In a week that’s been marred by weird illness symptoms (no, not THAT one), severe illness elsewhere in our family (no, thankfully still not that one), news of one distant relative’s recent death (it, um…it was that one), complicated cases at work, the monotony of internet outrage, and daily-routine malaise…it’s heartening whenever I spot signs of the Old Normal popping up, like a stray flower sprouting in a scorched field.
Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: as a direct result of the ongoing and measurably non-resolved Coronavirus epidemic, Diamond Comics Distributors effectively shut down the comic book industry at the tail end of March, a temporary but unprecedented cessation that has vexed comic book shops worldwide and deprived habitual comics collectors such as myself of their weekly fixes of printed, single-issue graphic storytelling. We understood the decrees and the crisis at hand, but we lamented seeing a large portion of the medium paused in unison.
America’s 2200 remaining retailers, many of whom were already surviving on razor-thin profit margins, were justifiably nervous about their long-term financial stability through this era, whenever they weren’t too busy grappling with pervasive COVID-19 anxiety. Or with literal COVID-19, for all we know. Those shop owners thinking ahead wondered aloud: what happens if our customers’ habits are suspended for too long? What if deprivation begins to feel to them more like liberation? What do we do if the audience that had already been shrinking for years gets even tinier? Especially if too many of them are unemployed and can’t afford comics anymore?
Fantastic questions, those. I’m still mulling over my parts in some of those equations.
Collections. Series. Runs. Seasons. Sets. Discographies. Filmographies. When geeks love a thing, they’re often overwhelmed with the desire to consume or possess all of that very thing. It’s not enough to say you’ve done some or many or several or a lot of a particular thing. Whatever you did, watched, read, listened to, or owned, what matters most is you managed all of it.
I’ve heard a lot of chatter about Marie Kondo, the lady with the Netflix show who, if I understand all of last year’s internet squabbling correctly, recommends everyone throw away all their possessions except their Top 10, keep only one pet and release the rest into the wilderness, stuff half their food in the garbage disposal, raffle off any jewelry that weren’t featured in magazine articles, or something like that. For the record, I haven’t watched a single episode, so I’ve not been hypnotized and chanting, “I must give away all my possessions and join the KondoMinimizers,” or whatever.
No, I’ve been planning the act in the above photo for a few months now — consciously, at least. Subconsciously, maybe a lot longer.
I don’t own many neckties with pictures or characters on them partly because I’m finicky, partly because I’m not great at accessorizing, and mostly because ties are ridiculously expensive to a guy who hates more than $25 for a pair of shoes. Thanks to the benevolence of family and friends, though, I’m the proud owner of six Christmas ties that I wear to work every year as a personal countdown on the last six business days before Christmas. Guys like me may not have a lot of options for dressing all Christmassy in an office setting, but I enjoy making the most of what I’m given, and the Six Ties of Christmas are it.
I like all of them to varying degrees, but one of these means more to me than the others.
Once upon a time, at the very first comic book shows I attended as a teen, rooting through back issue bins for missing comics was the only thing I wanted to do. Once a year or so, my mom would drive me to the Marriott out at 21st and Shadeland, where the Ash Comics Show brought a bunch of dealers and collectors into a single ballroom and let them sell the heck out of comics — shelves, spinner racks, and packed longboxes from wall to wall. A few published artists would come in as guests. A TV and some chairs set up near the entrance passed for an anime viewing area. There may have been related events in another room or two. But mostly I wanted to plug the holes in my comics collection. The thrill of the hunt, the joy of discovery, the satisfaction of completism — whatever you call it, that’s how comics were my anti-drug.
I tried to get into the spirit in time for Wizard World Chicago last month. I took the above pic while going through my organized accumulation as a reminder to myself of the joy I once had rifling through hundreds of comics at a time in hopes of striking reader gold. I spent a couple of nights shifting from box to box, reuniting with old series, reliving classic arcs, stumbling across #1s I forgot I had (Reign of the Zodiac? That was a thing?), and generally immersing myself in the old-timey smell of newsprint and the nostalgic sight of crinkled, battered covers from decades past.
I was thiiis close to wanting more back issues. It almost worked.
Obsessive completists who collect physical media and refuse to give up on The Simpsons received heartbreaking news this week when longtime producer Al Jean revealed Season 17 would be the final DVD/Blu-ray set produced. In numerous back-and-forth discussions with fans on Twitter, Jean cited poor sales in a world where streaming media has become the preferred viewing option for a lot of former disc buyers. It’s not hard to argue the diminishing aesthetic returns on later seasons may also have contributed to America’s growing consensus as to exactly how much of the show deserves to be archived in their own homes.
For anyone with the true collector mentality, this cancellation poses a special form of anguish: a no-frills Season 20 set was rush-released in 2010 as an anniversary merchandising tie-in. Anyone who’s bought them religiously since Season 1 will now have a eternal gap between 17 and 20 that can never be filled through legal means, to say nothing of the unreleased 21 through 60. Granted, you could pay to watch those online via Amazon, or indulge in the Simpsons World app if you care to watch the show on certain devices. You could store said device on the DVD shelf between 17 and 20, and argue till your face is Homer-pants-blue that it’s close enough. You’d be wrong.
For my wife and myself, it’s another stumbling block to our once-fervent Simpsons fandom.
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.
In a brief side discussion after a previous entry, I mentioned in passing how my DVD organizational system suits me but not necessarily my family. If they watched DVDs more often, this might be a more pressing issue. They’re well aware I’m happy to help them locate specific titles, just as any helpful librarian, curator, or clerk might. Besides, if I allow them too much input into the process, they’ll do as they please, sticking any given DVD in any open slot, turning it all into a pell-mell pit of chaos. Everything would be ruined and I’d cry.
Previously on MCC: The most notable event of Day Seven of our road trip was a quick tour through the Boot Hill Museum in Dodge City. The main attraction is a preserved portion of the original Boot Hill Cemetery, still populated by the original customers, still marked by low-budget tombstones of the Old West.
However, the Boot Hill Museum is more than those preserved historical plots. Beyond that and the spacious gift shop, visitors can also walk along a simulated Dodge City strip mall of the Old West. Some of these shops are inaccessible, but several invite visitors and contain display cases filled with souvenirs and paraphernalia of the Old West. The saloon even has occasional rounds of singing, and waitresses who invite you in for a glass of sarsaparilla, which I was afraid to sample. There’s also a working ice cream shoppe, but the tourism-level prices inspired us to bide our time and fetch snacks later at a Dairy Queen down the street instead.
Not all the contents are vintage 19th-century items. One room is dedicated to TV shows of the Old West in general and Gunsmoke in particular. Their short-sighted gift shop missed a profit opportunity by not offering copies of these objets d’art for sale. What child wouldn’t want to pop Gunsmoke’s Festus…Sings and Talks About Dodge City and Stuff! into their parent’s CD player and listen to it twelve times a day?