Comic Book Collection Paralysis, or, Yes, I Have Already Failed at my 2011 New Year’s Resolution

I have worked on improving health care in unstable countries, drafted bills for Congress and advised multiple Cabinet officials….surely it can’t be beyond me to make a clear, simple, permanent decision about what to do with my childhood comic collection. Surely I can overpower Richie Rich, outsmart the Rawhide Kid, and have the wherewithal to slay Superman with green kryptonite. And yet….

It’s January 2 and I have already failed to complete this year’s (and last year’s and and and..) resolution, which was to “definitely do something” about the thousands of comics I have been carrying with me from house to house for decades. I opened one of the boxes earlier today, thumbed through a number of issues and realized that I am again paralyzed with indecision.

Why don’t I just throw them away? Part of it has to do with economics. I pulled this one out of a box I grabbed at random just now. It concerns a strange fellow named Plastic Man (un-ironically named then, but this was before AIDS). PM #1 cost 12 cents back in the day but based on a quick Internet search it sells for almost a thousand times that today. Avengers #57 I remember is valuable too, so is Daredevil #158. I know there are many others of this sort and I can’t countenance throwing such a high-return investment into the garbage (even though I realize that a thousand times 12 cents is not exactly a retirement nest egg). But neither do I seem to make the decision to hire an expert who could separate the wheat from the chaff.

Why don’t I keep them and become a serious collector? As part of failing in my resolution each year, I go on eBay and look at all the comics. I think “I could buy the comics I am missing — Marvel Team Up #4 and #51 to complete my set — and be a real awesome, serious collector”. But then I think that having so many more comics in my home would take up more space than having them on eBay, and I wouldn’t read them, so it’s simpler to leave them on the Internet knowing I can always go get them if I want them. Also, having tens of thousands of comics in the house doesn’t fit my self-image or lifestyle (i.e., I am married and we have sex).

So I am paralyzed between two worlds. As per prior years, I fall back on the well-known psychologist Daryl Bem’s theory of self-attribution. To multilate it for my purposes here, it says that rather than decide who we really are and then subsequently decide to act accordingly, we often find out who we are by watching what we do. If I keep keeping the comics each year, neither growing nor reducing the collection, I must therefore want things as they are. Something about the connection to my childhood heroes, to Batman and Green Lantern and the Flash still has a hold on me and wants to keep things as they are. So I put the comics back in their boxes again this year, content that things are as they must be and should be. But I did pause long enough to read a few to my puzzled but amused four-year olds, in the hopes that in the distant future they will be as happily paralyzed as I am.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over thirteen thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

14 thoughts on “Comic Book Collection Paralysis, or, Yes, I Have Already Failed at my 2011 New Year’s Resolution”

  1. I hear you – I have more than a dozen boxes of comics in my basement (used to be more, but a basement flood destroyed them) that I have been moving around for decades. It would be easier if my kids liked to read comics, but they don't. I'd never trash them for the reasons you mentioned, but finding somebody who would pay a reasonable price for them seems to be tough. And then I'd have traded all those memories for money that wouldn't come close to paying for even a month of my kids' college tuition. Best way to solve it at this point is to stop moving house…

  2. …we often find out who we are by watching what we do….Something about the connection to my childhood heroes, to Batman and Green Lantern and the Flash still has a hold on me….

    Or maybe it's not the connection to your childhood heroes but the connection to your childhood itself–represented by the comics–that still has a hold on you.

  3. Ah, this explains a lot. Apparently your childhood lacked some essential resources: Plastic Man, OK; Batman, OK, but what about Pogo? Tales from the Crypt (and the other EC series)? Captain Marvel? The Spirit? and how did you get through the cold war, or get your racial stereotypes straight without Blackhawk??!!

  4. Michael: Shazam! I was indeed exposed to the original Captain Marvel, as well as the less successful re-envisioning of him done years later. House of Mystery, Ghosts and Tales from the Crypt — check. The Spirit was a bit before my time. And although I had a few of the very end of Blackhawk I collected long enough to make it to a different racial era: I have somewhere the issue of Avengers where government liaison Henry Gyrich gives the Falcon affirmative action preference as a member of the team over Hawkeye.

