Saturday, April 29, 2006

Mark-to-Market Collecting

I don’t know all the ins and outs of the Enron case, but I do know that one of the things that led to their downfall was the use of mark-to-market accounting. Using this system, a company assigns a value of a portfolio or account based on current market price. Enron took it one step further. They projected potential earnings by assuming an active market existed for their less actively traded assets, which opened the doors to manipulating their books with fantasy numbers of what values “could” be.

In the hands of an ethical accountant I’m sure this method works just fine. But when I realized that I use a similar system for my collecting, I quickly saw how this mark-to-market model can lead a company (or a collector) down the wrong path.

By hunting eBay on a daily basis, I’ve often found myself in a tricky predicament. I might have several auctions on my watch list that end the same night. If I can’t decide which one is more important, I might be tempted to bid on them all and max out my budget in one bid-happy evening.

And how do I convince myself that I can afford them all? Mark-to-Market Collecting.

My recent purchase of two graded comics, X-Men 131 and Amazing Spider-Man 194, is a perfect example. The cost was a very steep $300 (plus shipping). I convinced myself that I had that kind of cash by looking at my various collections and determining their worth on the open market. I factored in comics, football cards, DVDs…you name it, if I owned it, I considered how much I could sell it for to help me make this deal.

And if you’ve read any of my posts in the last week, you already know part of that decision. I researched eBay for realized prices on my three Alias DVD sets. They consistently sold for over $40; some as high as $80. So when I was weighing the pros and cons of shelling out that much cash, I knew the comic purchase wouldn’t be such burden on my wallet because I was factoring in my future sales on eBay.

When part of a well-oiled machine, this system isn’t so bad. But eBay addicts know how finicky the site can be. Sell an item at auction for $100 one day, and see that same item sell for $20 the next. Lucky for me, my Alias auctions are well on their way to bringing me $50 or more, but when I think about alternate scenarios in which these sets only fetched $8, I get squeamish. It worked this time, but will I be so lucky next time?

In this most recent incident, I was already in the clear because I actually had some money saved up from my April decision to not buy any collectibles (yes, it’s still April so I didn’t get through the whole month, but I was oh so close). However, I’d like to have money available for non-collectibles like, you know, food. And what about those eight comics on my watch list? I can’t just forget about those simply because I don’t have the cash, right?

Instead, I need to look at my other assets, like my Ex Machina comic set I’m willing to offload. Or maybe it’s time to research how much I can get for my X-Files DVD sets. Yes, today will most certainly be a day of determining current market value for my many collectibles to figure out just what I need to sell in order to pickup another prized possession.

Mark-to-market collecting at its finest.

Friday, April 28, 2006

The 300 Club

I just sent someone $300. No, it wasn’t a car payment. And no, it wasn’t money due for home improvements. Instead, I managed to send a fellow collector $300 for a couple of comic books. (And by a couple I do indeed mean a couple, not several or a few, but a couple as in two.)

That’s one hell of a scary proposition. It might be small potatoes for other hardcore collectors, but for me, well, let’s just say I’m feeling a tad nervous. I’ve never spent that kind of dough on any collectible; I hope I don’t have buyer’s remorse when I finally get them in the mail. But that’s a worry for another time. For now, I’m trying to focus on the good things like basking in the excitement of owning two great comics in immaculate condition.

I mean, just look at that Amazing Spider-Man 194. Isn’t she beautiful?

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Selling Jennifer Garner

I had a choice to make. Buy the Alias Season 4 DVD set or rent it from Netflix. If I rented, then I'd have to sell my first three seasons, and let's face it, there's no way I could keep an incomplete collection lying around the house.

Stephanie and I enjoy the show immensely. Call it a guilty pleasure if you will, but it's one of those things we can share and get excited about. We really have fun with it, laughing and pointing out how outrageous and silly the situations are. But like any good serialized story, we're hooked.

So buying the fourth set was obviously the best option. That is, until I found a couple of graded comics I wanted to own and struck up a deal with their owner. It didn't take long to put my Alias on eBay and put season four in my queue at Netflix.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Gotta Have It Now!

So after perusing the Internet for information on the Marvel Masterworks Spider-Man book, I quickly learned that it could be easily purchased on eBay for less than what I paid at Mile High. For an impulsive collector, that’s a slap in the face. Had I just waited and did a little more research, I could’ve saved $10. That’s not enough to go crying for mommy, but when you think that $10 could fetch a few modern comics or a new trade paperback, well, then you see what a waste it really was.

But spending too much money was only part of the problem. The other problem I discovered online presented itself when I found overwhelming fanboy praise for the recent Fantastic Four Omnibus Vol. 1. This hardcover behemoth collects the first 30 Fantastic Four comics, plus annuals, plus letters pages, plus bonus material. Awesome!

