About five years ago, flooding in the basement of our home in Rhode Island wiped out a significant portion of my comic book collection. I had to throw out thousands of dollars worth of soggy, ruined comics. I made the determination then that I needed to get rid of most of the comics I had left and just keep the ones that were special to me.
Well, surprise! I didn’t do that.1 I did put those special comics into a plastic box so they’d be safe, but rather than issue the proposed Basement Enema, I continued to move several thousand not-so-special comics with me to North Carolina and then back up here to Massachusetts. Partially it was because I never could quite figure out the best way to get rid of them — should I eBay them? donate them to a local comic book shop or reading advocacy program? burn them in a four-color bonfire? — but mainly it was because I just didn’t get around to it.
Cut to this weekend: we’re going through the basement, getting ready to move into our awesome new apartment, and my nephew pulls out the plastic box containing all those comics I actually cared about.
With the lid mysteriously absent.
And a whole shitload of wet comics and books. Not just moist… wet. As in, this wasn’t simply a humidity thing; some significant amount of water must have gotten into that box sometime in the past year.
The comics (and four or five books) in that box were moldy and stuck together and smelly and utterly ruined. 2 All of my Jim Lee X-Men (and other) comics, my X-Men and New Mutants annuals from the 80s that Art Adams drew, the run of John Byrne Superman books I’d painstakingly assembled over several years, many of my original Wolfman/Pérez Teen Titans and my Levitz/Giffen Legion of Super-Heroes… all destroyed. I’m not even sure what all else was in there; even if I’d wanted to look, I wouldn’t have been able to get most of the books unstuck to see what they were.
Many of these were the books that went a long way toward shaping my sensibilities as a comic book fan. Hell, not even just as a comic book fan — as a pop culture fan. I love episodic drama, I love shows with huge numbers of characters, I love time travel stories, I love mysteries, I love any story which can be watched/read/enjoyed multiple times to pick up on extra details which only make sense in retrospect.
Well, where do you think I first fell in love with those qualities? Yup, comics. More specifically, the comics that had unbeknownst to me been acting as sponges for the last year-ish. Uncanny X-Men, New Teen Titans, Legion of Super-Heroes, Avengers, Justice League of America: big, frequently rotating casts. Long-running story arcs, sometimes with seeds planted years before growing to fruition. (Generally) strong character growth and development. That’s what I learned to love then, and it’s what I still love now.
But let’s set aside the particulars of the comics I lost, and even set aside the fact that it was comics at all. The fact of the matter is, something I’d been carrying around with me quite literally since I was a kid has now been lost to me. These books lived in a place of honor in my bedroom when I was a kid so I could access them easily. I once compiled a database of every comic I owned (in Lotus Symphony, I believe), so I could cross-reference my collection by creator. I distinctly remember moving these into the apartment I shared with my friend Mitch in Tallahassee. I remember where they lived in the closet of my apartment in Tampa. After Terry and I got together, I was sad when they spent a couple of years in our storage facility because our apartment was too tiny and already filled with two little kids and a huge dog.
And now the important ones are in a soggy box on my front porch, and I have friends coming by tomorrow to take the still-intact ones away from me.
I realize that I have absolutely no one to blame for this situation but me. I could easily have taken better care of them — either through the bag-and-board route, or just by keeping them somewhere where they wouldn’t get flooded. One could say that if they were that important to me, I would have done exactly that, but I didn’t.
And I don’t care about the monetary value. Honestly, I don’t. Some of these comics were likely worth a decent amount — maybe not huge, but more than nothing — though as noted, I’ve never been a bag-and-board guy, so they wouldn’t have been worth their full potential value, anyway. Regardless, I never once bought a single comic because I thought I’d be able resell it for a profit someday.
But these comics have been part of my life, part of the Me I’d drag from place to place to place, a comforting bit of my childhood I’ve always had with me. It’s stretching it way way way too far to say I feel like an old friend just died 3, but one of my few remaining tangible, meaningful connections to The Me That Was so long ago is gone. 4
I feel like I should think of this development as liberating, like I’m shedding loose a skin that no longer truly fit and had been weighing me down for too long. Maybe that last bit is true, but honestly, it doesn’t feel particularly “liberating” quite yet. Right now, I’m in a small, admittedly weird bit of mourning. My friends who saw me today might have noticed I was a bit off, and, well, that’s why.
I’ll be better soon enough. Comic books are just things, after all, and many of the lost ones are replaceable in better formats now. But I need to give myself a little time to deal with these odd feelings of loss, and realize that it’s all part of Letting Go, which will be a more and more valuable and important skill to have as my kids grow up.
For now, I’m going to go read some of the comics my boy Timmy B. sent me recently — comics which now make up the bulk of my collection.
Not really a surprise. ↩
You might think from that description that I’d be talking about an old porno collection, but no, really I’m not. Really. ↩
I’ve had that feeling far too recently, and I can say that yeah, there’s not a comparison. ↩
Yes, I just said “meaningful” when talking about my comic book collection. Deal. ↩