Wherein I talk about how to collect The New Teen Titans, and steer you away from the bad stuff! Part of the How To Collect series.
Welcome to “How to Collect,” a series of articles about how to collect a comic book series in trade paperback, with all the irritating research done for you, to make sure you have the best, most thorough collection of great comics possible. To start us off, let’s talk about the 1980s The New Teen Titans.
Created by Marv Wolfman and George Perez, The New Teen Titans had Wolfman on plot and writing duties, and Perez on plot and pencils for the first third of its run (and other incredible talents to follow). George Perez is the man, and that’s enough for anybody to read the series.
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I don’t understand it, personally. The comic has been running for forty years. Forty years! Forty years ago, the Atari 2600 hadn’t been released. Forty years ago, the idea of a new Star Wars movie was a novelty, not an expectation. Forty years ago, my parents hadn’t met yet. There’s got to be something to a comic strip that’s gone on for forty years. I mean, we kept Nancy around for 36 years practically as a benchwarmer for someone who could fill Ernie Bushmiller’s shoes, and after that wait Olivia Jaimes’ Nancy is arguably the best thing in the newspaper today.
For me, the importance of this forty year old comic strip is that it allowed a young autistic kid to understand what sarcasm was.
A writer discusses setting up a home office that folds up.
I got something really cool today.
Yes, it’s comics related, I guess, but it’s also an important piece of how I work as a person.
Writing is a very strange, very weird act. Take a look at what Stephen King did with his writing room sometime and you’ll see what I mean. But for me, I need someplace relatively free of distractions. When you have a limited living space, this means getting… creative.
See, I tell Kay this frequently enough, but my very best college assignments were done in the bathroom. It’s quiet. Peaceful. No distractions, just me, a laptop, and occasionally a TV tray so I wasn’t hunched over. Laptops are not meant for laps, people, especially after six hours. It’s also where I did a lot of reading as a kid, despite the grumbling of other people.
So when I felt like I needed a space to write separate from a computer with the entire internet and Metal Gear Solid V on it, I found a floor chair. A floor chair is exactly what it sounds like: a chair without legs, so it goes on the floor. It’s currently folded up against the wall between my bed and Shelf 9 of 22, and will stay there very likely until I move. That spot is smaller than any bathroom stall you’ll find outside of an airport, but far more comfortable.
The AwesomeCon and SpringCon experience – going to conventions as a family, going alone, and comparing big and smell cons.
Writing about AwesomeCon 2019 took me a not insignificant amount of time. Partly because this was the first ‘big’ convention I’d gone to, and trying to keep track of everything was overwhelming, but partly because I didn’t know how to properly articulate how it felt. It was only when I went to my local convention, SpringCon, that I was able to find the words. While AwesomeCon gets close to the six-digit mark in attendance, SpringCon is just a few thousand people throughout its two day run. Where there are panelists and events at AwesomeCon ranging from She-Ra screenings to a fudge stand, SpringCon is entirely focused on comics. And while my brother went with me to SpringCon, he had little to no interest in comics and spent most of his time browsing manga and playtesting a card game.
It’s not that I have anything against an event like AwesomeCon. I actually enjoyed myself quite a bit. The problem is that I live in Minnesota, and SpringCon is the biggest comic convention we’ve got. But in order to talk about my thoughts on either of them, I’m going to have to talk about both of them.
How to read the fifty years of Captain Marvel, aka Carol Danvers, comics. With Gerry Conway’s Ms. Marvel to Kelly Sue DeConnick’s historic relaunch and more.
I hear there’s a movie that some people were excited about, and that it’s based on this comic book. A lot of comic books, actually. So let’s talk about Captain Marvel, AKA Carol Danvers, with “How to Collect,” a column where I research and report the best way to collect a comic, saving you the hassle and leaving you with the good parts.
Carol Danvers is an unusual character. Originally created in 1968 as a supporting character for Captain Marvel (of Marvel Comics), she later became Ms. Marvel, and is most well known as Captain Marvel after her 2012 relaunch. She’s taken numerous codenames (Ms. Marvel, Binary, Warbird, and Captain Marvel are the big ones), and was written with the intent of being a legitimately feminist superhero. Considering how large the real-life Carol Corps has grown, I’d say she’s succeeded.