Of course, instead of being excited about this beautiful book like any normal person, it actually just added more anxiety to my daily life. Would Marvel make an omnibus that collected the first 30 Amazing Spider-Man books? If so, would I rather have the three Masterworks hardcovers or the one giant omnibus? Which would look better on the shelf? Which would be more rare, more sought after? Should I wait for the big book, or go find the others?

Decisions, decisions.

While I certainly had a debate on my hands, one thing was immediately clear: I had to have that Fantastic Four book. And I had to have it right now! There was no time to order it online. I knew I couldn’t wait a week or more for shipping...oh no, that was way too slow. Instead, I called Mile High and had them pull it from their warehouse. It would be ready the next afternoon. Sure, getting it from my local comic shop would cost me an extra $25, but it was worth it to have that big boy in my hands in a matter of days.

But that decision was only part of the issue. When it came time to place the order, I wasn’t truly prepared for their next question: “Do you want the limited edition or the regular?”

Oh no. A thousand thoughts and questions darted through my mind. I could save money buying the limited edition online, but I’d have to wait. Buying it in town got me the book sooner, but I’d be paying the same price for the regular edition as I would for the limited edition’s online price. Did I really need it now? Did I really need the limited edition? Which was more important?

The collector in me froze. There was simply no way to answer those last two questions. They were at odds with one another.

”Hello? You still there?”

”Um, yeah, sorry,” I said, stalling. “I was just, umm, yeah, I’ll take the regular edition.”

Damn it! The collector screamed inside my mind, flipped me the bird, then sulked in a shadowy corner, cursing me for my weakness. But I knew I had at least won half the battle. Sure, I wasn’t getting the limited edition, and sure I was paying too much, but I was getting the book sooner rather than later. And that in itself was something to be proud of. I sighed with relief and hung up the phone.

Three weeks later, the Fantastic Four Omnibus Vol. 1 sits between two other hardcover comic collections, looking more like a phone book than a collectible but still looking glorious.

It’s still in its original shrink-wrap.

Monday, April 24, 2006

T&Alias: The Season Four Scuffle

We interrupt this blog broadcast for this special announcement…

My lovely wife just got home and read my post on limited editions and spines. She laughed and said, “You’re such a goofball.”

Then she looked at the boxes and boxes of collectibles that had spilled out of my closet and into the office. “We need to sell all this stuff,” she said. “Just garage sale it. One hundred bucks for it all.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Sure, I had considered selling my entire comic collection just earlier in the day. It was something I had really put some thought into lately. But hearing it from her, well, I just wasn’t having it.

So I switched the subject.

“Are we ever going to finish watching Alias?” I asked, reminding her that the fourth season of our favorite show at now out on DVD and that season five would be its finale. “We can rent them if you want.”

“We don’t have to buy them?” she asked, interested now that money wasn’t involved.

“No. Actually, I was thinking of selling the first three seasons on Ebay.”

“Oooh, yeah,” she said, the idea of a little less clutter probably taking up more space in her brief fantasy than the additional money in our pocket. “You can buy the fourth one with the money you made selling the others.”

I stared at her dumbfounded. “What? Are you crazy?”

“Why not? It’d be like getting it for free,” she said, as if money had anything to do with my utter confusion at what she had just said.

For the second time in less than three minutes I couldn’t believe my ears. My wife was suggesting that I sell off my three-piece collection in order to get the fourth. Did she not see that by doing so I’d suddenly have an incomplete set? That we’d have one of four DVD sets of our favorite TV show? That’s blasphemy.

“I don’t even know what to say to you right now,” I said, only partially joking as she left to change after her hard day at work. It wasn’t long before I was downstairs rearranging the DVD case so the Alias sets were displayed more prominently. They looked fabulous as a set, and the fourth would make them look even better, particularly since I knew I could come home any day and start watching any season, start to finish, because I had them all at my disposal.

Yeah, who’s the goofball now, huh?

Limited Editions vs. Consistent Spines

I had been eyeing the Marvel Masterworks hardcover books at Mile High Comics for some time, always wanting them but always managing to fight the urge. At the end of March, however, I finally caved in to my yearnings when I bought a limited edition version of the first volume of Spider-Man reprints.

Despite the thrill I got after plunking down my $40, the book sat on my bookcase for several days, the shrink-wrap still intact. I would occasionally pick it up and hold it in my hand, feeling the book’s weight and solidity. I’d pick it up and set it down, pick it up and set it down. When that wasn’t enough, I’d sometimes stare at it lying on its back when it should take its spot on the shelf where it rightfully belonged. But I couldn’t bring myself to do it.

