Secret Wars (III) is Marvel Comics' 2015 summer event where – according to the press – the company will be ending their current multiverse that has existed since 1941 (Captain America, published by Timely Comics) and replacing it with a totally new universe that melds the mainstream Marvel Universe (Earth-616) with the Ultimate Universe (Earth 1610) and move forward with a single universe and continuity. This may also mark the point where I stop purchasing physical comic books regularly.

My plan isn't to stop reading comics – I'll probably read as many after the Secret Wars event as before – but my weekly pull list will probably go away and I'll probably stop going into my local comic shop each week to pick up new issues. My abandonment of physical issues isn't a reflection on current issues' quality (the art and writing have never been better), personal finances, or any dissatisfaction with the current comics industry. It's solely a matter of physical space.

Before I get into dropping new issue purchases, it's probably worthwhile to provide some context for those purchases. As people who know me will attest, I'm a lifelong X-Men fan and have been collecting X-Books since the fifth grade. My first issue of X-Men was Chris Claremont and Paul Smith's Uncanny X-Men #278, which I received as part of a "get started collecting comics" kit. The issue was set right in the middle of the "Muir Isle Saga", and while I didn't have a lot of context for what was happening (Rogue fighting other mutants in a gladiator-style setup in Scotland), young-me was captivated by the fact that the X-Men got around in an SR-71 Blackbird and big things were afoot. Since this was part of a kit, the issue was probably about a year old, so the next issue that I picked up at a local convenience store on Monahans' 4th Street was X-Men #7 by Jim Lee and Scott Lobdell, which featured breathtaking art of a Cold War Spy Wolverine working with Sabretooth and Maverick to thwart the Soviet equivalent of Weapon X. While that first issue of "Uncanny" picqued my interest, Jim Lee's Blue X-Men team sealed the deal.

Over the last 23 years, I've pretty much been a steady X-Men fan save for a brief hiatus in college. My personal collection of issues that I've picked up brand-new cover almost half the publication history of the X-Men books, and I'd cross that halfway point where I've been buying X-Men new for more than half its published lifetime within six short years. X-Men were introduced in September 1963, I started buying in April 1992, which is about 28.5 years later. April 1992 + 28.5 years is October 2020.

Since that time, I've been building a collection around Marvel's X-Men books and mutant-related spinoffs, including the main X-Men books, various team books like X-Factor and X-Force, and some of the mutants' solo series. (The main exceptions are the Wolverine books, which I felt were too big of a bite to take.) As I've continued purchasing new books, I've been filling back issue holes as well. With the exception of Uncanny X-Men #94, I have a full run of the core X-Men books (Uncanny, Adjectiveless, etc.) since Giant-Sized X-Men #1 introduced the new team that introduced the canonical team of Storm, Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Thunderbird and more. To get a sense of the scale of this collection, Uncanny X-Men (by itself) will be hitting its 600th issue within the next couple of months.

The main issue facing my collection at the moment isn't finding the older issues or anything related to the collection itself, it's storing it. Several years ago, I invested in some quality Comic Cubes to store my collection and those are filled up. I have an number of cardboard longboxes in the closet to deal with the overflow and I'm running out of space there as well. Holly and I live in a smaller place and I don't have a lot of options for additional space. Given that I have no future plans to move into something bigger, I either need to become more creative in my storage strategies or begin reigning in the collection. Given that the Comic Cubes are pretty efficient space wise, and I don't have any tricks to thwart Euclidean geometry, this summer presents a great opportunity to put an endcap on the collection and officially designate the organizing principle of the collection as being "X-Men in Earth 616".

Even doing that, the issue that I run into is space. I currently have 16 Comic Cubes, which each hold around 160 issues each. 160 x 16 = 2560, which is a lot of issues, but still not enough to contain the full scope of X-Men history. If we count the flagship books, we get the following counts:

  • Uncanny X-Men (various permutations and numberings): 600 issues

  • X-Men, Vol. 2 (Adjectiveless, New, Legacy, etc.): 300 issues

  • X-Factor: about 300 issues

  • New Mutants/X-Force: about 350 issues

  • Cable (a favorite character): almost 200 issues

  • Excalibur: about 150 issues

  • Ultimate X-Men: 100 issues

  • Generation X: almost 100 issues

Just these issues alone add up to 2100, leaving space for less than 500 issues coming from newer series ("All New X-Men", "Astonishing X-Men", etc.), special events ("Avengers vs. X-Men", "Age of Apocalypse", etc.), solo series ("Maverick", "Cyclops", "Magneto", etc.) and special printings or variant covers. When I split up the issues by decade a couple of weeks ago, it appeared that I would have room for issues up to sometime in the late 2000's, with issues released since then in my overflow boxes.

Given my space constraints, Marvel's recent announcements are actually taking on a positive spin for me given that they're providing a nice breaking point for my purchasing physical issues. Many of the series I purchase will be outright cancelled, so I won't have many dangling series left. (I'm a bit more OCD about this than I should be.) So it looks like "Secret Wars" is arriving just in time for me.