Her story is expansive, and over her 50 years of existence, she never went into comics limbo the way some characters do. So when Kay wanted a collection of Carol Danvers solo titles on her shelves, finding the character’s stories and where they were collected was a real challenge. She wrote a glowing review of the first Ms. Marvel Masterworks already, and she’d read most of Captain Marvel’s titles. But she’d never read them in sequence, and only owned a smattering of skinny trades and the two Masterworks volumes of her original series. I remember her at one point reading Volume 1 of the 2012 series, followed by Volume 2 of the 2014 series, which actually collects issues from Volume 8 of the various Captain Marvel solo titles published over the years, and she was more confused than anyone I’ve ever seen.
Once I’d written that sentence, I had to check to make sure I hadn’t just had a stroke.
Regardless, my girlfriend asked me for help, and I had recently bought the Brian Reed series anyway. I was confident that I had enough knowledge to make this a fairly easy process. What I didn’t account for was Marvel’s stubborn inability to make anything an easy process, even with a movie coming out.
A discussion of why trade paperbacks are my preferred format for reading any and all comics, as well as my history as a comics reader.
The stuff I write about, with the exception of Don Rosa in Review (which will continue after the third Don Rosa Classics book comes out, not before), is trade paperbacks rather than single issues. Any interviews I’ve done about single issues have been done with the help of K. Tilden Frost’s collection because I don’t own them. And while The Orville has a comic coming out in July, the only way I’m going to be able to review it issue-by-issue is with her co-writing (and probably taking lead.) By the way I act, you’d think I was allergic to the smell of staple-bound sequential art.
But I’m not. In fact, I used to read single issues all the time. As a kid, I loved reading Sonic the Hedgehog and Silver Age comics from my dad’s collection, once I’d gone through the proper procedures for the latter—ask for the box I wanted (out of about fifty) to be taken down off the shelf, take it to a clean space, wash my hands with soap, take out the comic from its mylar bag with acid-free backing board that was shut with reusable tape, hold the comic in such a way as to not create bends, creases, dog-ears (What monster does dog-ears pages of anything? What went wrong with your life?), or obvious imprints of where your thumb was.
This didn’t actually bother me, though I did have trouble with the tape. I read about the rainbow Batman, the exploits of Lois Lane, even a little bit of Legion—so long as the comics were in Fine condition or less. I think at one point I earned my way up to Very Fine for the cheaper comics, but it was a rare thing for a collector like him to have a Very Fine comic that wasn’t worth something like $80. When he did have copies like that, he only had them because he’d bought a random lot off of eBay to get a particular issue or three, and left the rest in boxes regardless—and that was my reading pile.
Sonic was a lot easier to enjoy. He bought the entire run up until about #100, miniseries and all, and left it for us. He also said he’d never sell them because the memories of my brother and me reading them meant too much for him. I would have kept up, but, eventually, the book decided to go meat-and-potatoes instead of showing some real ambition. Since I had nothing that was particularly ambitious or interesting to read, I fell off of single issues around the age of 13, with the exception of Knights of the Dinner Table. Then a year or two later, someone put a copy of the 1997 Deadpool series in my hand. It was the first Marvel comic I’d ever read and, honestly, if Marvel was more like that, I’d probably be a Marvel fan instead of a guy who likes some Marvel comics. Some of the mental illnesses that Deadpool and I share (PTSD, specifically) were portrayed more respectfully than anything else I can imagine, and I needed that like I needed water. There’s a reason I paid through the nose to get the out of print omnibus.
Until DC’s One Year Later event (post-Infinite Crisis), I stayed out of the comic book store. Partly because the store I used to go to turned out to be a money-laundering operation that shut down after the owner was caught with a van full of more weapons and drugs than your average GTA mission.
