Monday, March 31, 2008

Spinal Injury

Perhaps I spoke too soon about the latest Hard Case Crime cover. As it turns out, the spine isn't uniform with the rest. It's one of those books that contains two novels where you read one and flip the book to read the other. So the spine has the HCC logo on the top and the bottom.

My good friend Jason pointed it out to me. The only reason I hadn't noticed is that I was heavily medicated when I bought it. That and the fact that I haven't put it on the shelf yet. Now I'm not sure I even want to.

Stupid spines!

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Never Judge a Book...

I love these Hard Case Crime covers. Makes me actually want to read one of 'em. I'll have to try that some day.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Spring Cleaning

Two things happened this week. First, I realized that most of the comics I read aren't very good. Second, I had surgery on my knee. As you can probably guess, that second one gave me plenty of on the couch, which translated into plenty of time to read more and more comics. I was hoping to find some that really turned me on to the format again, but unfortunately, what I found were more books to get rid of.

Of the 10+ books I read in the last few days, the only series I liked enough to keep and possibly read again was Catwoman. It started with Cooke's Selina's Big Score and continued in the Brubaker-penned series. These two really created a character I like, with situations that go much deeper than the typical superhero books. As a matter of fact, I plan to keep reading the book under the new writer (Pfeifer) because Brubaker actually got me to care for Selina, Slam, and Holly.

Other books didn't fare so well. While I enjoyed The Other Side by Aaron and Stewart, the story didn't have the emotional impact I was hoping for. I found myself thinking, "This part is supposed to make me sad." It was almost as if I could tell what the storytellers wanted me to feel, I just couldn't feel it.

There were still others that were decent reads but still left me feeling cold, such as Supermarket by Wood and Kristian, Filler by Spears and G, and Hazed by Sable and Rodriguez. Essential X-Factor Volume 1 made me realize I had bad taste as a kid, too. Right now I'm diving into the hardcover Superman/Batman titles I have. If I remember correctly, the first volume was pretty good, but the series went downhill from there.

I'm not sure where I'm going with this post. I guess I'm growing more and more disillusioned about comics everyday. My plan is to read every book I own and get rid of anything I don't plan to read again. On top of that, I've already read through the newest Previews and I won't be ordering more than a few books.

I should mention that there are plenty of great comics I won't be reading this weekend. I love Invincible and Walking Dead and The Goon and Y: The Last Man. It's just that those titles make up less than a third of my shelf space, and I'd like to believe that there's something more out there, even if it means I have to go out and find it.

Well, I'm off to read some more. I have plenty of reading material left to go through. I just hope I can find something that I like before my entire bookcase is stripped clean.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Comics Suck

For the last month and a half, I've put aside all prose and focused my reading time on comic book tradepaperback collections and original graphic novels. Want to know what I found? That comics suck. At least most of them.

I know that sounds harsh. I also know that there are some great stories to be had in comic format. Unfortunately, those stories are few and far between. What I've found in the last month (and in the last five years) is that most comics are a fun diversion at best. And when it comes time to defend comics, everyone mentions a few key classics and moves on, continuing to read more and more garbage with the hopes that something new will come along that will fit in with those other greats of the format.

Unfortunately for this collector, I can't remember the last comic that grabbed me by the balls and wouldn't let go. The last comic that toyed with my emotions in such a way that I couldn't get rid of that feeling for days. Is it too much to ask for a comic story to make me feel something? To come away from the book changed in some way? Can't comics be good enough that they're more than just a way to pass the time?

I can think of a large number of novels and memoirs that impacted me in that way. I can think of an even larger number of movies. Sure, I realize that for every movie or book that strikes a chord for me there are 1000s that wouldn't, so in theory the same should hold true for comics. It just doesn't seem that way. It seems that bad comics are the norm, not the exception.

I realize that something else might be at play here. Maybe it's just that for movies and books, I've learned to pick and choose which ones I'm fairly certain I will enjoy and that the older I get, the better I am at picking winners.

With comics it's a total crap shoot. With comics, you can use Previews to order a book three months in advance, or you can base your purchases on word of mouth and reviews. With the former, you're basing your purchase on little more than assumptions because the solicitations give you very little to go off of. And don't get me started on reviews. I'm yet to find a comic reviewer who is unbiased enough to write a review that actually helps me make an informed decision. You get fan boys who love everything, or you have indie fans who love everything. Still others are trying to break into the business and would never go so far as to say which comics stink for fear of pissing off the wrong people.

