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Why Do People Collect Comics? Comic Store In Your Future

Rod Lamberti of Rodman Comics of Ankeny, Iowa, writes Comic Store In Your Future weekly for Bleeding Cool. Find previous columns here. And it's time to ask questions.

Why do people collect comics? For the thrill of the chase or for the love of money? For the entertainment or for recapturing one's childhood?

When I was five years old, I started reading comics. It was something to do while my mom did grocery shopping. Other kids and I would sit around the magazine rack and read comics. I could sit or kneel on the ground the whole time she shopped and think nothing of it. Now, if I do that, I might be lucky to last a few minutes before getting up and thinking, dang, that hurts. Marvel Two in One #56 featuring Thing and Thundra from 1979 was a great read at the time for me. Marvel Two in One #69 had a panel with Franklin playing with Fantastic Four superhero action figures. I remember wishing there were actual Fantastic Four action figures. Many years later, I would stumble across the page of Reed Richard's and Sue Richard's son Franklin accidentally losing the Human Torch action figure and the Thing lifting up the stove for him to retrieve it. I bought it, of course. It reminds me of simpler times and the past. Avengers #179 was the first Avengers comic I read. I liked Yellowjacket so much as a kid.

I remember another kid having an Avengers lunch box with Yellowjacket on it. I always wanted one though I never did get it. Avengers 190 loved the teamwork the team used. The issue made me a Grey Gargoyle fan for life. Batman #324 from 1980 made me a Batman, Catwoman, and Catman fan. Justice League of America #180 was the first Justice League comic I read. Justice League of America #183 from 1980 had the Justice League of America, Justice Society of America, and the New Gods all in the same issue. It was amazing to this kid. I remember the rumor online the Justice League movie was going to be based on the three-part storyline started in issue 183, causing the issue to be in demand years ago. I also remember thinking it was a lot of characters to introduce, get into one movie and doubted the rumor was true. I recently bought a graded copy of the issue to display because it reminded me of my childhood. I remember reading this issue at the Ben Franklin drugstore in Ankeny when it was still open. I was actually lucky enough to be able to take home Rom #1 from 1982. It had a big impact on me. I redrew the opening few pages plenty of times as a kid and even won first place with a Rom drawing in some contest at school. This was the first thing I can remember winning. These are all things only important to one person, me. Why? Because they are my memories. Collecting comics helps me remember times long gone and reconnect to my younger self. It is why I collect comics. It is also a reason many others do.

Why Do People Collect Comics? Comic Store In Your Future
Image by Emilie Farris from Pixabay

On Sunday, I priced some comics I just bought for the store. Some of the comics were G.I. JOEs from back when Larry Hama wrote it. These were a big part of my childhood. The Mike Zeke covers were amazing to this kid and still are to this adult. I was asked if I was pricing the comics or reading them. I joked I was going through page by page to inspect the condition of the comics. I was, in fact, reading the old GI JOEs as I priced them. Larry's writing helped the GI Joe action figures by creating a great back story for the line that I and other kids back then found fascinating. Looking forward to the upcoming Snake Eyes movie.

The thrill of the chase. Before the internet, there were a lot more people hunting through comic stores for a special issue or the final issue to complete their collection. I remember traveling with friends to Missouri and Nebraska, hunting for comics. One comic store we visited had some great issues; just one problem they were displayed taped up in their window. The comics had been in the window for a while, which caused the comics to fade out due to exposure to the sun. I remember this because I was so disappointed. There are still people who do travel searching for comics and enjoying the thrill of the hunt.

After owning a comic store for ten years, I have at times thought, wow, we sold that comic for super cheap just years ago. Back issues at times are hot, then cold, and then hot again. New Mutants #98, the first appearance of Deadpool when we first opened, sold for twenty-some dollars. Copies of Ultimate Fallout #4, the first appearance of Miles Morales, was in the back-issue bin here for cover price for quite a while. Captain America #117, the first appearance of the Falcon, was in our back-issue bin for not nearly as much as it is going for now.

Last year I found a Previews catalog in my garage, which had Miles Morales on the cover. I thought, how the heck did this make it in here and threw it away. Later I would stumble on a copy on eBay and see it was selling for $300. Whoops. The Hero Trade that showed up out of nowhere in a Diamond shipment I threw away thinking we already have so much material here. I just looked and saw it is going for $900. Big time whoops.

We had both of the covers of the New 52 Action Comics issue, the first appearance of Calvin Ellis on hand, and put them on eBay, where the pair sold for $92.99. I remember not long-ago Action Comics #9 shot up for a while, then got cold and was it is hot again. We had both covers of Earth-2 #25 in the back-issue bin for cover price. Sold them both in one listing on eBay for $42.99.

I loved reading issues of Star Wars the Last Padawan when it was coming out. The first issue is clearing $70. Star Wars the Last Padawan #6 is clearing $130.

G.I. Joe #32, the first in print appearance of Lady Jaye. How many times over the years did I see a cheap copy and pass over it? Currently clearing $20. Once she actually starts showing up on the small screen could easily go higher.