I asked my wife about it one night. “What do you think about this book?” I asked, handing it to her gently and wincing when she flipped it over as if it were some run of the mill book that wasn’t limited to only 420 copies.

“Eh,” she said handing it back. “It doesn’t do anything for me.”

I stared at her, hoping to get more. “What?” She said, already showing signs of irritation. “If that’s not the answer you wanted, why ask?”

“Well, what do you think of the look? Do you like the spine?”

She grabbed for it and I relinquished it against my better judgment. “No. It’s ugly.” Apparently she didn’t like the marble background on the dust jacket. “I can’t believe you’d get such an ugly thing. What’ll it look like on your shelf?” Now she was just toying with me.

I shrugged it off. “That’s just it. It doesn’t match any of the other books.” I pointed out how the other Marvel Comics hardcover books had the word Marvel in red over a white background at the top of the spine, with the title of the book in white on a black background on the lower portion of the spine. This one, however, didn’t match. There was no black, no white, only marble. I went on to say that there was another version of this exact book that costs less and would match the other spines on my shelf.

“So trade it in for one of those,” she said, trying to get past me and into the hall where her freedom lay. No such luck.

“But don’t you see. The other isn’t limited in any way,” I pleaded, trying to make her see the dilemma.

“Then keep that one,” she said, the answer coming so easily it was frustrating.

“But it doesn’t match the others,” I said, emphasizing my point by holding the Spider-Man book next to my other Marvel hardcovers.

She just shook her head. She looked tired; exhausted even. “Who cares if it doesn’t match? And who cares if it’s limited to ten copies or a million. You’re going to read it aren’t you?”

I just stared at her. The uncertainty on my face must have registered loud and clear. “I give up,” she said, getting past me by doing a dip and spin move that’d make Reggie White proud.

Still undetermined with what to do, I turned to the only friend I had left: The Internet.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Wolf Boy: Like a Virgin

I just finished reading Wolf Boy by Evan Kuhlman. What a fantastic read. While I was pleasantly surprised with the story, one thing I’m not surprised about is the fact that, even after reading all 311 pages, the book’s spine is still nice and tight. No longer a virgin, exactly, but like a virgin, which is almost as good.

I read my hardcover first editions as if opening the covers too far will release a virus that would wipe out mankind in moments. I don’t hold raw eggs that gently. Unfortunately, this means that I sometimes have to squint or turn the book at funky angles to actually read those words nearest the binding. Hell, sometimes I just guess at what those words might be.

But it’s worth it; I get to have my cake and eat it too. In this instance, I get to look at Wolf Boy on my shelf and say, “What a thoroughly rewarding book that was.” And then when I slide it out and hold it in my hands, I get to say, “Wow, what a nice, tight binding. Feel that resistance.”

It’s the simple things in life…

On another note completely unrelated to collecting, I’d like to mention how therapeutic Wolf Boy was for me. Kuhlman tells the story of Stephen (and his family) after his brother dies in a car accident. The young boy deals with his grief by writing comic book stories, while the others handle their sorrows in less successful ways.

Wolf Boy is honest and true. This is how life truly is. The characters are flawed, but they’re human. I can relate to them all. But the story is filled with humor, too, so it was a joy to read; entertaining and enlightening at the same time.

What surprised me the most about the book is how it made me feel. I’ve really been struggling lately with my constant need to be busy. My job is stressful and not terribly fulfilling, so I spend every possible free moment trying to grasp that feeling of being needed, being fulfilled. More times than not, this time is spent alone instead of with loved ones.

Wolf Boy reminded me that life is too precious to waste. The time I’ve been given with my lovely wife, and the time I get to share with friends and family, shouldn’t be taken for granted. I should welcome every moment with open arms. I should share my time and love with the world around me, because there’s no telling when that time will end.

Kuhlman has written a self-help book in the disguise of a wonderfully entertaining novel. And I thank him for that.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Collector's Code of Ethics

If a fellow collector confides in me that he is trying to quit buying a certain collectible, or possibly switching from one to another, is it my ethical responsibility to support him in his time of weakness? Maybe that’s not my role, but what if I openly did just the opposite and actually suggested that he continue with his addiction? Would that make me evil?

Awhile ago I sold some Ed Brubaker comics to Bob from the Collector’s Society forum. Despite feeling extreme grief from the transaction, I decided to try it again. I talked to him and found he was interested in making another large purchase. However, through our conversations, I discovered he was trying to move away from buying monthly issues and dive more into trade collections.