Yet as my trade and OGN collection continues to grow with books I'll never read again, I need to put some serious thought into how I purchase these books. Using Previews isn't working for anything new. Sure, if I've read the title or writer before, I can be certain I'll enjoy this next volume. But for something new? How do you make an informed decision on a new comic?

I'm not sure what the answer is, but you can bet this month's order form will be anemic. After that, who knows. Perhaps it's time to do away with the whole buying new mentality, and only buy those key books that attain classic status years after they hit the shelves. The collector in me balks at that idea. I can't imagine how hard it would be to find pristine first editions that late in the game. But maybe it's time to quiet that part of me and focus on the reader, the part of me who loves comics and wants to see comics succeed. Of course, that might be a difficult proposition because the only way I can get back on that bandwagon is actually reading something good, and doing so consistently.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

A Close Call

Drove down to Mile High after work today just to get the latest issue of Catwoman (gotta keep my Hughes cover collection alive). Naturally, I had a look around despite the fact that I have too many trades and graphic novels already. Next thing I know, I'm this close to buying a Star Wars collection. Even went so far as to talk to Aaron and a customer about which series is the best.

Somehow, I talked myself out of it (okay, not really...the one I wanted wasn't a first edition), but then I was immediately drawn to the Catwoman collections. I was about to pick up one of them when I realized I never read the last one and still have it on my shelf, untouched.

It was almost as if I felt bad for driving that far for a single comic, so I was looking to buy more to make the trip worth it. Or maybe it's the fact that spending money is a habit, and only getting one $3 fix wasn't enough.

Regardless, cooler heads prevailed and I picked up just the one issue.


Monday, March 17, 2008

Favre From Over

It's Sunday. I’m in Boulder to celebrate my wife’s birthday with eating, conversing, and shopping. I’m already having a fantastic day when we step into the Boulder Bookstore. I have blinders on as I rush past the new fiction shelves and make my way for the newsstand. I’m a man on a mission. I mean, if any bookstore in Colorado is going to have copies of the Sports Illustrated Brett Favre tribute, it’s going to be in Boulder. They may be out of the latest issue of Vegetarians in Need or Fun with Tofu, but a football magazine should be readily available…assuming they ordered any in the first place.

I turn the corner just past the new fiction shelf and head for the magazines. My eyes are drawn immediately to the bottom row where I see, in all their glory, at least 20 copies of the Favre tribute. It’s as if I've died and gone to Cheesehead Heaven.

I spend the next 10 minutes looking at each copy, weeding out the obviously unacceptable ones and slowly narrowing down my choices until I have three copies to choose from. I look at these three with even more scrutiny. My attention to detail pays off as it turns out one of them has a slightly off-center spine. Just like that, I have the two copies that are going home with me.

I’m not done yet, though. I can’t head to the cashier without looking over the eight copies of the weekly edition of Sports Illustrated; it has a tearful Favre on the cover and features a story on Favre’s retirement so I might as well pick up one of those, too. It only takes me a few minutes to choose the best copy because all but one has serious spine damage. How this one copy managed to escape unscathed is beyond me, but it’s clear the Collecting Gods are smiling down on me today.

I’m all smiles as I walk to the cashier, yet there’s a tugging at the back of my mind. Something’s amiss. Disaster is looming. But the feeling is elusive; I can’t pin it down. Maybe it’s the excitement of getting my hands on these magazines, but for whatever reason, I discard my instinct to hide.

At the cash stand, the big woman with too much cleavage for a bookstore clerk pushes herself off of the counter with a huff. She takes one last slurp of her 80-ounce drink and puts it on the counter mere inches from my pristine magazines. The cold sweat on the plastic cup drips onto the counter.

Her nonchalance paralyzes me. If I were on my game, I’d make an excuse and pull back to get my bearings, to make a plan. But my judgment is cloudy. I’m not thinking straight. I can’t move. The collector in me is yelling to grab my magazines and run, to move over to the next cashier, the one who’s handling Stephanie’s books with care. Anything to save those magazines.

I hesitate. And just like that, disaster strikes. Only it does so in slow motion.

“Oh, Beckham is quitting?” the slob says, reaching for the magazines.

My heart plummets. What did she say? Quitting? Beckham? What?

Her large left paw slides under the spine of the top magazine, the green one. Her thumb presses down on the spine as her other digits push up from underneath, bending the magazine into an L-shape. The spine buckles. I can almost hear it scream as a white crease spreads across the pristine forest green cover.

“Oh, that’s just Favre,” she says, letting the magazine flop back to the counter as she turns to enter prices into the computer.

