Tackling the Collector's Instinct


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Like many writers, I got into comic books first as a reader. Not just a reader. A collector. A guy with a nasty comic book habit. A speculator who, oddly enough, was unwilling to part with any part of his prized collection (until he parted with all of it in one fell swoop). A four-color junkie who just couldn’t stop himself from buying multiple copies of first issues. A phantom who haunted comic shops and flea markets and yard sales in hopes of finding some nearly forgotten relic to add to his collection.

Comic books were my poison of choice, but they weren’t necessarily my gateway into collecting. I think my first taste of this came from the hoarding of Star Wars action figures. I used to look through JCPenney catalogues (because there was no Internet to fuel the fire) and gaze at all the featured action figures... and I just knew I had to have them ALL!

It got really bad when my parents gave me an action figure carrying case for my birthday. The case pictured a full set of figures, plus several duplicates of storm troopers. As soon as I saw that picture, I just had to have enough storm trooper figures to duplicate the image on the carrying case. If the figure was pictured, that meant I had to have it!

Maybe I’ve always had an addictive personality. If so, it’s a wonder that I didn’t get addicted to something bad. But I managed to avoid the really unsavory vices.

Except porn, but everyone is addicted to porn.

And margaritas, but everyone is addicted to margaritas.

Anyway, if it had an aspect of collecting to it, I jumped in with both feet. Comics, books, toys, role-playing games, trading card games, DVDs…

And for a long while I couldn’t understand why I never had any money.

I’d like to say I’ve gotten better in my old age. After all, necessities like food, clothing, and shelter for my family should temper that collector’s instinct. But it’s a constant battle. And collecting (read “spending a lot of money on things you don’t really need”) has never been easier.

I found a way, though, to control the urge to go online and hit “add to cart” incessantly. As an added benefit, it actually breathes a little life and energy into comic collecting again. I thought I’d share my comic book collecting plan with you.

•   Weekly trip to the comic book shop.

I still hit the store every Wednesday if I can. Part of this is “doing research” but it also helps me feel connected to the hobby side of collecting. Also, I just like reading comics. Yeah, I’ll often buy a book to satisfy the lingering phantom pain of being a speculator. I’ve even bought a variant cover or two in my time. In the end, though, I do this because I like reading comics.

•    Never buy back issues off the Internet.

I have a few comic book runs that I’m trying to complete. With enough money, I could complete those collections in a matter of minutes online. But where is the fun in that? Where’s the thrill of the chase? So, I’ve made a rule that I will not buy a book unless I can see it first hand at a comic book store or convention.

•    Never buy a back issue unless it is on my “want list."

I carry a little list of the comics I “need” around with me. When I go to a shop or a show, I dig the list out and search for items to check off. I have, on occasion, forgotten my list. If that’s the case, I don’t buy any back issues. Once upon a time, I could tell what issues I had just by looking at the cover, but those days are done.

•    Collect back issues that mean something to me.

In my collecting heyday (read “when my dad used to go to conventions with me and spend his money on my comics”), I would buy books I had no real connection with. Usually, I did this because I thought they’d be worth something. Nowadays, my collection includes books that have some sentimental value to me. Some of these books I’m getting CGC-graded, but not many.

•    Abandon these rules for quarter boxes. Sorta.

I’m a sucker for a quarter box. I think it’s funny that the quarter box existed when I was a kid and it still exists today. Usually when I go to a show, I’ll bring a set amount of money with me to use when pillaging quarter boxes (or the glorious 10-for-a-dollar boxes). There’s a joy to looking through those huge, unorganized, often ratty collections of books, especially if you’re with a friend. I forget my list and just look for anything that strikes my fancy.

There you have it. That’s my plan for surviving with a comic book collecting habit. It’s all about moderation, the thrill of the hunt, and keeping the hobby fun. If you have any tricks of the collecting trade, I’d love to hear them!

Today’s Comic Book Bucket List

Today’s foray into things to do in comics before I die is…


There was a time in the 90s when I felt like any book I liked was destined to be cancelled very quickly. Blackwulf was one of those books. I thought it was a creative sci-fi/fantasy superhero story that only got a chance to hint at some really cool ideas. The series ended on a pretty interesting cliffhanger, and maybe that’s why it sparked my imagination in such a way. I have a notebook somewhere of all my ideas for Blackwulf. I had a dark, epic story just waiting to be told.


Cullen Bunn is the writer of The Damned, The Tooth, and The Sixth Gun from Oni Press and The Fearless from Marvel. He is also the author of a middle reader prose horror novel, Crooked Hills, from Earwig Press.
Website: www.cullenbunn.com
Twitter: cullenbunn
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/cullenbunn

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  • Andy Oliver

    Andy Oliver Sep 27, 2011 at 6:22pm

    If only I had your self-discipline Cullen...

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