One of the sets he was looking to buy from me was a recent Wonder Woman arc called “Sacrifice.” Another was a recent JLA storyline. But he mentioned his reluctance because he was trying to slow down on the monthly comics. In the same email he also wrote:

“Having said all that, I was planning on picking up the Wonder Woman ‘Sacrifice’ and JLA ‘Crisis of Conscious’ in TPB, but if the price was reasonable I wouldn't mind getting those. Sheesh. This is crazy. One minute I convince myself I am going to go all trades and the next minute I am thinking about buying singles again.”

Did I support him and suggest we cancel the negotiations? No. Instead, I laughed and told him I’m the same way and that I’ve been trying to kick the habit for months.

His response was resigned to the fact that his next move was inevitable. “Yes, it is a sickness I think. I don't know if there really is any cure.” The very next email we had solidified our deal.

Here I am writing regularly about the struggles I have as an obsessive compulsive collector. I’m trying to learn about myself and possibly come to terms with what some jokingly consider a disease. Yet while I’m doing that, I openly undermine a fellow collector’s attempt at getting out of the life. Or if not that, at least fixing himself up enough that he’s not a slave to the Collector’s Mentality.

Was I wrong in going through with the sale? Or was I simply doing my part in maintaining the status quo and ensuring that collecting lives on?

Maybe cashing his check and hunting for more books will help answer that question, but I doubt it.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Spines Part III

Sometimes I sit back and soak in the beauty of my book collection. In those moments of reflection, a subtle smile always crosses my face when I look at my small Ben Bova collection. I’ve only read one of the nine books—all from the Grand Tour series—so what brings me such joy? The fact that all nine books have the same trade dress. That’s right, each one looks like it belongs to the same series. Yeah, all nine of them. Amazing!

Each of my Ben Bova books are the same size, shape, and essentially the same color, this metallic silver that really makes them stand out on the shelf. Plus, the author’s name and the book title are all in the same font and in the same spot on that spine. Ah, such beauty.

Compare that to my Orson Scott Card collection. Ah, what horror you’ll find at that end of the bookcase. Not only do the spines mismatch across series, they don’t align correctly in each grouping. For example, the first three books in the Alvin Maker series look nothing alike. Hell, you wouldn’t even know they were interrelated judging solely by the spine design. Volumes four and five look similar to one another, but not similar to any others. But even with these two the pictures on the spines are two different sizes, and the title on one is horizontal and the other vertical. Of course, the newest volume looks nothing at all like the others. Argh!

Yes, I get great joy in seeing a universal look and feel to a section of my bookcase. And yes, I often cringe when books by the same author mismatch. I used to keep quiet about these dark secrets, but now, I found that I’m not alone. Not by a long shot.

Bomaya over at the Marvel Masterworks forum recently started a thread titled, aptly enough, Spines. Bomaya wrote: “I have a bugbear that is the bane of my life. Spines—and the lack in consistency thereof.”

Ah, now here’s a collector after my own heart. He went on to grumble about his deep seeded misgivings about Marvel’s choice to have three different spine designs in one 3-book series. Naturally, he highlighted other sets that suffer from the same lack of respect from the Marvel designers.

But what really got me to liking this guy was this:

“What does it matter what's on the spine, you cry? It's what’s between the covers that counts. Well yes, maybe, but I don't have time to read all the books I buy. I like buying collections because I'm a collector and I like to display them on my shelves. Occasionally I'll take one down, stroke it and flick through the pages and sometimes, sometimes I'll read them! But 99% of their lives will be spent on my shelf with only the spine visible so yes, it is important to me.”

Yes! Yes! God damn it, Yes!

In one paragraph of gut wrenching honesty, Bomaya hit on several points this collector has struggled with for years. The fact that I probably won’t read every book I buy. The fact that it’s just as fun to “stroke” and “flick through” the pages as it is to read them. But most importantly, these books spend their entire lives on the bookcase! With that in mind, part of the thrill of owning a cool book is looking at it surrounded by your other kick ass books. Sure, it’s wonderful to read the story and see what’s inside, but let’s face it, I’ll spend more time looking at their spines than I ever will reading the things. So damn it, they better look cool sitting there.

Naturally, a few other forum members jumped up and admitted to having these same feelings, and we all shared our secrets and had our own Spine Lovers Anonymous meeting. And honestly, it felt nice to know I wasn’t alone. To know that I wasn’t afflicted with some rare disease that opens me up to ridicule and segregation.

So now, when I look at those sections of my bookcase that just don’t sit right, I can openly admit my discomfort. Sure, that doesn’t make those books look better on the shelf, but now there’s a little warm spot inside that says, “It’s okay.”