I’m numb. Her voice is distant, muffled. I can’t respond. All I can do is stare at what once was a perfect spine. I hand her my credit card, a zombie unaware of my surroundings.

The next thing I know, I’m outside with Stephanie, walking to the car.

“What’s wrong?” she asks with worry in her voice. “Honey, are you okay?”

“Did you see that? She totally bent the spine. Practically folded it in half,” I tell her. I’m not really sure where I am. I’m still in a daze.

I don’t speak again until the magazines are set safely in the backseat of the car and we’re reading a menu at some Latin lunch spot. I can’t read the menu; my mind is still fighting its way out of the fog. It takes awhile, but I finally start to get my bearings.

“Can we stop at another bookstore on the way home?” I ask.

Stephanie just smiles and says, “Of course.”

Ah, that’s better. Not as good as already having a nice copy, but it’s a start. This whole Favre thing is far from over, but at least I have a plan.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Where Are You Favre?

I think Favre left the game too early, but who knew the Sports Illustrated magazine would vacate store shelves so fast, too? I mean, I'm living in Denver, Colorado. Why the hell can't I find this damn magazine? It's only been out for five days, and I've searched everywhere all week, stopping at a couple of different spots everyday. I've tried supermarkets, numerous book stores, sports card shops, you name it. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Not even a beat up copy lazy customers read in the store.

I know Favre has a big fan base, but are there really that many Favre fans that I can't find one single copy? Or is it more realistic to think that all of these magazines went straight to Wisconsin?

Good grief, I just want a nice, pristine piece of history. Is that too much to ask for?

Friday, March 14, 2008

Now That's Just Plain Savage

When will I ever learn?

I headed down to the local comic shop today to pick up a copy of the new Wonder Woman. The previous Gail Simone issues were fantastic, and this is the last issue with a cover by Terry Dodson, so I figured I better buy it. I'm still not sure if I want to "collect" the title, and I'm also tossing around the idea of collecting Terry Dodson covers, so either way, until I make those decisions, I might as well stay current and enjoy the story, right?

So I'm at a comic shop buying a book for reasons that don't exactly add up, when the entire equation takes another turn for the worse. As I'm selecting the best copy of Wonder Woman 18, I spot a copy of The Savage Sword of Conan Volume 2, the new black and white collection from Dark Horse. Lucky for me, it's got several dings on the cover and spine, so I put it back.

Who cares, right? I can find the book later. Besides, I'm not enjoying the first volume that much anyway. Sure, the art's gorgeous, but the stories themselves are consistently weak, seemingly written from a template with little originality or drama. So putting the second volume on the shelf seems to make the most sense.

That's what I tell myself anyway, until I spot three more copies of the book on a shelf near the front counter. Naturally, the selection makes me stop, and I find one that's in good enough (ie perfect) shape. I flip through it, see that the art isn't as good as what I'm seeing in the first volume, and walk up to the counter to buy it. (Yes, you read that correctly.)

"Didn't I suggest you buy this book last week?" Aaron asks as he rings me up.

"Yeah, but I'm not done with the first volume," I say. "And it's not that good anyway."

"Then why are--" Aaron starts to ask, but I cut him off by holding up my hand and shaking my head.

"Don't ask."

As I walk to my car, I ask myself what makes me think volume two will be in any better than the first one and thus worth the purchase. The answer is nothing. Nothing at all. If anything, I'm sure I'll like it even less based solely on the art I saw while flipping through the book.

At this point, you might be asking yourself, "Then why did you buy it?" God, I have no idea. If I did, I wouldn't be writing this damn blog every few days.

Actually, that's not entirely true. There was a least one more factor at play that I didn't mention: the damn spine. That's right, I knew volume one on my shelf would look okay, but with volume two next to it, they would create quite the nice pair. And as they say, one book is just a book, but two is a collection.

Yep, it turns out I now collect The Savage Sword of Conan reprints.

Good grief, what's wrong with me?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

First Edition Book Guy

In The Simpsons Treehouse Of Horror VIII, The Homega Man, Comic Book Guy walks down the street reading a comic book. "But Aquaman, you cannot marry a woman without gills, you're from two different worlds," he says.

He spots a missile approaching, and says, "Oh, I've wasted my life."

To a minor degree, that's how I feel today. Only without the humor.

See, over at the Collectors Society, delekkerste started a thread about a first edition hardcover copy of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged he recently purchased. He tells the story of how important the book is to him, and how he not only purchased one copy, but he also picked up an upgrade because the first wasn't pristine enough.