Currently, in-store we are seeing plenty of people collecting comics for the love of money. The first comics I remember ever selling were the Gen 13 limited series from the '90s. I thought the art was good though I did not care for the writing, so when someone offered me $75 for the limited series that I paid the cover price for, I thought, what the heck. It shocked me due to the fact I had never sold comics I had bought, and I had been collecting comics for over a decade. It was not too long after I sold them; someone told me I sold them for too cheap, and I could have gotten like another $5 dollars for them. I just shrugged and thought no way to know that at the time. Then months later, prices dropped a lot, never recovered, and I thought it a  good thing I sold them. I would slowly, more and more, as time went on, sell comics and action figures. Doing so provided me with the opportunity to buy more comics and action figures. I would go to Toys R Us, Kaybee Toys, and more. I met people by trading. I got a lot of walking exercise. Good times. Now with owning the store and coronavirus, it is rare for me to stop in a big chain store and even see action figures, though, at times, I still try to stop. Why don't I order action figures myself? I do. When I get new Transformers in, they blow out the door. I ordered a ton of action figures and am still waiting for them to arrive even though I have seen them in the big chain stores. I am now worried Diamond will send them months from now after everyone has bought them at chain stores.

I just came across my Generation X action figures. Generation X, the comic, was a big deal when it first came out. Now, like the action figures, it is mostly forgotten. First appearances are all the rage right now for people looking to make a quick buck. Some store owners dislike flippers; some don't mind them. I don't mind them. I just try to make sure we have enough copies for our regulars and people that do want to read the comic. Every copy of a title sold helps assure the title keeps on going is my belief as a comic store owner. My belief as a comic lover? I would love to see a lot more people reading comics. It is easier to read off of one's phone, easier to collect cards, easier to watch a Marvel movie than to read a Marvel comic, easier to do so many other things. Comic books, though, are unique; they are entertainment, and they are physically owned by who bought them. Once one watches a movie or streaming service, that's it. It is an experience and a memory while comics have something to physically link to a memory with, of course, the chance of the comic book becoming worth more than what someone paid for it. Even those who dislike flippers will often be thrilled to learn a comic they have gone up in value. My comics as a kid were well-read, and back then, I have no idea if bags and boards even existed; they aren't worth any money, though worth every penny paid for entertainment.

One thing that surprises me in this day and age is the lack of trading comics among people. Card trading is common, while comic trading is not so much. As a kid, I would loan out my comics to other kids and get them hooked on comics. Though as for actual trading of comics, I haven't seen it at nearly the same level card collectors do. Granted, here in-store, the average comic customer mentality is very different than a card customer. Odd fact, every Magic the Gathering player that has ever had a pull box for comics here has abandoned their comic pull box without a word to us. It is like we need a sign saying no Magic player should open up a comic pull list with us.

Comics for entertainment. I do still read comics for entertainment and still find comics enjoyable. I enjoy talking about old-school comics and new comics with people. I do wish the comic publishers would up their game. Where in the last few years has there been a truly hot new writer or artist to bring in brand new comic customers? There have been plenty of first issues to bring up sales numbers quickly, though little long-term planning for comics. That said, I still do look forward to reading upcoming comics in the future.

I would love to get back into getting back issues for my own personal collection. Comics from around when I was young or even older. Why haven't I? Ironically because I spend so much time working at a comic store. I do not buy comics here for myself. Years ago, before I opened my own store, I was at a comic store, and a person wanted to buy Spawn 1 back when it was hot. I spoke up and said it is right here up on the wall. The owner said those comics are for display only; they are mine. I could tell the other person was disappointed. I thought it was not very business savvy. If a comic book is here in my store, then it should be for sale.

Why all this about my past and what I think? As I have said before, our pasts shape who we are. My past shapes the prism of how I see things. As a comic store owner, part of the reason I do this, of course, is for the love of money. The thrill of the chase is something I enjoy when visiting other cities. I enjoy seeing a back issue that is new to me. Of course, I have not traveled for quite a while; hopefully, it won't be too much longer, and that will change. Comics still entertain me, so of course, it helps to be a part of a comic store. Recapturing memories is what certain back issues do for me. I, for the life of me, have no idea why I remember getting Justice League of America #183 at the Ben Franklin in Ankeny when I was a kid. I even remember who was with me at the time. Remembering it brings back memories of kids I was friends with though sadly, I do not remember all their names. I remember being kids, swimming, and so on through as kids do; many just drifts away. No falling-outs or anything, just memories of mine. I doubt asking people, "do you remember going with me to Ben Franklin and buying a comic over forty years ago" will ring anyone's bell. Plus, it might be a little odd to try to reconnect after so much time; they very well might have no idea of who I am or was then. That said, I may be the only one who remembers anything of it, though that particular comic does make me think of my past, my being a kid in the good old days.

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Rod LambertiAbout Rod Lamberti

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