The Twilight Years of the Back Issue Hunter


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.

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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.

Ruminations from an old man about his Dulcineas…

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