One question I'm currently dealing with – if I stop purchasing physical issues – is what all this means for my work supporting my local comic shop and pushing folks to visit their local shops via Fresh Comics. While there are absolutely zero plans for me to stop working on the app, I may need to reassess what it is that will keep me going to my local shops and start highlighting those reasons in Fresh Comics. Overall, this might be a useful shift in perspective, especially given that the number of folks purchasing issues regularly has been dropping for the past decade, and my change in behavior will more closely mirror the typical visitor to the comic shop instead of the hardcore fan. I expect that the change will push me into purchasing more trades and collected editions.

The main conundrum is that for items like trades, my preferences have moved to the digital editions due to the ease of purchasing as well as not needing to store or carry around heavy volumes. Trades have the same physical constraints as individual issues (if not more so), and I have less shelf space for traditional books than I do comics. (I largely liquidated my own traditional book collection – save for a handful of special volumes – in favor of the Kindle around 2010 and 2011.)

Moving forward, I think I'll be supporting my local comic shop in different ways. One thing on my shopping list is to acquire a full run of the hardback editions for Stephen King's "Dark Tower" and "The Stand" comics. My original plan was to simply order them from Amazon. Now, I'll probably place the order through a local shop (or two). I've purchased a number of comic-related gifts in the last several years and I can route those purchases to the local shops instead of online stores. I'll continue to attend events like Free Comic Book Day and use it as an excuse to pick up new stories from indie writers and artists.

A nice side-effect of all of this is that it will focus my attention to the past instead of the future. Currently, the bulk of my time and resources have been spent maintaining my collection with the new issues coming out. Now that I have an end to the collection established, I can begin focusing on filling out the beginning. As mentioned before, my collection is basically complete after Giant-Sized X-Men #1. While I have some issues from the '60s and early '70s, these issues are a bit more difficult (and expensive!) to acquire. It's easy enough to find and buy these outright online, but a premium will be paid for the convenience. One of the things that I most enjoy about attending comic conventions now is the treasure hunting aspect of it. It's tough to find good deals, but the search is half the fun.

Questions & Answers

Q: You've put a lot of time and effort into all of this – how much is it worth?

A: Since the demise of the speculator market in the '90s and the overall decline of a regular comic-reading population, the financial value of individual issues are basically 25¢ each until you get to older issues from the '70s and '80s. Really the only modern issues to have any decent resale value are Robert Kirkman's "The Walking Dead", and that's mainly the result of its current raging popularity combined with an initial low print run (7266 issues total).

If I were to try to sell these and maximize my profits, I'd try to sell each series as a complete set under the theory that while the issues themselves may not be worth too much, the complete collection would be.

That all said, I do need to appraise this collection and assign a dollar amount to it. I honestly have no idea what the final value would be.

Q: What's the point of purchasing the older issues? They're all reprinted in cheaper editions and not that difficult to read.

A: Completing the collection – all the way back to 1963's X-Men #1 – would be the completion of a project I started almost 25 years ago. It would be a large (silly) personal accomplishment for me.

Q: I read about a copy of X-Men #1 that sold for almost half a million dollars. Where are you getting that kind of cash?

A: I'm not planning on spending anywhere near that kind of money for that issue. The issue that sold was one of two in existence with a 9.8 CGC grade. I'd be perfectly content with a much lower grade issue that would cost much less.

To give a good example of this, I own a copy of Giant-Sized X-Men #1. This is probably the second-most important book in the run that sells for over $5,000 in similar condition. By being in the right place and the right time, I picked up that issue in 3.0 (Good/Very Good) condition for $50 (a book that would sell for $200 last year). Part of the treasure hunting is to find that sweet spot of price and quality.

A recent CGC 3.0 value of X-Men #1 is between $1500 and $1600, which is a lot of cash. However, this also includes a bit of a premium in that a CGC-graded book will cost a lot more than one that's in a bag and board and unofficially graded by either the buyer or seller. I've seen decent-looking copies of the books sell for as little as $800 at shows. I'm still a ways from being willing to spend that much, so it's extremely likely that I'll get back as far as X-Men #2 and some time will elapse before I've saved enough quarters to get that first/final issue.

Q: Where does digital fit in with this collection?

A: As stated above, it looks like my monthly purchases will switch over to digital during or after "Secret Wars". (My money is on "during".) I'll pick up new issues either via Comixology or subscribe to Marvel Unlimited to get access to the newer stuff.

As for the older stuff, once I get everything sorted and cataloged, I'm planning on assembling a full digital collection of all the issues that I can read from the comfort of my tablet. While I don't condone folks downloading pirated copies of issues, I have absolutely zero objections to folks downloading digital copies of issues that they own. And I'll be doing precisely that. One book in the physical collection = one book in the digital collection.

Q: You have too many books as-is. What do you anticipate shedding to get your collection down to size?

A: This is the current raging debate. I'm trying to determine to what extent I want to keep single character books versus limited series and one-shots. I expect that it'll boil down to my personal preferences. Thus, "Magneto Testament" will always have a space in my collection, while Gambit solo series get sold back to the comic shop. I do plan on keeping the core long-running titles as well as some of the more recent, shorter runs of series like "New X-Men"/"Young X-Men" that were wonderful stories.

I think another factor that will weigh heavily are whether certain books are within continuity or without (all other things being equal). As mentioned above, Earth-616 was my Marvel Universe, so I'll weight those books heavier.

Q: Is shrinking the collection down to 16 Comic Cubes achievable?

A: It's achievable – whether the culling will be a pleasant experience is yet to be seen.

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