I quickly threw a couple of comments into the mix, mostly about my growing collection of modern first editions. Two things happened not long after: The conversation turned to how modern firsts are practically worthless, and then I admitted to "collecting" Jodi Picoult.

Good Lord, I've wasted my life.

Don't get me wrong, my moderns bring me plenty of joy and I don't care too much about their value on the secondary market (after all, books are meant to be read, not collected, right?). I've always been content watching my collection grow one $25 book after another, but seeing the pictures of the Rand books was enough to make me second guess myself.

I've been reading and buying first editions for almost 15 years, and I've always wanted to own a first edition copy of one of the great classics, like Catcher in the Rye, or In Cold Blood. Hell, even a first edition of Ender's Game would be a special treat (especially since I have 20 or more of Card's other, lesser known and less expensive novels). So what the hell is keeping me from making one of those larger purchases? What's keeping me from becoming a true book collector who researches old volumes before making an informed purchase?

Is the power of instant gratification really so overwhelming that I can't save the money? I mean, think about it. On just one shelf of the bookcase behind me, I have 12 first editions I've never read. One shelf. I don't even want to count the others because my guess is I've read less than 40% of the books I've purchased in the last 10 years. Assuming I bought them at some sort of discount, the books on that one shelf cost me at least $200 not to read.

Don't get me wrong. I know that $200 won't pay for many of the books I'm interested in (the Salinger book sells for $10,000+), but wouldn't that $200 be better served as a down payment to something...bigger? Something more important than a modern book I can find at any used book store?

For example, what about those Barsoom books I've always wanted? My love of Edgar Rice Burroughs is no secret, so why not start a serious collection of Burroughs books instead of spending my money on Jodi Picoult or those damn Star Wars novels I don't even like?

At this point all I have is questions I don't know the answer to. I've asked myself these questions before, and nothing ever comes of it. My guess is tomorrow I'll surf some online book shops, research costs on a few books, and get as far as emailing a bookseller about a particular book's condition. After that, I'll go back to buying something inexpensive I won't read, then I'll BroDart the cover for its protection.

After that, as I'm putting the new book where it belongs on the shelf, I'll question my reasons for making the purchase. And because the answer is too elusive, I'll smile at the new book's spine and just shrug.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

The Real Reason I Buy Picoult

"I still can't believe you bought another Jodi Picoult book," Stephanie said today as I showed her the newly organized bookcase.

"Why?" I asked, knowing full well where this conversation was going.

"You don't even like her," she said.

"Her books are okay," I said.

My wife just looked at me, waiting for me to admit the real reason I have three of her novels sitting on my shelves.

"Okay, do you really want to know why I bought that last one?" I asked. She responded in the affirmative, but her eyes told me she'd just as soon clean the toilet. "Because they look cool on the shelf."

"I knew you were going to say that," she said, walking over to the books and pointing at them. "I saw them and knew you'd like the fact they say Jodi Picoult real big, with the book title in the same font right next to her name on all three. You're such a sucker for marketing."

I just laughed. As she walked off down the hallway, I shouted after her, "But you have to admit, they do look cool right next to each other."

And they do. I might not be the world's biggest Picoult fan, but after buying two, I knew I'd be a collector just because they have a nice, unified spine design. They look great together. As a matter of fact, I can't wait to get more (although I'm hoping that future volumes are the same height...the spines look great next to each other, but it bothers me that each new one is slightly taller than the last).

Hell, the nice set design is the same reason I buy Ben Bova's "World Tour" books and that's why I have the entire Dune prequel/sequel series despite never having read a single one. That's right, I haven't read any of them, but they look great sitting next to each other. And the more I get, the better they look.

Same goes with the Hard Case Crime books. Of course, I've read a few of those, and they're great reads, but its the covers and the spine unity that keeps me coming back for more each and every month. I just love standing in front of that shelf, soaking in the cool, cohesive look of those spines.

Call me a sucker all you want, but I might be one of the few who gets extra enjoyment each time I look at my bookcase. As they say, don't judge a book by its cover, judge it by its spine.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Now That's Eclectic

I had one of those experiences at the bookstore today where I had to pause and question my sanity. I stood just inside the entrance of my local Borders, turning copy after copy of Change of Heart over and around in my hand, trying to find the perfect copy, the one with the tight spine, snow-white pages, and flawless dust jacket. This OCD episode wasn't weird in and of itself, and neither was the fact that a 35-year-old man was looking to buy the latest Jodi Picoult book, although you might find both of them to be on the crazy side.

