How did I get started collecting?

I am a comic book collector. I have been collecting comics since I was a kid. When I was young I had always read comics, but it was not until I was 12 years old that I became a collector. I remember what got me started – Nova #1 from Marvel. Having read comics for years, I was always reminded in the stories about what I had not read. It seemed like every other panel of my Amazing Spider-man comic would tell me that I should refer to an earlier issue when some other key element in the life of that superhero occurred. But with Nova #1 this was different. Here was a superhero comic that was the origin issue. Nothing preceded this character in the vast Marvel universe. I was in on the ground floor.

I lived in a small town. All of my comics came from the local drug store. I would go by there every day to see if they had new comics and when they did I would buy one of everything they had. The drug store owner, the kindly Mr. Cunningham, was a pharmacist first and I think keeping a regular supply of comics was somewhere on his list next to tissue paper and calendars. As a result, there were many gaps in the comics. I think the next Nova I found at the drug store was #7 or #8. I was determined to get the missing issues. After all, I was in on the ground floor with #1 and I had to keep current. That was when I discovered that you could order back issues.

I sent letters out to all of the ads I could find inside the most recent comics and hoped that one of them might have the missing issues I so desperately sought. Much to my surprise, most of them had my missing issues of Nova – and lots more. There were titles I had never heard of before. And some of the prices where mind bending – over $100 for a single comic! With more than a little trepidation I sent my kingly sum of $12.00 to Robert Bell for Nova issues 2 through 6. Four weeks later, the package finally arrived. My faith in humanity was preserved (he sent the comics, which as a youngster worried me more than a little – what if he just kept the money?) and I unwrapped the package to find each issue in its own bag. I immediately hid in my room, reading each issue slowly and methodically so that I could be completely up to speed with my Nova.

After my sophomore year of high school we moved from the small town to the big city. I was young and entrepreneurial and wanted to have my own comic store. I guess swimming, track and high school were not enough to keep me busy. Nonetheless, I started a half-ass mail-order business and combined my orders with Anchorage’s only comic shop located across town.

I don’t remember the name of the comic shop, but I do remember the owner: Chuck Douglerakis. We would get together once a week and make out the order list. When the comics arrived, I would settle up and distribute the comics to a few of my like-minded schoolmates. It was not a money maker, it was a lot of work, and it required the powers of Nostradamus to correctly order comics. I wised up fast, started applying to colleges, and went off to sunny San Diego to get my engineering degree (with a brief stop at Northern Arizona).

Like many, I amassed a nice collection of comics from grade school through high school, only to sell them when I reached college. I needed the money. I remember that day quite well. I had kept the comics in cardboard egg boxes that I collected from the local grocer. This was the early 1980’s and I lived in a remote area, so there were not many places to get comic supplies – so I got creative. My comic collection at that time was around 1,000 comics, mostly Marvel, and most in fairly good shape. I brought the collection with me to San Diego my junior year of college, thinking I might need to sell them, and I did. I placed the ad in the San Diego Union, immediately got a call from a flea market seller that had cash, and for $500 I parted with my prized collection. I remember thinking of the years I had spent building up my collection, only to see it drive away in minutes for a handful of 20’s that would be converted into rent money before the end of the day. Just like that, I was no longer a comic collector.

Comic collecting remained a memory for the better part of a decade. I graduated, got married, started a family, and assumed a mortgage; all the things that ambitious 20-somethings are supposed to do. Comics were not a priority – in fact they were not even on my radar. In 1995 the family and I moved back home (well I moved back, my wife and sons saw it as moving away from San Diego).

The first Christmas back my Mom gave me an old comic that her sister had found at a garage sale. It was a Dell comic called Santa Claus Funnies. Inside the number said it was No. 666. To this day I still think of the irony that the number of beast was used to index a Christmas comic, but I digress. I was a bit dumbfounded that a 10 cent comic was already at number 666. Action Comics had just reached 700 and this Dell comic was from the 50’s. I was able to locate a copy of the Overstreet Price Guide at the bookstore, looked up this comic and discovered that it was one title of over 1300 that were published as part of the Four Color Comics title. I was hooked again. And then I wondered, would it be possible to collect a full set of Dell Four Color Comics? Had this ever been done? Where would one find all of these issues?

To my great fortune, the internet was emerging as one of the greatest technological innovations of the century. With the internet came AuctionWeb, a web site that listed lots and lots of comics that were being auctioned to the highest bidder. Soon after, AuctionWeb became eBay. The variety and quantity of comics that were available for auction were orders of magnitude greater than anything I had worked with in the past. In addition to eBay, I discovered many web sites that listed comics for sale, and I rediscovered the Comic Buyers Guide. And slowly, ever so slowly, I began my march toward completing a full set of Dell Four Color Comics.

It took the better part of seven years to finally complete the run. I had to really hunt and be patient to locate affordable copies of the key Dell Four Colors. Toward the end of this quest, I began collecting Gold Key comics. Again, I wondered if it would be possible to collect all of them. In about five years I was able to fill out a complete set (or so I thought, more on this later). Then my attention switched to Whitman comics and I have been trying to collect all of these. These are tricky because no one really knows just how many Whitman comics have been published.

For the past five years my attention has switched back to Dell comics, where I am trying to collect a full set of Dell comics. I still have 230 issues needed to fill out the run, most of which are the early issues of Crackajack, Funnies, New Funnies, Walt Disney Comics and Stories, Popular Comics, Looney Tunes and Merry Melodies, and Red Ryder Comics.

It will take a long time to find affordable copies of the last 4% of the Dell comics.

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