A Musty Magic (Or . . .The Counterintuitive but Wondrous Nature of Collecting )

So . . . what do you do?  Where do you go?  How do you deal?

For me, when life gets too hectic; when the creative process is blocked with thick, rough-hewn logs; when the rage tweets emanating from Washington become more numerous and unhinged by the day, even the hour; and when the world just seems like too much to take, I have several “safe places” where I turn.  Places that calm me, allow me to escape the madness, if only for a little while, to get grounded again, to become reacquainted with the magic and the wonder.


Old movies provide comfort–I have always enjoyed films that predate my birth.  I often say, “If the film is black and white, I’ll probably like it.”  Walks in the woods or along winding country roads provide the opportunity to de-stress and re-center myself.  Vermont, my adopted state, is replete with quiet, pastoral hideaways, and for that I am thankful.  Books–fiction and nonfiction alike–have been my friends for as long as I can remember.  Stepping away from the cacophony to enter a well-plotted novel or an engaging biography or historical tome is, and always will be, bliss.  And sports and the long-standing family and friends fantasy football league I have been the commissioner of since the 1990s have always offered a fun diversion.


But if there is one thing that never fails, one thing I can count on just as surely as the sun rising at the break of day, it is comic books.  I fell in love with them when I was a little kid, and it’s been a lifelong love affair ever since.


I remember where it all began, too.  In my older brother Dave’s room, back when I was six years old.  Dave was a collector of sorts–he’d amassed a collection of several hundred issues by then–primarily The Amazing Spider-Man, Conan the Barbarian, and The Defenders.  He kept his comics in protective Mylar sleeves, and the most valuable ones also had a firm, thin cardboard backing to keep them from being bent or folded.  I enjoyed leafing through his issues, admiring the covers, sniffing their distinct comic book scent.


Indeed.  That has always had a lot to do with it for me.  The smell.  That old comics smell.  In The Singularity Wheel, Mitchell Brant is sure “that if you could store magic in a bottle, it would smell just the same.”  He won’t be getting any arguments from me.  And when I began collecting seriously myself, around the time I entered junior high, there was nothing that thrilled my senses more than visiting the local comics shop.  The musty scent was all around me, engulfing me like a fantastical cloud, full of wonders and adventures and history.


I spent all of my teenage years saving up what money I had to buy collectible comic books.  People would ask me, “Why not just buy the reprints?”  Why plunk down so much extra for an often ragged, beat-up original from 1955 or 1960 instead of buying a fresh, new replica for a fraction of the cost?  It was–and still is–a difficult question to answer.  It goes against everything practical, economical, utilitarian.  Whether you buy an original or a reprint, the story’s the same.  So why do it?

Countering with the old-comics smell isn’t sufficient.  While it’s true that newer comics don’t have that musty magic about them, it’s not enough.  There is more to it than that.  A lot more.

An original comic book from the 1950s predates my existence by two decades.  For me, that increases the charm exponentially.  There is something almost mystical about opening an issue from 1955 or 1956–or 1946, for that matter–and knowing that I am holding in my hands a treasure trove of memories.  If only the comic could talk, I think!  But it can.  If you listen, it can.


The artwork, the story, the dialogue–primarily aimed at children and teenagers of the day–feels dated, quaint.  It’s a window into a time sixty years in the rearview mirror, when adventures and imaginative tales were presented in a far different manner.  Reading such stories, I am transported back to a decade when my parents themselves were just teenagers.  I am, quite literally, stepping into a time machine, the years peeling away, reversing, autumn to summer to spring, fifty times over, crashing through the speed of light.


But even so, the skeptic says–can’t you still experience all that with a reprint?  Just read the stories . . . And that’s true, I suppose.  A reprint can offer a peek through the partially opened door, a glance through the window.  But it’s not the same.