So in order to get back into comics, I went to a different store that didn’t have all of its assets seized; unfortunately, it is run so incompetently that it’s a wonder they’re in business. They couldn’t take pre-orders or try to get copies of books they hadn’t stocked correctly if you paid them, literally, because I had money in my hands to buy the issues. It took outside measures to get the first issue of Darkwing Duck so that I had context for the rest of the series. Near the end of my time at the store, I had to do the exact same thing I’d done with the first volume of the series, despite placing a pre-order eight months in advance for the new #1.
But they were the biggest store in the state, and about ten minutes away. Any river looks good if you don’t have any water, I guess. They even managed to cater to kids and women/girls, which is smart because they’re the biggest group of comic readers in the United States. That store pisses me off every time I go there, but I respect them for that.
I tended to stick with DC, tentatively trying Marvel once or twice, but the “House of Ideas” was an impenetrable mess, expecting you to know Marvel continuity back to Fantastic Four #1. So I read and loved titles like Booster Gold, Red Robin, Stephanie Brown’s Batgirl, Power Girl, and Justice Society of America. Every week my dad and I would go to the comic book store and I would come home, stack in hand, and read.
Read Wikipedia, that is. Marvel cares about new readers as little as I care about the 49ers, but DC at least tried, using an occasional editorial footnote or diegetic recap. With that half-effort extended, I could use context clues and the osmosis of knowledge from my enjoyment of the DCAU to look up backstories of characters that were being referenced or introduced like I should know exactly who they are, patching plot holes I’d never heard of, and every other time where it seemed like the writers were sure we’d read this twenty-year-old story and didn’t need any catching up to enjoy. Looking at you, first arc of Booster Gold.
As I continued my research, I’d pass the books to my dad to read throughout the week. Whenever he had questions, I could answer them, and we’d talk about the issue in question. What is Booster Gold doing traveling back in the past to deal with this Deathstroke guy? That’s from an early arc of New Teen Titans. Who is Power Girl? That would be Supergirl from Earth-2, from the Silver Age Crisis on Two Earths stories that the Justice League would have with the Justice Society. “Oh yeah,” he said, grinning as he lost himself in thought. “I remember those. They would have Thanksgiving dinner together.” I explained what happened with Crisis on Infinite Earths in enough detail for Power Girl to make sense (long story short: she doesn’t and that’s a plot point), and he explained that the original Crisis is what made him stop reading comics completely—all his favorite characters went away, replaced by different versions of them that never felt the same. Right around 1985, he was done.
There’s something so sad about the fact that he called Batman Year One the perfect comic book, but never read it until he bought me a copy. The very first trade in my collection. Maybe if he’d stuck it out just a little longer, his knowledge wouldn’t have stopped at 1985, or more realistically the 1970s. Maybe I wouldn’t have needed to learn several decades worth of comics history to bring me up to speed. Maybe we wouldn’t have needed to meet in the middle to start learning things together, instead of spending as much time teaching as we did.
Getting him back into comics like this was one of the best things I’d ever been able to do. For the first time, the communal aspect of comics was something I got to participate in. Comic book forums were so toxic, so full of homophobia and anger and racism and elitism that never, ever seemed to end. If you weren’t already in the know, you weren’t welcome.
We read Peter David’s book on writing comics, we tried to track down some older stuff (The guy who writes the “How To Collect” series tracked down older stuff? Stop the presses!), and generally tried to get into more than our weekly trips for new material.
Sadly, we ran into problems with those weekly trips after a few years. Dan Jurgens left Booster Gold, the trio of Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti, and Amanda Conner left Power Girl, and I think the people behind issues 13 and onward on that book were drunk. It was hard to find certain issues because the store somehow got worse, and crossovers like The Lightning Saga or the sequel to Kingdom Come were impenetrable. Neither of us read or liked Kingdom Come because Alex Ross does the creepiest looking people I have ever seen outside of a horror comic, which made it a nightmare to read Justice League or Justice Society. The fake-out series with Bart Allen in The Flash was one that we loved, but ended with the title character’s brutal and senseless murder despite fake solicits for issues past that point. I think we tried one issue of the new Flash, but it was such a disgusting thing to pull that we stopped caring about any Flashes almost completely.
