Nostalgia large part of appeal for Blairsville comic book collector
There were no wild aspirations of striking it rich when Scott Walton of Blairsville started collecting comic books. He just wanted to build up a collection of comics he enjoyed as a kid.
His passion for the superhero stories is apparent as he recounts his recent rediscovery of a treasured title.
“It was an older ‘X-Men' book from the '80s and I thought I had actually lost it,” Walton said of one of his favorite comics. “Going back through my mother's stuff in a storage shed for the yard sale they just had here, I opened up a box and I found it there. My wife just looked at me and shook her head and said, ‘I'll just let you be alone.'
“I was just absolutely thrilled. I just went on and on about the fact that I had found that comic.”
Walton's collection and interest trend toward Marvel comics. The variety of heroes, and expanded insights into the characters' lives beyond the Kablam! Pow! action sequences, drew him to the Marvel Universe.
“You have Spider-Man who's trying to pay his bills, you have the X-Men that are having prejudice against them, you have the Fantastic Four with their family lifestyle doing everything,” Walton said, noting several leading Marvel superheroes. “You could more feel the same things that they're going through, so they're much more of an attainable type of character.”
He explained that the story presentation of another major comics publisher, DC Comics, leaves him with a contrasting impression.
“There was a DC animated movie they had that really sealed it for me, looking at it where they showed the watchtower for the Justice League and they almost made it look like a cathedral or a big parthenon or something,” he said. “It was just kind of the whole idea that those heroes were almost untouchable, that they're up above everyone else.”
Walton, 44, first started collecting comics as a teenager but drifted out of the hobby until his senior year at college. At its height, his collection totaled more than 3,000 comics.
He also delved into comic book sales as an occupation for about five years, buying The Vault Comics and Games store outside Westmoreland Mall in 2008, before deciding to sell the store last fall.
“It's really relationship-driven,” Walton said of his time running the store. “I mean, people would come in and they'd tell me their problems, they'd tell me about their collections, they would be in there for an hour just talking randomly. It was just one of those things, you felt like you were a bartender, almost. You had your counter in front of you and you're dealing out the comic books to people.”
“A number of times, we'd have special things whenever a comic-book movie would come out and we would do a midnight showing, everyone would come in,” Walton reminisced. “We would play games to give away free tickets to the movie, and people would come up with a stupid thing like ‘Who would win this, Thor or Superman?'
“You know it's silly. Whenever you start talking, you know you're going to sound absolutely ridiculous, but you're in that spot where it's OK to sound ridiculous and be silly. That's just what's a great thing about a comic shop.”
Owning the store also presented him with opportunities to expand his collection as customers brought in their own comics for appraisal.
“I was going through someone's collection that they brought in to the shop and I found a copy of (‘Star Hunters,' a DC Comics series from the 1970s). I flipped it open and I'm looking at it and it looked really familiar to me,” Walton said. “I realized that was actually the first comic I had ever looked at whenever I was a kid growing up. I told the guy right away, ‘I want this.'
“It was just something, just such a great feeling going back to whenever you're a kid and you remember reading that. I would read (comics) over and over until they were falling apart, but it was just the absolute joy you got from reading those things.”
That joy of reading comics has been the driving force behind his collection, and it's central in his advice for new comic book collectors.
“Get something you love and you enjoy so, if it's not worth anything, you still have something that you love to read over and over again,” Walton advises. “There are so many things that you can buy and set aside – stocks, bonds, things like that – that will accrue you more money than the chance of a $3.99 comic. Just buy something that's going to entertain you.
“People that just do the business part of it, sure, maybe they may make a mint out of it. But I think they're really missing something about the enjoyment of the medium of the comic, of the artwork, of the writing, the whole thing put together. I think they're really missing out on that part.”
Comic book conventions, like the Steel City Con held in Monroeville last weekend, are a great way for comic-collecting neophytes to get started in the hobby, Walton said.
“There's all sorts of different options you can play with there, with getting trade paperbacks where they reprint old issues of stuff, or go to the Comic Cons, because a lot of times you will get really good deals,” he said. “You always want to go (to conventions) on a Sunday, the last day of the thing, because they don't want to take back all those comics. So they'll try and get rid of stuff as much as they can, and that's a great way of picking up stuff.”
Comic book publishers have increasingly added the option of purchasing digital versions of their books on computers, tablets and smartphones.
For Walton, viewing comics on a screen can offer convenience, but it can never replace the sensation of turning the pages of an old favorite.
“Usually on the tablets, I'll have issues of comics that I have really loved over the years and it's something that I can just pick up and read at any point in time,” Walton said. “But it's great when you go through and you lay out that (original print) copy. Depending on what it is, it's almost like an Indiana Jones moment...
“It's just something that's a great feeling, holding that comic in your hand and flipping it over. It may look like crap and maybe the colors are draining from the page, but just the memories of thinking back whenever you were a kid reading this for the first time, it's just a feeling you can't get with swiping and swiping (on a tablet screen). You just can't get the same thing there.”
Greg Reinbold is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2913 or firstname.lastname@example.org.