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Spines Part II

When a published novelist stops by your blog and leaves a friendly comment, the typical writer might feel a bit surprised, a bit honored. When Evan Kuhlman, the author of Wolf Boy, stopped by, I felt something a little different.

“Hey James, this is Evan Kuhlman author of Wolf Boy,” he wrote a few days ago. “Thanks for checking out my book and I hope you like it. And I know exactly what you mean about the wonders of virginal spines and perfect jackets.”

My immediate response? Excitement. Not because he stopped by (although that was pretty damn cool) but because it turns out he’s a fellow admirer of tight spines and pristine dust jackets. I like him already.

Many of my friends know of my obsessive hunt for that perfect spine and that flawless dust jacket. When we’re at the bookstore, my lovely wife often watches with amusement as I search through a stack of books looking for that one true beauty. But what few truly understand is that I actually get a deep, lasting satisfaction from finding that one book with the qualities I need.

For me, there’s nothing worse than spotting a stack of books from across the store only to find they’re not what you were hoping for after all. Imagine making eye contact with a pair of sexy co-eds (or sexy cowboys if that’s your thing) on the other side of the bar. Their smiles indicate all you need do is make a move and your wildest dreams are within your grasp. Filled with fantasies of what’s to come, you walk with your head held high, not even noticing the hundreds of others in the room. Nope, you have your eye on the prize. But when you get to their table, the blonde lights up a cigarette and the brunette turns out to be wearing a wedding ring. Wham! Back to reality, my friend.

Single men and women might not be able to comprehend that the situations like the one I just described are no more emotionally charged then the one I go through when eyeing a stack of books only to discover lose bindings, torn dust jackets, or reprints.

But when I do find that one special book, it’s like love at first sight. When a clean, bright dust jacket catches my eye, I’m immediately drawn to it. It's as if I’m no longer my own master. Without thinking, my hand reaches out to remove it from the shelf with a loving touch. And I know instantly that this is the one.

I caress the book’s spine and look it over from head to toe, soaking in every detail. The rest of the world has disappeared. It’s just me and the book.

With her weight held firmly in my right hand, I ever so gently open the front cover just enough to see the inside flap and the textual description of the book’s story. But I’m not reading the marketing material. No, I’m already beyond that. The siren has sung her song and I’m looking at her curves, soaking in her very essence, enjoying the aroma only a true book connoisseur understands.

I open the cover just a little more, meeting with oh so subtle resistance. The tease. It's as if she's softly begging for me to take her right there. But I certainly won’t desecrate her here. And even though I know she is to be mine, there is one more thing I’m looking for. Or rather, listening for. I open the book further. Just another fraction and no more. My ears are focused and have tuned out everything around me. They're waiting with such anticipation, it's as if they're willing the sound to appear. And suddenly, there it is. That soft creaking, that glorious moan intended only for me, that whisper that verifies what I already knew: This is the one.

I close her, saving her for another day. For now, I just look over the dust jacket and the stark white pages, looking for any hidden nicks or dings that I might’ve overlooked in my anticipation of that mesmerizing sound.

But of course, there are none.

And Mr. Kuhlman, if you’re still out there, know this: After tonight, your spine will be a virgin no more. I’ll be dipping into your novel this evening.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

The Collector Is Nursed Back to Health

A football card collector I met some time ago on the Beckett message boards just purchased the whole lot of my Packers cards. He paid $100. Not bad, I guess. Less than what they’re worth, more than I would’ve got had I kept the auctions running on eBay. The book value on the cards is somewhere closer to $800, and I know I spent close to that number too. But after that first eBay debacle, I’m happy to have anything at all.

Just a few days ago I was hurting. Bad. I considered all of my collections to be junk; garbage that wasn’t worth the energy and time and money I spent acquiring them. I was thinking of throwing in the towel. What do I think now that I’m $100 richer? About the same, actually. My collections are still pretty pointless. But I’m willing to start reinvesting in them anyway. With a little narrower focus, perhaps, and maybe with a little less vigor. So yes, the collector in me certainly has shown new signs of life.

Ladies and gentlemen, I’m back off the wagon.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Spines Part I

I was at Barnes & Noble this afternoon with some buddies of mine. Jason, a fellow collector, and I were looking at a new book called Wolf Boy by Evan Kuhlman. I have no idea what the book’s about but it has sequential art scattered throughout, so I had to get it.

I was reading the sales copy on the inside of the dust jacket when Jason chuckled and said, “You hardly even open it.”

I didn’t pay him any mind and held the book up so I could look down the spine as one might look down the barrel of a gun. As I was scrutinizing the condition of the book in my hand, Jason picked up a copy of his own. He opened it gently, the blissful cracking sound of a virginal spine being opened filling the air.

“There’s the sound you love,” he said, a smile on his voice.