A reprint is new, contemporary, a facsimile of something that came before.  (Though, it must be said, comic books have been around so long now, some reprints are, themselves, decades and decades old.) The original, the vintage comic book from 1945 or 1957 or 1962, was picked up, leafed through, handled (often roughly) by kids back then, when the story was conceived, when the writers and artists who created it were thinking of the children and teenagers of that day.  Every time I flip through an old comic, I think of the sandy-haired boy at the corner drugstore, sixty years ago, who may have grabbed the same issue from the spinning, squeaky comics rack in the corner, drawn by the cover and the promise of adventure within.  Did he have a dime to give to the store proprietor, enough to buy the comic and take it home?  Did his sister or his younger brother steal it from him later when he wasn’t looking?  And did he wrestle it back?  Is that where the spine roll came from?  The small rip in the upper right corner?  The creases that line the cover like wrinkles, forged by the passage of time?


There are two stories to enjoy in vintage comic books.  The one the creators cooked up, the twists and turns of the plot, the nuances and renderings of the art.  This is the same story available in reprints.  But the second story–the story only the original can share–this is the story of the physical comic book itself.  It’s the wear and tear, the yellowing of the pages, the mouse-chewed corner on page 6, interfering with a thought balloon.  It’s the ads for X-ray-vision glasses and sea monkeys, magic wands and moon monsters.  It’s the interweaving of past and present, of memories and moments, and of childhood dreams that have spanned the long years, bridging one century to the next.


You can’t get that kind of story in a reprint.  And you can’t put a price tag on it.

And, after all, there’s nothing quite like a tank full of sea monkeys.


Thanks so much for reading!


24 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. evelyneholingue
    Jun 08, 2018 @ 23:25:41

    It’s so important to be able to find ways to calm hectic days. You’re lucky with Vermont that offers so much quietness and natural beauty. I draw so much from nature too. From movies too, but mostly from books. I’m not a huge comic books’ fan because I don’t know this genre as much as traditional story telling. But I love some French bandes dessinées a lot. What matters is to find our own space and place to calm down and reset. Do you own the tank of sea monkeys? Watching fish and aquatic creatures is also a wonderful way to slow our thoughts and get back to a calm mind.


    • The Eye-Dancers
      Jun 09, 2018 @ 12:31:56

      Hi Evelyne! Actually, no I don’t own a tank of sea monkeys.:( I used to, though, when I was younger! And yes–I agree. It’s not so much the particulars of where we escape to as much as it is the fact that we have someplace to go that gives us an oasis of sorts amidst the chaos. I know for me, tonight, I’ll be watching an old movie.:)


  2. ritaroberts
    Jun 09, 2018 @ 07:11:50

    Oh ! How I love this story. Like you I am one who indulges in old books and if I can find one leather bound that’s a bonus. When at the age of 35 I strolled into a newsagent and picked up a magazine called ‘Antiques Weekly” from then on I was hooked .I studied Antiques and then collected old teapots which led me to study porcelain, which led me to open my own antique shop after which I became an Archaeologist. So you can see I am back in the past for my calm and relaxation..I can see your interest in old comics some of them are hilarious such as “Desperate Dan but maybe you don’t remember those.. Good luck to you in finding more of your comics. The musty smell is something I which automatically goes with Old things.


    • The Eye-Dancers
      Jun 09, 2018 @ 12:37:21

      Hi Rita! That is a wonderful story about how you were ultimately led to opening an antique shop and becoming an archeologist! History obviously has much to teach us and provides us with the knowledge to better understand our contemporary world. But it’s also an escape, too, isn’t it? In its own way, it’s almost like venturing into a novel or an imaginary realm–even though it really happened! I always enjoy the sensation of traveling back in time when I read and study history–it’s essentially a virtual time machine. I get lost “in the past” often.:)


  3. Trackback: A Musty Magic (Or . . .The Counterintuitive but Wondrous Nature of Collecting ) — Eye-Dancers | Fantasy Gift Sources: Book Reviews, Article Resources, News
  4. Karina Pinella
    Jun 09, 2018 @ 14:09:14

    I enjoyed comic books at one time. My go-to escape is thriller fiction or a horror movie.