No, what was weird about today's trip to the bookstore was walking up to the counter with the Picoult book and a second novel I found just moments later. What an interesting pair they made. On the one hand, you have the Picoult novel, loved and praised by housewives around the world, and on the other, you have Zero Cool, the latest Hard Case Crime offering by John Lange, soon to be devoured by men seeking an escape into the darker side of crime. The cover of one book features a young girl standing in a room of soft, warm light, which gives off this feeling of both sadness and fright. The second cover features a half-naked "broad" and screams sex and dark, pulpy violence.

"Who the Hell am I?" I thought to myself, soaking in both covers as I waited in line. For the briefest of moments, I felt...dirty, like I was some sort of dysfunctional pervert. I looked at the Picoult cover and thought, "What would Jason think?" And then I looked at the Lange cover and thought, "What would Mom think?"

Don't get me wrong, I don't feel ashamed about the things I like, and even though my friends like to laugh at my taste, it doesn't bother me (neither does the questioning look the cashier gives me as she rings me up). Instead, what's a little off about this whole episode is that this weekend I'm going to slide that Picoult book onto a shelf where it will be surrounded by a detective novel here, a science fiction novel there, a horror novel right there, and a memoir over there.

Most readers (and collectors) I know tend to lean towards one, maybe two genres. But not me. I need to be all over the map. I can't pinpoint exactly what I like, and if a stranger were to look at my bookcases, he might wrinkle his brow or shake his head, wondering what this eclectic collection says about its owner. Meanwhile, I just shrug, being no closer to an answer myself, but content enough in the knowledge that I'm getting some level of enjoyment from each of the books in my rag tag collection.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

A Legend on Cardboard

As you probably already know, Brett Favre announced his retirement today. I'll admit to being a little saddened by the news. Was he really leaving? But I'm an adult, so after the initial shock wore off, I thought less about myself and more about the Packers future. Just how the hell will be Packers do anything next year with Aaron Rodgers under center? That's when Favre's retirement hit me. This could be a loss the Packers feel for years.

Then the whole retirement issue hit even closer to home: I didn't have nearly enough Favre cards in my collection. Not three minutes after hearing the news, and I was wondering if anyone would notice if I ran home and checked eBay before prices really go through the roof.

Naturally I calmed myself down and didn't skip the rest of the day at work to surf for Favre cards (of course, if they'd just let me access eBay at work it would be so much easier for all of us). But even as I spent the day reflecting on the great quarterback's career and how fortunate I was to see several of his games, not to mention how fortunate I was just to watch the entire Favre era from beginning to end, I also spent some time considering my collection, which as cool as I think it might be, just happens to be way too thin on Favre cards.

Why is that? How could a Packers fan who's been collecting cards consistently for nearly six years not have enough Favre cards. Well, see, at the beginning of the 2007 season, I sold off all of my Favre cards, at least those that weren't produced by Topps and SP Authentic, the two sets I collect year in and year out. I'll admit that even at the time, it felt funny letting them go, but I knew that it was for the greater good of the collection. It wasn't so much that I was getting rid of Favre cards, it was more about adding to my Packers collection.

I'm a team collector. I want every Packers card from Topps and SP Authentic that I can get my hands on, so it was somewhat liberating to sell those cards that didn't fit the specific requirements I had set for my collection, even if they were "rare" or had a piece of a Favre game-used jersey.

Now, however, I wonder if that's true. Sure, I love the fact that I have every 2007 Topps Chrome Packers card, but are 5 Brandon Jacksons and 8 David Clowneys really worth even one Favre jersey card?

At the time, definitely. The thrill of the hunt had me by the balls, and being the first to show off the rainbow set was kinda cool. But now that I look back and the excitement of those stupid colors has worn off, I think I would rather have a handful of Favre cards.

Sure, my collection is nice, tight, and focused now. And not many people have the entire rainbow of 2007 Bowman Chrome Packers cards (not even me, apparently...why the hell did I never finish that set?). But now the best Favre cards I have are a graded 1991 Topps and a handful of his SPA gold cards numbered to 25. Not all that exciting. Not when you consider that Favre is the greatest QB to wear the green and gold.

So even as I type this, I search eBay for Favre cards to buy. The analyzer in me is screaming for me to at least first buy those expensive Favre autographs that are on my list, so that way I'm at least sticking with the standards I've set for my collection. But those are costly and hard to find, so I'm not sure if that will satiate my desire to do something in Favre's honor right here, right now.

Oh, I got it. I can start another collection. Yeah, that sounds about right. It's the least I can do to pay tribute to Favre for all the excitement he's given this Packers fan.