Unfortunately, DC decided that we were going to care about Flash whether we wanted to or not. We kept persisting at the comic book store, right up until Flashpoint hit in 2011. Every single comic we were reading was canceled. I swear to God, every single one. Final Crisis wasn’t readable as a single issue experience and not even that good in trade, but it led to some interesting stories for a few years. That wasn’t the case with a post-Flashpoint world. The New 52 was a sloppy mess, and for the most part, we gave up. One of the store owners had died, and the guy left in charge was a complete moron who seemed to see customers as intruding on his store. We only ever went back for Knights of the Dinner Table (when they were able to actually read and fulfill our pull list) or when there was a 50 percent off sale. Instead, we ordered collections off of Amazon, CheapGraphicNovels, and bought from local second-hand stores.
People talk about supporting local businesses, but I’m going to tell you right now that a local business is only worth supporting if they’re good at what they’re doing for you. This one isn’t. If it goes out of business (it won’t), the only thing I’ll be sad about is that it will be harder for kids to get ahold of their comics.
But we did enjoy a few of the secondhand stores that we found, and I still go to them now. Our favorite was the one we just called “The Mob Store” because I had been searching for the 26 volume set that collected Will Eisner’s The Spirit. They were out of print—of course—and $50-$60 at cover price. But if you went looking, eventually, it was possible to find them at the $15-$20 range. (Except volumes 12 and 14. If you see a copy of those, grab the damn things. It took me two years to find them and, in the end, they were Christmas presents.) The first time we ever went to the Mob Store, I found something like 13 volumes for $10-$15 apiece, and a bunch of other interesting books at prices that seemed absurd. $30 for an omnibus, and he had 12 of them there? Absolute Editions for $40? Wednesday Comics for $12? I was baffled. I never said a word about how good the prices were, but without prompting, the store owner leaned over the counter and said the following words.
“These retail for 50 bucks apiece, I sell them for 15, and I still make a profit. Figure that out.”
In the parking lot my dad and I agreed that if we figured that out, we were going to get our legs broken and tossed in a river for our trouble. But we did call it the Mob Store from then on, and the owner knew me as The Spirit Kid. I was 25, but that didn’t seem to matter much five years later because he called me that last week.
But during all this time, from One Year Later until I stopped buying singles completely, I looked at my dad’s old comics in their short-boxes. Superman, Batman, World’s Finest, The Flash. Even a few from the Colorado Find, some Dell Four-Colors. Comics that were in Near Mint condition according to the most stringent requirements for CGC grading that he’d used on each item. Comics that he never, ever read—because they were too valuable to take out of the mylar. At some point, I resolved to make sure my dad could read every comic from his childhood that he could, to enjoy stuff from that era that he’d never had a chance to read, to enjoy earlier works like the Golden Age Superman (arguably the best the character has ever been, a power fantasy for the little guy against the rich and corrupt), and allow him to let go of some of the single issues that took up space.
When I actually convinced him to buy an omnibus of the Silver Age Flash’s adventures, he called me a servant of Satan. I think it might be the only time I’d out-debated him rather than changed his mind over a few weeks. Normally I didn’t care about winning, just having the conversation. But winning this one meant getting to see him happy, and share it with him. That wasn’t the argument I used. You could only appeal to his emotion sideways through the logic of it being a better format, of him never having had the chance to read The Flash in full (he only ever bought it when he had extra money after the Batman and Superman titles), and to get to the point where he could read the famous The Flash of Two Worlds—he had a statue of the cover, and when he saw an homage to the cover on the CW show he called me downstairs and texted his friend to share it.
