My Comic Book Conundrum

by J.D. Roth

I’m facing a dilemma. I want to collect the Marvel Comics I knew and loved as a kid, but I’ve turned into a tightwad. (Actually, I’m not a tightwad — I’ve just become more sensible about the way I use my money.) There are several ways I could go about maintaining this collection, each with its own distinct advantages and disadvantages.

The four methods I could use to build my collection are:

  1. Collect the actual comics. I could buy the old comic books I remember reading as a kid. Most of these are available at a reasonable price — a couple bucks each — but some would cost $40 or $50 of dollars, even for reading copies. By collecting individual comics, I could pick up just the issues I read and loved as a kid. This method would provide the best tactile experience — there’s nothing like holding (and smelling) and old comic — but it would also take the most space. My collection of actual comics is pretty weak at the moment.
  2. Collect the hardbound color editions. Marvel publishes a series of hardback books called Marvel Masterworks. Each book collects roughly ten issues in a restored format. These are beautiful books, but they retail for $50 each. (They can be acquired for $25-$35 each with careful shopping.) I already own about fifty of these volumes (about 80 have been published, with another one coming every month), and have paid about $28/each for them. I’m wary of damaging these books: I don’t want to read them in the bathub. I don’t want to read them while eating. They take a lot of space. Some are highly collectible right now, going for big bucks on eBay. (Though with a reprint program about to begin, these prices are going to drop quickly.) The Masterworks only reprint a very limited part of the Marvel library, primarily material from before I was reading comics.
  3. Collect paperback black-and-white reprints. Marvel also publishes a series of reprints called The Essentials. A volume of Essential Spider-Man might reprint 25 issues of old comics in black-and-white. Each of these volumes retails for about $17, though they can be purchased for about $12 online. I have several dozen of these, but there are dozens more I haven’t purchased. Nearly anything that has been published as a Masterwork has also been published as an Essential. These are great books to read in the tub or over a bowl of breakfast cereal. They’re fun to read. There’s a wider range of material available, too, including a lot of minor titles, and a lot of material from the late 1970s when I was actively reading comics.
  4. Buy comics on DVD. Marvel has begun producing DVDs that collect their core titles. Each $40 DVD holds every comic ever printed for a particular title. For example, the Fantastic Four DVD holds 40 years of the comic book. These are actual scans of the comics, so aside from reading them on your computer, it’s as close to the real thing as a person can get. There are two huge advantages to this method: cost and completeness. But let’s not forget the space advantage, too. There’s no shelf space required for comics ripped to a hard drive. There are some big disadvantages to DVDs, too: only core titles are being collected so far (with Ghost Rider being the sole exception). Also, these discs must be viewed on a computer.

I honestly have no idea which way to take my collection. The only option I know I’m not going to choose is to purchase the original comics. I have no interest in that. So which of the other three options should I choose?

I could sell my Masterworks for a modest amount of money ($1250?), but it would take time and effort. The proceeds would easily fund DVDs as replacements. I could also sell my essentials, but they’re unlikely to fetch much money at all.

If I decide to continue collecting Masterworks — I haven’t purchased a new one in almost a year — then I’m committing to spent about $35 a month on them. Essentials would only run about $24 a month. DVDs would be one-time expenses of about $40 each time a new title was released, which is apparently every three months or so. I only expect a small number of titles to be released on DVD.

Updated: 08 June 2007

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