Maybe it's an age thing, or just a reality thing, or the fact that some things that used to bring me joy don't any longer, but I doubt it. Something is up, however, and here's the story:
Last week, a friend of mine invited me and some compatriots to a comic convention in Boston. This wasn't one of those "cool" ones where a lot of professionals attend and you can meet then and get them to sign your stuff and get to see movie trailers before anybody else. These are usually only attended by overweight dealers who seem more intent on eating their sandwich than telling you how much one of their comics costs. You may get one professional there, if you're lucky, and usually when he shows up, everyone goes to his table, leaving the rest of the room rather... bereft.
So, I declined. In fact, I think my actual words were, "No thanks. That last one sucked a dick." Apparently, my friend still went, because he ended up winning the door prize: Batman #1, published in 1940. Coming on the heels of his first appearance in Detective Comics #27 in 1939, the Dark Knight was given his own series, and also given a nemesis, The Joker. Yeah, my friend won the first appearance of The Joker, at the convention I bad-mouthed. Karma's a bitch.
Now, I was recently doing a little research on old comics, and had come across Batman #1 and discovered its value. Not to buy for myself, of course, but to flip in the event I had ever come across one. To put this in perspective a little, in the event that you are going through granny's attic and find a near-pristine copy of Batman #1, you could almost buy yourself a house in suburban Massachusetts with it. Now, I have my doubts that any copy in that condition exists, but a copy in pretty rough shape will net you a few thousand dollars. That's "thousand." Even one that was put in a clothes dryer would probably be valued at somewhere around $3000.
My friend ain't selling.
Now, certainly, money isn't everything and the reason comics are considered "collectibles" is that people want to collect them and save them and have things that you value as a "cool thing to have," so when you go to parties and strike up conversations... Come to think of it, why do we collect these things? I mean, when i was a kid, I bought baseball cards because I hoped that one day they would be worth something (they weren't.) At least, with comics, you can read them, and one day read them again, and maybe if they do appreciate, you can sell them, or pass them on to the next generation, or line your birdcage with them, but they have uses other than as a collectible. This is why I never understood the comic book grading process, where this company will assess the value of your book, then seal it up in a hard plastic sleeve for eternity. Certainly won't be reading that again.
But I digress... My friend has decided that the sentimental value of the first appearance of The Joker is worth more to him than $3000. Which is okay, I guess. I mean, not to get into money matters, but to give you some idea of what we're talking about, my friend lives in a humble one bedroom apartment in Quincy, and that comic could pay for a few months rent, and probably some utilities. I'm not putting him down, because I also live in a humble one bedroom apartment, and here lies that old rub again.
There are some bigger Joker fans than me, but I am definitely a big Joker fan, and a fan of comics and Batman and collecting in general, but I can say without any hesitation that I would sell that book. Maybe not today. Maybe in a couple years when the economy gets a little better, but I would sell. Just like I sold my Optimus Prime, my father's train set, and my car. My one regret? I didn't get as much for Prime as I should have.
Am I without sentiment? Not at all. I have tons of crap lying around that I keep solely because of the memories and emotional attachment. I certainly am not a wealthy man, but even a few thousand dollars wouldn't change my life. So, why would one man sell and another not? And why have most people I talked to out there agreed said they wouldn't sell either? Is it because people need things? Is it because the collector in them wouldn't allow it?
I think this is a legitimate, sociological question. Why do we collect things? I mean, is this why we collect things in the first place, in the hope that one day we will stumble upon one of these holy grails to make it all worthwhile? And how far do you take that logic? I mean, would you sell if it were a pristine one worth $160,000? Well, sure, you may say, but I say three grand is nothing to sneeze at. I make that much in a year at my crummy part-time job.
In my opinion, you can't take it with you. Sure, my friend could one day pass Batman #1 on to a nephew or child or whatever, but that will just start the cycle over again. He may fall upon serious financial difficulties and decide that it's time to sell. He might put it in a safe deposit box and hold onto it forever. In my mind, the thing is already 70 years old, so who knows if it will appreciate any more? Maybe in another 30 years, you'll see something, but let's say that it doesn't go up in value too much, what will have been the point of holding onto it? What was the point of holding onto all my baseball cards for ten years? I ended up selling them all on eBay in huge lots for very little money, so yeah, they didn't exactly net me a big return on my investment.
When I was collecting baseball cards, I used to brag to my Dad how much they were worth. He would reply, "Only to someone willing to pay that much." Obviously, he didn't foresee eBay coming, but still, he was right. In retrospect, it was the thrill of collecting that kept me going back to the card store as a kid. Now, we're all grown up. The thrill is gone. I'm betting there is someone out there willing to pay for that Batman #1. I'd sell it to them.