The plan was working well. DC’s omnibus line, which included the Golden and Silver Age comics of yesteryear, was looking like a real hit. The newspaper comics he’d never known about were great: he loved hearing me read the German characters from Superman’s Sunday strips because the accent made him laugh as much as the comics. He’d even been getting into newer comics (for a given definition of new) like Kevin Smith’s Green Arrow or the works of George Perez. He was even going to read my Crisis on Infinite Earths Absolute Edition, and we were working on getting a hold of JLA/Avengers. (The oversized, de facto Absolute Edition that went for a stupid amount of money. Part of his eBay collecting had gotten him issues 1, 2, and 4, so we resolved to spend our money on that rather than an inferior format.)
After being a die-hard DC fan for almost fifty years, I think I could have eventually convinced him to start reading Marvel if given the chance. But I wasn’t into Marvel enough at the time to try, so we kept looking for single issues we liked, now with more moderation than our earlier excursions. Harley Quinn/Power Girl and Harley’s Little Black Book were the big ones, along with Starfire, which holds a special place in my heart as being the last… well.
See, I don’t think I’ll ever read Harley’s Little Black Book to completion. Neal Adams is an artist that my dad loved, but he was so slow to finish an issue of Harley’s Little Black Book that they had to do rewrites to accommodate him. It agitated my dad, who wanted to read it so very badly. Neal Adams combined with the people who worked on Power Girl? I don’t think he could have asked for more. They did release the issue, some eight months after it was originally solicited. It’s a real shame because it’s not only late, it looks just awful. But that’s not what bothers me about it. It’s that my dad died before the issue was published.
I don’t recommend staying in a room when someone pulls the plug.
Starfire #12 is the last comic he ever read. I went to AwesomeCon 2019, which is halfway across the country. I couldn’t bring boxes upon boxes of trades on the convention floor and was carefully trying to figure out what exactly I could pack. I brought the two trades collecting the series. It made sense. They’re what I’ll keep to re-read the series. And when they’re on my shelves and when my eyes pass across them, like they do when I turn my head just a bit to look across the desk, I’ll remember talking about not just the issue but the series as a whole, whether it could have continued (it could have), whether it should have continued (it should have), and whether it was as good as Power Girl (our gold standard for comics—we never found anything that topped it).
After he died, I stopped going to my local store almost completely, even for Knights of the Dinner Table. They refused to let my brother use the family discount card—only children of the cardholder could use it, so when it had to go to my name, he wasn’t eligible. It felt like profiting off of a dead man, and I had no time for that. I found the subscription service for Knights of the Dinner Table, and only stopped by when they had pseudo-clearance sales after conventions.
At one point the owner, having not seen me in years, approached me at the counter during check-out. He said he was sorry about my dad, and gave me an extra discount on the Bone Artist’s Edition I’d found in the clearance section. I think I got it for about 20 bucks. I still get a little dazed whenever people talk about my dad dying, and what kind of person he was. In those moments I almost forget that he’d died at all, like it was a strange story to tell him when I got back. Of course, when I go down to his old office, there’s nothing but an empty chair.
I still talk to that chair sometimes.
I fight so very hard not to think “We should go to the Mob Store.” I have to force it, like a track switch at the last moment, to say “I want to go to the Mob Store.” It’s bitter and ugly, like bile in my throat. Just recently, I told the owner of the Mob Store about my dad’s passing. He looked stricken and called him a good, nice man, offering sympathy as best as someone who described himself as obnoxious really can. And I really believed him.
By the time that he died, I’d amassed a collection of over 400 trade paperbacks. That number has doubled in the last three years. A number of newspaper comics made their way in, a result of Don Rosa’s Captain Kentucky and Floyd Gottfredson’s Mickey Mouse leading me down a rabbit hole. It’s during this period of that I started hearing about my absolute least favorite thing from creators: pre-orders.
I understand the ecosystem of comics. Pre-orders are what determine a book’s success, and I encourage people to do it for the sake of the stories they love. But as a reader, it’s always felt like an unfair burden. I’m being asked to put my faith in something without knowing anything except, perhaps, name recognition of the characters or creators. When there was another person reading with me, that was fine. I was okay putting down three to five dollars a month for something I was going to buy again because I was getting a shared experience. The time spent, the conversation and debate, reading—even complaining about the store.