  5. reocochran
    Jun 09, 2018 @ 15:07:23

    Oh, yes! My favorite comic books were like the girls magazines​ I enjoyed studying. . . They held the “key” and magic to the world of dating and future serious man- woman relationships. The new Riverdale show isn’t bad for the fantasy and crime aspects.
    Veronica and Betty, Reggie, Jughead, etc had their everyday problems and interpersonal relationships to overcome and handle.
    If I could get a hold of the star and actor magazines, I was fascinated by the famous lives.
    For me, the movies were good in black and white, most of the time. Different choices but the Thin Man series, Maltese Falcon and later, crime in somewhat innocent circumstances as in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting.
    I am shocked my parents let us watch the less innocent Bonnie and Clyde film.
    Thanks for sharing the Vermont green scenery. I spent my 16th summer in Rockport, Mass. I worked in Tuck’s Pharmacy and sold Tuck’s Candies at a counter, cigarettes to minors and makeup to teenaged girls. A fun memory was my grandpa’s little sister, Great Aunt Marie, who worked by day at Gorton’s fish factory and took me to the drive in and to different beaches in the afternoons. With $5 bill in hand, would run down Bear Skin Neck to buy a lobster for my Great Aunt Dot.


    • The Eye-Dancers
      Jun 10, 2018 @ 11:18:14

      Thanks so much for sharing your wonderful memories, Robin.:) I am almost embarrassed to admit I have never seen The Maltese Falcon! Kind of hard to believe for an old-movie buff like me. I need to get on that! Always great hearing from you.:)


  6. Christy B
    Jun 12, 2018 @ 18:42:58

    I started reading The Singularity Wheel and am loving it 🙂


  7. Ste J
    Jun 13, 2018 @ 00:47:22

    I totally agree with you about the classic feel of the original. The yellowing of the pages, the stains and fingerprints are all part of it. The adverts though are the best part, what a wonderful snapshot into the past, it’s utterly fascinating.


    • The Eye-Dancers
      Jun 13, 2018 @ 12:13:56

      Indeed! The original is essential–it’s a debate I’ve had with many people over the years. I guess, when all is said and done, there will always be multitudes who say, “Read the reprint!”:(


  8. The Eye-Dancers
    Jun 13, 2018 @ 13:32:03

    It certainly is. Vintage comic books cost a fortune! Of course, I have always had an eye for bargains. And I am very open to beat-up, ragged copies, which not all collectors would buy. I definitely can’t afford the crisp, perfectly conditioned old issues, so the worn ones are it for me. But as you pointed out, it’s the very wear and tear that makes the issues more personal, more special. The mint-conditioned issues just don’t have that same feel . . .


  9. ellie894
    Jun 14, 2018 @ 21:47:55

    As always a lovely read Mike 😊. It was just the thing for me today. I am so enjoying Singularity Wheel! It’s the first ebook I’ve ever read. It’s nice to know I can read a bit wherever I find myself. You’re a wonderful writer. Take care, suzanne 🌷


  10. jjspina
    Jun 22, 2018 @ 20:45:00

    I enjoyed this walk back in time, Mike. Archie comics were my favorite with Veronica, Betty, and Jughead. I was also into the Mousketeers way back when and anything to do with Annette Funicello and her beach party gang. Thanks for taking me back in time. I will be turning 70 in two weeks! Yikes! But I still feel like a kid – well sometimes! LOL! hugs


  11. natuurfreak
    Jun 29, 2018 @ 21:31:38

    Iedereen zou zo’n plekje moeten hebben om zich ergens terug te kunnen trekken als alles wat teveel wordt


  12. The Eye-Dancers
    Jun 29, 2018 @ 21:55:37

    Very true, indeed.:)


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