Sunday, January 18, 2009
Just the Essentials -- "I've tried to pare down my collection to just the essentials," says Seymour, an obsessive record collector clearly failing at his goals, in Terry Zwigoff and Dan Clowes's film adaptation of Clowes's graphic novel Ghost World. One look at the shelves of records, creaking under the weight of thousands of discs, and Enid, and we, know that the struggle to maintain those essentials is a futile one.
Putting aside over a dozen shortboxes of comic books, I've got four bookcases crammed full of close to 900 graphic novels now. When I was 14, I wanted to read just about every comic book published. Staring down 43, I try now to only buy comics and graphic novels that I know I will want to re-read in the future. I do this by focusing on creators I know and trust, such as Alan Moore, Eddie Campbell, Clowes, Chris Ware and the others in my personal pantheon, but of course there are always new creators being discovered, usually after they are well-reviewed by critics I trust, like Jog, Tom Spurgeon, Rob Vollmar and others.
I hate those shortboxes occupying the northwest corner of my bedroom, although I love most of the comics within them. They are not expanding anywhere nearly as quickly as the bookcases full of graphic novels, because in the past year I have whittled my superhero comics pull list down to virtually zero. Here in this fan-fiction age of corporate superhero comics by the likes of Bendis, Meltzer, Johns and the rest, everything is a huge, meaningless event typed with fists of ham and dreams of avarice. Today's best-selling Direct Market creators have pretty much devastated the North American superhero comics landscape, so the money that I would have been spending on superhero comics a decade ago now goes to buying deluxe reprint collections of good DC and Marvel comics, like the new Alan Moore Swamp Thing HCs and Marvel Omnibus editions of great comics like Ditko's Spider-Man.
The shelves are arranged with a method of sorts, although anywhere from five to 15 additions a month of all shapes and dimensions mean compromises often must be made. Most of my Jack Kirby titles are on one shelf, but the Fantastic Four Omnibus is simply too heavy to go on that shelf, so it's on one of the bottom shelves with the other Omnibus editions in my library. Alan Moore is the only creator taking up more than one full shelf; his normal-sized collections and graphic novels fill up one shelf, and larger works like Lost Girls and Absolute Watchmen and Absolute League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Volumes One and Two, of course) take up maybe a third of the bottom shelf of that same bookcase. All Ed Brubaker books are shelved with each other, as are those by Grant Morrison and Warren Ellis, but it's driving me nuts that I have three oversized EC Comics-related hardcovers that I have not yet figured out how to join together in one logical spot.
One of my favorite shelves holds mostly anthologies, from Kramers Ergot and The Best American Comics (2006, 2007 and 2008 waiting patiently for the 2009 edition) to Ivan Brunetti's two brilliant anthologies of comics stories. The shelf under that one holds a number of coffee table art books like Masters of American Comics, Art Out of Time, The Smithsonian Book of Newspaper Comics, and Seth's sublime Vernacular Drawings. You could no doubt build an actual table using just the hard covers of the coffee table art books on my shelves. I love them, cherish them, am obsessed with them.
As much pleasure as they bring me, I do know from our last move four years ago that having nearly 1,000 graphic novels to haul around is a massive inconvenience. Like Seymour, I really to try to keep it to the essentials. I make it a habit to immediately sell or trade away any purchases that I find were tactical errors toward the goal of only owning graphic novels that fall within my personal canon. But I know the next time we move that either my back will break from lugging these books again, or my wallet will break from paying someone else to do it for me.
Other than the joy I get from re-reading the very best works in my personal graphic novel library, the only other comfort I have from this ever-expanding collection is the fact that both of my kids, and many of my friends, love comics. So at least when I drop dead I'll be leaving behind something for them to cherish and battle over, and gaze in wide wonder at my awesome taste in great comics, and my profound inability to budget wisely. "At least he kept it to just the essentials," someone will no doubt note.
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