I don’t—I can’t—have that same experience anymore. I’ll read a 25 issue series I found at a used bookstore in an afternoon and talk about the entirety of it, devour a trade the day that it’s delivered, or go through some issue that meant a lot to me because it’s easy to pick off the shelf.
But the chair I’m talking to about it is empty. I will never go down the stairs and hear the familiar sounds of the wheels whirring as the chair was pulled out and spun towards me. The very, very subtle creak as the chair tilted back far enough that I thought it would tip over. I will never see a neutral and focused face move to a pleasant smile when I start asking questions and start answering his. His favorite cat doesn’t even sleep on it anymore, so I don’t (or can’t) have that startling experience I had during the first few months, where the cat would leap onto the chair hard enough to make it spin and for a moment, the sound would remind me that I was supposed to tell him something about what I’d been reading.
I can’t tell if losing that moment is a kindness or a cruelty. But in the end, it was just a moment. A fraction of a fraction of a fraction of what reading comics in single issue form actually was for me.
After he died I wondered, once, whether he had been indulging me by going to the comic stores. My mom shook her head. She said that it was one of his favorite things to do with me and that he loved that we got to share it together.
I love my own collection. Everything about the trades is a pleasure for me, from the contents, the bonus features, the way that they look, to the way that I get to share them with others. Every book I own is something that I have a sincere affection for, one way or another. It’s the kind of thing I wanted my dad to have, and slowly, he was getting there. The Silver Age Flash Omnibus volume 1 is on my shelf now, the one that I had him buy in my role as a servant of Satan. It has a different trade dress than DC’s other Golden/Silver/Bronze Age books, with Carmine Infantino’s famous Showcase #4 as the cover instead. That cover is the moment the Silver Age was born. His Christmas present, an Absolute Edition of Kevin Smith’s Green Arrow, is on the same shelf—with a head-sketch of Green Arrow by Phil Hester from a convention, signed to Joel and Mathias at my request. I think my dad would have been happy with that.
Since he died, I’ve become part of a family with Kay and two wonderful little girls. I wish he could have met them, though he certainly heard about them secondhand and liked them. If I’d known then what I know now, listening to the girls talk to me and each other about the mystery of the Gold Ranger in Power Rangers Zeo, I would never have wondered if he was indulging me. It would be like wondering if he loved me.
If you enjoy my work, please consider subscribing to my Patreon for early access to future posts, site updates, and early access to original fiction. All patrons can also vote on the next ‘How To Collect’ article. Current runners are New 52’s Harley Quinn, The Order of the Stick, and David Michelinie and Bob Layton’s Iron Man.
What’s up. I’m not dead, this is just an update because things got weird over the last year or so This is an update for the site, which, don’t worry, isn’t going away and neither am I. I will have to change the formatting though.
See, I write posts I’d normally put on Review Or Die on the Geekdad website. Unfortunately, if I simply repost them here, it messes with Google Analytics because they think I’m ripping off my own material, because Google is as Google does. Since I’ve started a patreon, I can include material in Patreon-posts that don’t fit in the article, or tells you here I wanted to say ‘fuck’ but they wouldn’t let me because it’s a parenting website.
I’ll link to the patreon introduction for every finished article that I post, and I’ll do the six that haven’t been cross-posted to Review or Die over the next week or so.
Also yes, after eight years, I started a Patreon! If you donate, you can see previews of articles, help me get things to review, and even preview the original fiction I write. If you want to look at the How To Collect series, you can vote on which piece I’ll write on next. And I’ll pay special attention to comments you send me about other things to look at for review purposes, though obviously, anything any reader asks about I will try to keep under consideration. The more money that goes into the Patreon, the more time I’m able to spend on this rather than other work that pays.
Speaking of Patreon, if I’m able to get $25 per article/review/interview in donations, I will release the pilot episode of a video review series on RWBY, starting with the Red trailer. Viewer feedback will determine whether I continue it. Since I did the pilot in Windows Movie Maker, and because that was like being hit in the head with a hammer, it would also involve me learning how to use Sony Vegas.
