Fan Expo 2014

This year was going to be a bit different. Mainly, I wasn't going to lie to myself. Every year before The Expo, I tell myself that I'm going to inventory my comics, and create a list of "wants" for the show. It could be as simple as filling in some gaps to complete a run, or a hunt for a specific storyline that I'm interested in. One year, I actually did an inventory, one that I refer back to at times, but one that is also incomplete in both accuracy and details. Over the years, I've picked up a few items but have failed to update that inventory. The end result is often aimless wandering and random purchases - if I can bring myself to purchase anything at all. Twenty fourteen though, this year will be different. And it was.

The Amazing Spider-Man issue #300 can be considered a holy grail for my collection, if you will. When I was younger and started collecting, the run of comics done by artists Todd McFarlane and Erik Larsen were fresh in the back issue bins. I saved up my allowance over the course of a few weeks to buy Amazing Spider-Man #316, with a brilliant cover by McFarlane, depicting Venom taking down our titular hero. It's an aggressive cover, which also happens to be Venom's first "cover appearance," with bold colours, fast action lines and great peril. I couldn't really buy more than that, but would slowly pick up issues where I could, resulting in a perfect candidate to complete at something like the Fan Expo.

In the weeks leading up to the Expo, I decided I would complete the run from issue #300 to #400, which would take approximately forty issues - more than I thought, but quite attainable. The main obstacle, would be #300. Over the eight years I've been attending Fan Expo, I've kept an eye on the price - it was high, then seemingly came down for a bit but has now steadily rose again. I believe the advent of grading and the general age and increased interest in comics contributes to the increase in price, but mainly grading. At the show, I saw graded issues ranging from $240 to $900, and ungraded issues from $130 to $600. I was hoping not to spend more than $100 on the single issue. Something that could be done, perhaps through eBay, but I wasn't certain on the condition that the comic would be in for such a price. Indeed, I hadn't thought of condition at all for anything.

At the Expo, I undertook my task and picked up six issues, all early 300's with McFarlane's art. They were half price, their condition looked decent and they were serving their purpose for my task. It felt good. It felt great, actually. Rifling through back issue bins, on the hunt, transported me back to the prime of my collecting days. I kept an eye out for #300 and saw it everywhere, but the price was something I wasn't prepared for. Then I saw something: a Marvel Omnibus that collected The Amazing Spider-Man issues #296-329, and one issue from Spectacular. The collected works focuses on the collaboration of writer David Michelinie and Todd McFarlane, but also features some other artists (including Larsen). It happens to collect many of the issues I am looking for, including the holy grail itself.

The book is massive at over 800 pages. It has substance. It would intimidate the other books on the shelf. It was also $100. Breaking that down, would be a decent value for each issue inside, and quite the value, considering that many of those issues go for more than $10 or $20 a piece. I put it back on the table, looked around, then picked it up again. Could I do this? I've never spent so much on a book before. I put it down, and walked away. My mind needed to be cleared up, but it was full of questions. Did I want individual issues? Was having the originals that important? Was it a waste? Did I want to collect, or read? Both?

I came back to the vendor with my mind mad up: I was going to buy it, and I did. The lady handing the cash gave me a big smile, said she saw it in my eyes that I couldn't resist the book. I really couldn't. In my walk, I looked the book up on Amazon and saw that it was selling for more than the asking price at the show, and it could very well have been out of print. One commented that it's in your best interest to sell your individual copies and buy this with the profits. The pages are glossy, the colour has been reconstructed and the ads stripped away. There is a small amount of bonus content - not much, but that wasn't the point. You got everything here, in better shape and clarity than you would the individual issues.

When I got back to my friend's place I quickly opened it up, and was able to compare the same pages within to one of the issues I bought separately. The difference was astounding, and I knew then, that I made the right decision. It would be read, enjoyed and displayed on the shelf, instead of hidden away in long boxes that haven't seen the light of day in years. I was no longer needing to collect every issue in the run from #300 to #400, although I will certainly keep an eye out for issues that I'm missing and are not covered in this collection. It was the right thing to do: I knew that I wasn't the same collector as I was twenty years ago, and didn't need to recreate that person. For the first time, I've acknowledged and accepted where I am and what I was doing in terms of comic collecting. The moment of clarity occurred in the seething masses of comic book fans during the Fan Expo: a chaotic environment, to be sure. It's on that show floor that decisions are made, and boys become comic book men.

As a result, my experience at the Fan Expo this year was absolutely positive. I picked up a few other nice items, and my friend Cale fulfilled his goals. We tried something a little different this year, in that we split up a couple of times to tend to our vices. Cale, in the hunt for video games and merch, and Ryebone, on the hunt for deeply discounted comics. We lost ourselves in time. We arrived early at the Expo, and stayed later than usual. Not until we found ourselves in the car heading home did we pay attention to the screams of our aching feet, or feeling the pain in my shoulder from carrying around a bag full of hardcover comics. Like children, we got home and splayed our bounty in front of Cale's wife, gushing over the deal and significance of each item. It was a ritual that I was fast falling in love with: a modern incarnation of showing your parents your haul from the comic book shop, only to be met with rolled eyes and bemused laughter.

It's time to cross some items off the list, and add new ones. We're only a few days past the event, and I'm ready for next year.

Tags: Comic Books, Fan Expo