(Comic) Collecting for Love

In this continuing story of creating a new collection, I’ve come across two works that have changed my perspective, and not just a little. The first is an HBO documentary about collecting modern art. The Price of Everything is truly worth watching whether you’re a collector or not. Expecting it to be full of awful people spouting platitudes and self-indulgent musings, the film instead delivers real, thoughtful ideas about collecting something that most of us don’t understand. And doing so in an opaque market, where value is difficult to discern.

These are smart, measured people. Some of them are artists, and yes, they are…artists. Meaning, they set themselves apart as special. And maybe they should. What’s really compelling in this film are the collectors. I’ve been approaching this comic book collection as something I could piece together analytically. I assumed I could study the market, study what makes a great comic, figure out how to locate them and then – boom – have a great, or at least passible, collection. That makes me a smart collector, right?

What comes through wonderfully in this film, is that while these collectors have a very practical approach to what they do, they also intensely love what they’re doing. They love the art they are collecting. That it has value in the world at large is only one component. They aren’t squirreling away gold coins for a crisis. They’re collecting art, and they’re doing it with great enthusiasm, not because it will make them wealthy – in fact, I think just the process of collecting is what makes them wealthy.

The second is an article from Heritage Auctions. Heritage is astounding. That’s not hyperbolic, what they do is truly jaw dropping. The number of items they have for auction and the information they provide to collectors is…almost overwhelming. They put out an amazing newsletter, The Intelligent Collector, that I kind of can’t believe is free. Last week they did a piece titled “A Promise Kept,” which is the incredibly sweet story of a man who preserved his brother’s comic book collection after the brother died in the Korean war. This collection of Golden Age comics is exhaustive:

“The collection’s depth and scope is almost unparalleled,” Jaster says. “I expect nearly two-thirds of the books will stand as the finest-known copies for any particular comic represented in the collection. I am honored and thrilled Heritage was selected to represent the collection.”

Heritage expects the collection to realize at least $10 million. Put simply, “The Promise Collection will go down in history as one of the greatest comic-book finds of all time,” adds Heritage Auctions Vice President Lon Allen.

A comic book collection worth $10 million! That’s enough to catch anyone’s attention. But it was something later in the article that struck me, especially after having watched the film:

Junie [the young brother] had been a collector since he was a little boy, not because of the value but because of the stories. Throughout the 1940s, he amassed a collection of more than 5,000 Golden Age books, and treated each with kid gloves.

The boy collected, and cared for, a treasure he loved. He acted like a collector – taking meticulous care of his collection, and carefully curating it – not because he aimed to amass a $10 million collection one day. In fact, that would have been impossible. He created a valuable collection because he loved these comics so much. To collect with the value of the object as the primary goal, I think is a losing proposition. It’s not that we can’t know the value, or have some idea. And it’s not that the market should be ignored. But the main reason to collect, is love for the object. That is value, in and of itself.

What does all this mean for my collection? I’ve been wrestling with what to buy next. I’ve learned that the thing that would have the most market value would be a first appearance of a beloved character in one of Ed’s stories, and I was going to go that route. I changed my mind. I’m going to follow my interest and check out another one of Ed’s noir works and see where my interest leads me. It might lead to Captain America, but it also might lead to Pulp. Either way I win, because they’re going on my wall.

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