One last thing about Patreon. I promise you right now: If the ‘Early So-Called Art of Don Rosa’ ever comes out, I will make a patreon goal to start up Don Rosa In Review again. That means looking over EVERY Don Rosa story in detail, giving my best analysis of his work as a whole, and going over my opinion of how the characters in his stories were portrayed and why. That was one of my favorite series to write, but it’s also one of the most time-consuming and laborious because it involves multiple reads of a 26-year career in comics (and anything he did as a fan.)
And that’s the update. The most recent article I wrote will have its own post later today in the style I’ve talked about here. Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoy.
Media preservation is broken, and we need to discuss what that means.
Some of you may have heard about the recent shutdown of ROM sites LoveROM and LoveRetro—places to get “pirated” video games—but what you may not know is that these sites are often the last bastion of availability for the games they host. Richard Garriott, creator of the Ultima series, has special hardware to make sure that his first game (Akalabeth) is running at all times, simply because there is no guarantee anyone would ever bother preserving it. I’m sure there are mirrors that will pop up, but the truth is I don’t know if everything was kept. I don’t know whether there’s a special significance to anything that might have been lost. None of us do, not yet. The importance of art isn’t discovered in its own time. Poring over that material with the backing of time and a broader understanding of context that we don’t have in the present is the job of researchers and historians, and they can only work with what they have. Why do you suppose archaeologists are so happy when they find a clay pot?
Wherein I ponder the difficulties of exclusive material in trade paperbacks by examining Power Rangers Year One, and come to an explosive conclusion.
I really didn’t think I’d ever have to type an article that said “Stop punishing new fans.” Again. Yet here I stand with a copy of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers Year One and a brand new problem: a story only included in this deluxe, out of print, hardcover edition.
900 trade paperbacks. Inventorying them has been a slow nightmare – if you like, you can take a look at the document. Just know that I’ve only just started on the Ms. But 900 is an interesting milestone for me. I’m proud of it, but it feels like a stepping stone towards 1,000. A lot of my life has felt like that recently – the beginning of the right direction.
I’ve recently gotten jobs writing fiction, something I arguably should be doing instead of writing this. I will be doing it after I finish this draft. But my dad said that if he didn’t budget himself the pleasure of a game of golf (at a local $30 per 18 hole place, mind you, this wasn’t a country club kind of deal), there was no point in getting through the week. The same, I think, is true of time. Working on things that I don’t get paid for but satisfy me creatively is what allows me to be a complete person, even if I’m still growing.
The jobs are ghostwritten, but honestly, it’s better for a starting writer than desperately begging a publisher to read my work. It does mean I have until the end of the year to write more words than Return of the King, but hey – at least I don’t have to edit them. … I wonder if they’d give me that job. I think I’ll ask once I’ve gotten through with the rest. The next deadline for 20,000 words is Monday at 12:00PM… and I suspect I’ll be turning it in like every college paper I ever wrote, at 11:59. But I’ll get better. I wrote my first completed piece of fiction in my adult life, didn’t get stiffed on the payment, and I’ve got so much farther to go and paths already laid out for me.
… weirdly, it feels good to write that. I think. That’s been a lot of how I’ve been feeling. Like I’m making progress, and I should be proud of that progress. That’s not how my head worked for a long time.
I built my own computer, something I’ve never done before. A Raspberry Pi, no less, because when you think “Build your first computer” your brain will obviously go straight to trying to get multiple OSes running on a Linux box. I’m still part way through that, in part because I’m navigating an undocumented LAN because why, I think my dad figured, would he have to document something when he knew it all in his head?
The Pi, which I have named The Viewing Globe, will serve as a Netflix box on the first widescreen TV I’ve ever owned for myself, as well as an emulation machine. Add that to the Switch and I’ll have most every game I could ever ask for… except for Kingdom Hearts 3. For that, I will be bogarting my brother’s PS4. And that’s got to be easier than trying to run the Command Prompt using Linux tutorials. I’m seriously going to print out cheat sheets once I get the thing completely finished.