“Yeah, but now you’ve ruined it,” I said, picking up another copy to look over, the first one having not met my standards.

I looked at the second copy for a moment and pointed out a very slight, barely noticeable rubbing on the top of the dust jacket. “Oh, that’s no good,” I said and put it back on the shelf.

“Nothing a nice BroDart can’t take care of,” Jason commented.

“Yeah, but I’d know,” I said, picking up another.

Later, Jason and I were walking through the paperback fiction section. He spotted a book he needs, A Touch of Death by Charles Williams. It’s number 17 of the Hard Case Crime series of detective fiction. He looked it over with a discerning eye and apparently approved of the book’s condition.

“You’re not going to compare it to the other copies?” I asked, noticing three others on the shelf.

“No. I looked this one over and it looks fine,” he said.

“Huh.” I said, perplexed. “You’re weird.”

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The Collector Takes a Beating

My collector’s mentality took a serious blow last night, and honestly, I’m not sure it’ll be able to rebound. I’m so disenchanted right now, I’d just as soon throw away every last one of my collectibles before I hunt for another treasure.

The last few weeks have been spring cleaning time for me. Because I “just had to” purchase a few (yes, a few, as in, more than one) football cards and hardcover comic collections that were out of my price range, I found myself in need of making a little money. Since I doubt I’d do particularly well as a street walker, I decided to weed out a few of the cards in my collection. It was time to free up some space, make some cash, and re-invest in those collections I’m still passionate about.

So I put several football cards on eBay. Just some random Packers cards and sets I had picked up over the last few years. They were some great cards that had me salivating when I first picked them up, but for whatever reason, they had lost their luster. And last night the first batch of auctions came to an end that would be almost comical if not for all the pain and suffering I went through.

Four auctions ended last night. The first one sold for so little that eBay’s charges for running the auction actually cost more. I had picked up the card—a Sterling Sharpe jersey card numbered 84 of 250—as part of a trade, so I didn’t have any strong emotional tie to it. (The fact that it was numbered to his jersey number, an occurrence coveted by player collectors when bidding on other cards apparently meant nothing when it was time for me to sell.) What I really found entertaining was the fact that the final selling price was actually less than the cost of the plastic card holder I stored the card in. Add that to the eBay and Paypal fees and I soon learned that it actually cost me money to give my card away. And don’t get me started on the cost of bubble envelopes.

I didn’t fare much better with the other three auctions. I’ll admit, I probably could’ve improved my selling techniques. And sure, we’re talking pennies here, so my bad experiences won’t make it necessary to eat ramen noodles for the next month. But when I factored in all the time and energy and money I put into buying these cards, I got sick to my stomach as I packaged them and shipped them off to other collectors.

I may have only spent $50 on the cards in question, but when I sold them for a $3 “profit,” I felt nauseous. I immediately began to question why the hell I collect football cards in the first place. What a stupid hobby. I mean, I collect pictures of men. And I spend a lot of money on it. Good Christ, what’s the matter with me?

No, I don’t buy cards or comics or books to make a profit. However, the ability to sell them does play a factor when it comes time pull the trigger on one thing or another. I often tell myself that my purchases are worthy because I not only get enjoyment from them, but I also get to sell them later and get some of my money back. You buy a bucket of popcorn at the movies and you don’t get anything but an upset stomach. But when I buy a comic book for three bucks, I get 20 minutes of entertainment and when I don’t want it anymore, I’ll get most of my money back. What a deal.

Now, however, I’m taking a closer look at that logic. It’s really not as valid as I had led myself to believe. How can it be when I spend $20 on a card and a year later I have to pay eBay to give it away for me?

This is so much more than the seller’s remorse I felt when I got rid of my Ed Brubaker collection a few weeks ago. I mean, I’m seriously contemplating getting out of the game. Not just taking a break, but getting out. Hell, I’m even thinking of simply giving away everything. Why not? It’ll probably cost less.

Sure, I’ll keep my true prize possessions like the SP Authentic set I’m working on or my Warlord comics, but the rest of the stuff, well, I’m starting to see it as the junk it really is. Worthless. A waste of time. A waste of money, space, and energy.

I’m once again facing the cruel reality of collecting: The collection is only important as long as you’re still collecting. The moment you stop, the collectibles become worthless. I’m not sure I want to do that anymore.

Don’t get me wrong, I love collecting. I truly do. And let’s face it, collecting is in my blood, so no matter how much I question it now, I’ll get back in at some point down the road. But now I’m beginning to wonder where my collection should fall on my priority list. Maybe collecting shouldn’t take up so much time and energy. Maybe it shouldn’t take up so much money. I'll definitely start asking myself, "What's the rush?" Why is there this need to own something right now when things can be had so cheaply if you just wait?

