come to your area, or even by mail order if you don’t mind paying for postage-‘n’-handling on top of the price of the comic itself, assuming you can trust the Postal Service to deliver it to you unfolded and unharmed. Good luck with that.

I’ve maintained the same list ever since. Want List 1.0 began as ugly cursive scrawls in a college-ruled notebook. No one could read it but me. No one would read it even if I’d painted it with calligraphy.

In the late ’80s those same scrawls were scribbled onto 3×5 index cards when I entered an index-card phase and was using them for all my lists, of which there were plenty. In our library I still have two shoeboxes filled with index cards on which I tracked all the writers and artists of every comic in my collection. My heart sang when someone invented the spreadsheet, one of my favorite tools on the first computer we owned. Suddenly a whole new world of organizational power was at my fingertips.

At some point Excel’s memory usage on one of my old, faltering PCs bugged me enough that I cut-‘n’-pasted the entire list into a bare-bones Notepad text file instead. Such a downgrade might drive some comics fans mad, but it’s worked for me ever since. Sometimes I like to treat myself to simplicity.

George Perez, New Teen Titans 4, February 1981, DC Comics

Art by George Perez, Guest of Honor at this weekend’s Indiana Comic Con. The other 84 issues have been mine since childhood, but as an incomplete set.

For the average aficionado, the advent of the internet has all but eliminated the need for the hunt. Search engines take mere seconds to whisk you to the doorstep of eBay, or any five or ten dozen other merchants, who’ll happily serve your purchasing needs for the right price, no matter how obscure the object of your quest is. Time and budget permitting, I could wipe out my entire want list over the course of a single, all-night, multi-site shopping spree, and them I could crown myself King Comic Collector.

Convenient shopping access conserves physical resources and eliminates the hunt, but it also eliminates the thrill of the hunt. Many a collector has known that moment of euphoria when they’ve spent diligent hours rifling through scores of back-issue boxes, are ready to scream if they run across one more stupid unwanted issue of Brigade, and nearly weep as they finally come across a comic they’ve been missing for years and dying to own. Granted, the climax of this long journey might be a little more exciting if there were death traps involved, or perhaps a final boss battle. Maybe that’s why some guys add another degree of risk by trying to haggle with the dealer. It’s not enough to buy it; now they need to win it.

This is why I consciously limit my want-list hunts to conventions only. Back-issue buying isn’t nearly as enjoyable to me if I’m continuously working on my list and gathering the missing objets d’art as a matter of daily routine. At my age I like the idea of want-list hunts as rare special occasions — my version of a sporting event, as it were.

Power Man & Iron Fist 123, Marvel Comics

Pencils by a very young Kevin Maguire; inks by old pro Joe Rubinstein. Someday it will be mine.

I still recall the sweet victory of attending my first C2E2 and running across Ted McKeever’s Eddy Current #3 and 4, the only chapters I’ve been missing from that miniseries since its original publication back in the late ’80s. Yes, the entire series was recently republished as a hardcover collection. I bought McKeever’s Transit collection in that form because I had almost none of its issues. Buying a collection of Eddy Current when I already owned ten out of twelve issues would’ve dishonored my want list. This game has rules, you see.

In keeping with my finicky nature, not all my want-list items are common or easy to find. It’s physically impossible for the average dealer to bring all their stock to sell over a convention weekend. They’re sensible enough to bring only what they think will sell best — or in many cases, what they hope to unload for cheap. Some will bring high-end collectibles such as Marvel’s 1960s super-hero milestones. Some will bring cartloads of The Walking Dead and today’s other hottest comics. Some will bring their 3-for-$1 boxes because they have thousands of pounds of ’90s Image or Valiant leftovers taking up far too much storage space. It’s extremely rare for dealers to bring the sort of obscure titles and forgotten works that comprise my own list. Several items, including those pictured here, have been on the list since I was a schoolkid. Few professionals would expect these to sell quickly and therefore leave them at the store, hoping instead that the teeming masses will be ready and willing to stock up on old issues of Ultimate Spider-Man by the pound.

Odds are great that I’ll never acquire everything on my list. I’m 99% certain I’ll never lay a hand on that one issue of Grimjack that still escapes me. I’m okay with that, but that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped trying. My want-list hunt has no definitive finish line, no enforced timetable, and no real drive to conquer it Once and for All. It’s a cheery, never-ending battle to call my own. My prizes, my rules, and the times I choose to participate are all part of the game. Also, it’s kind of a long list.

Here’s hoping this weekend’s Indiana Comic Con can help me out at least a little. If I walk away empty-handed and let down, we still have C2E2 and Wizard World Chicago on our radar, along with a few other cons we’re considering this year in other nearby states. We’ll see what time and budget permit, and how we’re feeling about extra traveling. If the hunt is on, it’s on. If not, better luck next year.

And who knows? Maybe this is the year I’ll be shocked beyond belief to find a copy of Steelgrip Starkey and the All-Purpose Power Tool #5 in my hands. Comics are all about dreaming big, right?

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