Anyway. My dad had always built computers for me, either from scratch or by helping to make sure that my rig was properly set up software-wise. This is a new and pretty painful experience, not just because I’ve used the Command Prompt more than I have since I was three years old and waking my parents up at 4AM because I forgot how to get to Reader Rabbit Teaches Typing. I’m second-guessing myself every step of the way.
I’ve said throughout this experience, to myself and others, that I don’t know what I’m doing. But that’s not true. I do know what I’m doing. I’m just not as good as he was, mostly because he was working with computers for about 15 years longer than I have been alive. That wasn’t the path I chose. I can listen to someone talk about DBA work and keep up with a funny story about IT, the kind where you need some knowledge of SQL and networking to get the joke, but I’m not fluent in speaking the language. My dad told stories all the time, and I asked to hear them as often as possible, hoping I could understand them well enough to repeat them with all the technical terms. For the most part, I can’t. He was the one who could really tell the story, and my efforts are pale imitations. Earnest, but pale nonetheless.
That’s what’s going through my head as I try to get three operating systems working on one machine to handle regular desktop Linux work, video, and emulation. Turn by turn of the ridiculously tiny screw with my thumb, because I couldn’t find my dad’s old screwdriver set, I hear fragments of what he used to say and hurt because I can’t remember more.
I used stickers I never thought I’d end up using, because I’m the horrible kind of person who saves his Elixirs in Final Fantasy until the end of the game because what if I need them?
I’m traveling more. More does mean once every few months, but it is more. The world feels more open now. Less like something meant to suffocate me. Anxiety’s a bitch like that, bearing down on me for so long. But it means new places, new opportunities. New experiences that help me see what kind of person I really am, and that I don’t hate it as much as I thought.
Each of these things represents a step forward towards the life I want, where the craft that I’ve said so often is the only thing I’m good at (and yes, friends of mine reading this article will disagree, but I promise you I’m not joking) is the thing I do most with my life. Writing is what I love. Writing is all I’ve got.
Those 900 trade paperbacks represent a step towards the kind of place, the kind of life, that I want to live. Because one day, if things go as they are, I’ll have twice as many, and it won’t be tucked so tight as they are right now. They’ll have as much room to breathe as I will.
As I was editing this article, I was struck with a moment of urgency that I still don’t quite understand. I took the majority of the trade paperbacks I own that aren’t going to be fully collected (the sole volume of Superboy, for example) and boxed them up, to be sold at a later date. At the time, I’d raised my number to 904. Now, it’s 832: 83 have been boxed up (and I’ve gotten more since I finished that project), and it was painful. Given the opportunity, I would buy completed versions of these series, and if they ever start re-releasing them I will. I really don’t know why I was struck by the need to do it. Maybe I’m finding a clarity and focus I didn’t have before. Maybe the space issue was bothering me. I honestly don’t know. But the sweat and tightness in my stomach, the anxiety that comes from getting rid of anything, will eventually subside. I’ll start to breathe again, and I’ll keep building.
I’ve talked about the steps I’ve made moving forward, but in doing so I inadvertently remembered a place that I started from. I recently found some cheap copies of the JSA omnibuses – turns out the paperback versions don’t have everything, which is ten kinds of frustrating – and I realized that it was The Lightning Saga, a crossover between Justice Society of America (2007) and Justice League of America (2006) that caused me to start focusing on trades to begin with. My dad and I had just gotten back into comics when it was published, and a story that required us to switch between two titles each month in order to read it was new and irritating. It was the last push I needed to focus on trades. Seeing my dad’s collection of single issues that he couldn’t read due to their value and the difficulty of inventorying them had started it, but this sealed it. I kept buying single issues along with my trades, because conversations with my dad were worth checking wikipedia for whatever obscure reference the story was hinged on. I only stopped when I had no one to talk to about them anymore.
… thanks, dad.
900 is a stepping stone. But I can see where I started from, and I know where I’m going. Maybe for the first time in my life. So from now until a thousand, and long past that, I’ve got work to do. Watch this space, because I’m nowhere near done yet.