And with questions like this dominating my thought process, how can I get any enjoyment out of the things I buy? I’m not sure I can.

Monday, April 03, 2006

For the Sake of the Collection

So there I sat, the only man in a rapidly filling room of book lovers. We’re there at the Tattered Cover to hear Jodi Picoult read from her latest novel, The Tenth Circle. I had been there for about ten minutes. At the time, only a few others were scattered around the sitting area. Now, there were close to 100 women talking and laughing, each of them with a copy of Picoult’s new book.

I finally spotted another man—he was wearing a bright orange Broncos hat and a plaid shirt. If I didn’t know better, he was ready to go hunting with his buddies. Instead, he was at a book signing with his wife.

Before I even had a chance to feel uncomfortable in my surroundings, a group of three women take the seats in front of me. They were debating the proper times to wear makeup and when you can get away without. As the crowd thickened, the trio’s conversation bounced between daycare, high school, and clothes. I let my ears focus on a few other conversations around me, and that’s when I finally began to feel a little out of place. I can handle being the only guy at a book signing, but being at one in which there’s no talk about books, now that’s a bit disconcerting.

About five minutes before the event was supposed to start, the place was standing room only. I’m surrounded by women, old and young (but mostly older). I look around and spot two other men. They look unhappy. Mad even. The looks on their faces brought to mind those beer commercials with the men tagging along while their wives shop for clothing.

Not me. I’m happy to be there. But why?

Three words: signed first edition.

Jodi Picoult doesn’t write the type of story I’d usually be interested in. She tends to lean toward family drama. You know, with lots of emotional yanks. But when someone from work told me that one of the main characters in The Tenth Circle is a graphic novelist, I thought I’d give it a shot. And when I discovered that there’s actually some sequential art in the novel that ties into the story, I was sold.

Knowing Picoult would be in town for a book tour had the collector in me…not exactly salivating, but interested enough to spend 10 minutes the day before looking for the best copy with the tightest spine and the least amount of rubbing on the dust jacket. I felt like an idiot going over every single copy, but I did it anyway. The fact they’d printed a million copies didn’t phase me one bit.

Yep, the collector in me prevailed and I found the best copy (it actually took two stores to do so). Of course, the collector in me wanted to take it to the next level and get the book signed. And that’s how I found myself at the Tattered Cover on a Monday night surrounded by 150 women (and no more than seven men).

Once I got there and the place filled up, however, my inner collector vanished. He abandoned me to my fate. So I began wondering just what the hell I was doing there. Without him to keep me excited for what was to come, I considered walking out. Sure, the writer in me would enjoy hearing a published author speak, but come on. Jodi Picoult? Would a signed first edition of such a mass-produced author who apparently caters to middle-aged women really be that important?

Of course it would. Fate had taken me there, so I waited it out. And lucky for me, too, because I had a good time. Picoult was an excellent speaker, and while I wouldn’t say I learned anything breathtaking, I did enjoy her reading and hearing about her day-to-day experiences with the written word.

Amid the chaos after the reading as everyone jostled for a position in line, a slightly frumpled and moderately attractive woman of about 30 stood before me. I immediately knew she was asking herself why I was there. Then she verbalized her thoughts.

“Excuse me. Do you mind if I ask how you got interested in her work?” she asked, nodding to my copy of The Tenth Circle (a happily BroDarted copy, I might add).

I hesitated. Thousands of answers bounced through my head in an instant, but none of them really rang true. Which was I to choose? Was I there because I’m a comic collector and this book had graphic art in it, or because I’m a book collector and a signed copy is always a little more sought after?

When I didn’t answer immediately, she must’ve thought I was embarrassed or uncertain. “I don’t mean to pry, but, well--” she said, glancing around the audience.

“Not a lot of guys here, are there?” It was more of a statement. She smiled and nodded in understanding. “I’ve actually never read her. A friend from work mentioned she was a good writer. Plus, I read graphic novels and I heard one of the characters is an artist.” (Notice that I used the much more mature phrase “graphic novels” instead of the more childish “comic books.” I may be a 33-year-old married man with plenty of confidence, but I still had to edit my speech when it comes to talking comics with female, even if she was a little frumpish.)

“Ah,” she said, her mind obviously processing the information. Maybe she was scanning for sarcasm? Maybe giving me a geek rating? Who knows? But I apparently passed whatever test she might’ve given (she must’ve factored in my rugged good looks and boyish charm) because we ended up talking books for about 30 minutes as the line steadily moved forward.