    Swift Loris: Your comment strikes a chord and makes me remember that I have in my boxes my older brother's collection as well as the collections of several of my contemporaries. They were turned over to me as they tired of the hobby and I kept the faith, and when I look through the comics the family and friendship networks of my childhood come rushing back pleasantly to my mind.

  5. I had a similar collection that I dragged behind me after my divorce. Thirteen long, white boxes took up a corner of my bachelor pad while I dithered about what to do about them.

    Eventually I just listed the lot on Craigslist and took the meager pittance that I was offered, keeping the few titles that had some meaning for me.

    I wish I had them back, now that I own a house and a dry basement, but they were never worth what it would have cost me to store them from then until now.

  6. I faced a similar paralysis recently with an astounding number of bicycles I had gathered; resolved when I saw a story about a bike shop that had agreed to fix and spiff up donated bikes and give them to teens aging out of foster homes. These kids get cut loose at 18 and most have nothing — no family, no job, no car, not even a bike.

    And I'm whining about having too many bikes and my wife's bitching because the garage and shed were unusable.

    Problem solved. Tax deduction in hand. Good feeling all around for me.

    I don't know exactly which charity could solve your problem — a friends of the library group comes to mind quickly, or a local Boys & Girls Club, but there are probably others too — taking your books off your hand and you assign the value to your contribution. So you find the prices on ebay, document those prices, and create a list of the huge contribution you gave. I think you can give up to 50% of your income in in-kind gifts like that, and where there is a robust market (like for comic books) you'll have no problem proving the value of the donation if you're audited.

  7. I had a similar collection, (Mostly Marvel, except for those "Ambush Bug" issues… And, of course, Stanley and his Monster.) but also had a flood. Now it's somewhat reduced, due to my ex-wife having moved the relevant boxes to the floor to make room for something else on the basement shelves… :0

    Moving to a new job while unemployed with a pregnant wife is scarcely a time for sentimentality, so I handed the collection off to my sister, with directions to take it to a comic shop and split the money with me. (Neither was it time to be haunting comic shops.)

    She still hasn't done so, nearly three years later. Can't be that she's too sentimental about MY childhood, I think it's just sloth.

    These days I still collect Kōsuke Fujishima's "Oh, My Goddess", in trade paperback form. I never was into "dark and gritty" comics, I liked them comic. Besides, my wife doesn't complain, much, as she reads them, too.

  8. Keep the comics, your kids will enjoy them when they get older. When we got married, my husband and I combined our collections of comics, games, books etc. When our children where younger (1-8) we kept them locked in a storage room, but now that they are teenagers, they and their friends appreciate our collections. We are officially the coolest parents among our nerdy children's friends circle.

  9. Keep or sell the ones you have then march over to, plop down $60 a year (or whatever option you want), and dive into their humongous collection of Marvel titles, as read through their "Digital Comics Reader". You get to enjoy comics again without the storage and/or handling headaches that come with being a collector. Or, the $3 or so average price of the new titles (not to mention the inflated prices of the old ones) that would make it near impossiible to become a serious collector today. Since I realize this is sounding like an ad, I would like to make clear that I am not affiliated with Marvel Comics in any way except as a customer of their digital comics service. To my knowledge, does not have this feature yet, but I will probably sign up for that, too, when they get it (although I always leaned more towards Marvel). Anyway, if you'd like to enjoy comics again without some of the hassles of buying and keeping them, this is a good option.

  10. This is why God created eBay. Just list a dozen or so at first, and sell them. Don't worry about whether you get "enough" for them unless you are in serious need of money. Otherwise, do you really care that much? And is it worth the value you place on your time to maximize your return?

  11. I assume the hot villainess in black has nothing to do with your reluctance to toss that issue?

  12. Keep them.

    I had two shoeboxes of baseball cards that I gave away to a family.

    There was at least a dozen Nolan Ryan rookie cards in there…

    You get the picture….

    The family went on to evolve into fox-watching republicans denouncing welfare and any largesse shown the poor.

    I rue the wealth I gave these mean-spirited teabaggers…

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