I must admit I enjoyed her company and regret that it was so brief. It was refreshing to share thoughts about books with a total stranger. I have so few people in my life with whom I can discuss literary works, so it was a joy to talk about our likes and dislikes, even if we didn’t share the same tastes. Perhaps it was even more meaningful because of the lack of such conversations taking place around me earlier when I sat waiting for the evening to begin.

Aside from two co-workers, a couple of friends, and my lovely and intelligent wife, I rarely get the joy of discussing the one hobby that truly means so much to me: reading. So often you hear people talk about a TV show as if the characters were their friends, but rarely do you hear the same admiration given to a character in a book. A few of my friends would join me in a conversation on books and have the same enthusiasm I had, and here was another.

As I got closer to Picoult and her pen that would give my copy that personal touch, I remembered why I collected in the first place. This woman, Rebecca, who probably doesn’t have a touch of collector in her, reminded me that I collect books because of the stories they contain and the powerful interaction you can have with others when sharing your opinions and beliefs about a certain story or author or moment in history.

As she turned to me and said her farewell before it was her turn with the woman we all came to see, I smiled and thanked fate for making sure I didn’t leave my seat when I doubted my sanity only an hour before.

Of course, as I handed the book to the author, my inner collector pushed aside all thoughts of my newfound happiness. Instead, I was to focus on ensuring she didn’t personalize her inscription. But I was feeling particularly strong and I didn’t care about collecting. So I stood up to the collector and only cringed briefly when she bent back the front cover to make room for her hand and I didn’t make a peep when I heard the faint sound of a breaking spine.

Ah, yes, it feels so good to be a book reader today!

[Note: For all book readers out there, do me a favor. Don't ever treat your books with such disrespect as the one shown in the picture above. Love your books and lay them flat when being read. Thank you.]

Sunday, April 02, 2006

The March Book Tally

Looks like the book collecting trend continued in March. First edition hard covers every where. If I keep up at this pace, I’ll never be able to read the books I own. The interesting thing is that not a single book on my list is or ever will be considered collectible. They aren’t hard to find and they probably aren’t particularly well known or sought after. So why the rush to buy them now? And why bother with the extra cash to get them in hard cover? I have no idea. But if you’re a psychologist, be sure to let me know your thoughts.

Books Purchased in March
1. Star Wars: Republic Commando: Triple Zero by Karen Traviss (1st ed paperback)
2. The Grass for His Pilow: Tales of the Otori Book 2 by Lian Hearn (1st ed)
3. Bully of Bentonville by Anthony Bianco (1st ed)
4. The Program by Greg Hurwitz (1st ed)
5. Lazy Bones by Mark Billingham (1st ed)
6. Titan by Ben Bova (1st ed)
7. The Tenth Circle by Jodi Picoult (1st ed)
8. Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters, and the Birth of the Comic Book by Gerard Jones (1st ed)

Books Read in March
1. The Wal-Mart Effect by Charles Fishman (1st ed)
2. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (paperback)
3. Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs (paperback)

If it weren’t for a few trips out of town, I’m wondering if I would’ve read any books at all this month. But at least I have a healthy stock of books I haven’t read, just in case I get stranded and have the time to read a book each day.

April Fool

I’ve been spending money on collectibles like crazy lately. I’ve gone way over my budget and I’ve spent hours doing nothing but researching new things to collect. Not only have I picked up two very expensive Aaron Rodgers autograph cards, but I’ve also been looking into the whole Marvel Masterworks hardcover program, Edgar Rice Burroughs first edition paperbacks, and graded Packers cards from the late 70s. That’d be all fine and dandy if I had given up some of my other desires, but those haven’t waned in the slightest.

So, what am I going to do about it? Two things. First, I’m going to try a little experiment. For the entire month of April, I’m not going to buy a single thing that I haven’t already ordered. That means no books, no old comics, no comic book collections. Nothing. Well, almost nothing. The football cards on my want list are so limited, if I spot them on eBay, I pretty much have to bid because I may never see them again. But other than that, nothing.

All that really means is that April will be the month of discounts and huge blowout sales.

The second thing I’m going to do is sell, sell, sell. I’ll call it my Spring Cleaning Event of the Year. I’m going to get rid of those football cards that don’t fit into my very strict collecting guidelines. I’ll be selling off those comic series I not longer collect. Heck, maybe I’ll even sell some trades I doubt I’ll read again.

Of course, with the huge discounts taking place all over online this month because of my April experiment, I won’t make a dime on any of these items, but I’m selling nonetheless. I might not make money, but I will make room. And in the tiny town home we live in now, every bit of space counts.

So that’s it. Stop buying for a month and sell as much as I can. Sounds easy.

Then again, it’s only the April 2.