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Argus-Courier columnist, comic book fan questions value of first appearances

Do you collect comic books? Do you collect anything? Do the things you collect in turn collect dust? Look, I'm not here to collection-shame. I'm here to get into why collecting the most prestigious, most expensive, most sought-after and valuable comics for nerds is bogus.

If you're a regular reader of mine, there's no tip-toeing around it — this is going to be a very nerdy article. I've had many conversations with my editors, fuming and rolling their eyes at me, yelling at me about how overly nerdy I always am in most, if not all, of my articles. Think John Jonah Jameson except he's yelling, "No more pictures of spider-man!"

Okay, actually, I made that last part up. My editors have never rolled their eyes or fumed or yelled. And I have to assume they like me being nerdy, because, after all, they keep running my stuff. But I kind of like the idea of John Jonah Jameson yelling at me. That would be awesome.

In nerd culture, some comic books are more highly prized than others. One notable reason is when they include a first appearance. I've been asking for years, why? Lets take for example, Wolverine. Believe me, I was very tempted to say someone more obscure like Man-Thing, but I realize not everyone speaks nerd and goth. Man-Thing is very goth and very cool and probably the best comic character ever created.

But back to Wolverine.

Most people know he is in the X-Men. But most people don't know he first appeared in a Hulk comic. Many assume that his iconic appearance fighting the Hulk in “The Incredible Hulk” #181 was his first appearance, because Wolverine is right there fighting the title character on the cover. But Wolverine actually first appeared in the previous comic #180. He's just not on the cover. His quick appearance in #180 serves mostly as a tease to the next issue and his full appearance in #181.

Who cares, though? It happened in 1974. Many collectors weren't even reading comics during this time. Still, first appearance issues of comics go for much much more than just run-of-the-mill stories. Even though you can buy reprints of the same story.

In the comics world, they introduce new characters all the time. People with magic, made of stone, mutants—anything to fill the pages. Most of these characters come and go and don’t become anything more. There are plenty of comic characters just sitting, untouched, from the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s. All kinds of "first appearances" no one cares about.

But now let's get into classic film and talk about the Pink Panther. Peter Sellers plays Inspector Clouseau, of course. His first appearance was "The Pink Panther" (1963). He was a minor character. His French accent was over-the-top, but tolerable. In his second appearance in "A Shot in the Dark" (1964), Sellers started really exaggerating the French accent. As characters evolve few rarely stay the same as they grow in popularity and are seen again and again. So, doesn't the second appearance matter quite a bit in defining the character?

The inflated value of such appearances falls back to collectors having power over non-collectors. No one is born a Wolverine fan. You discover him and start getting all his new stuff and go back and try to find his old stuff too. If you don’t have every issue and are wondering about origins, there are always reprints, so you're going forwards and backwards at once.

Eventually you hit the end, which is the beginning.

I know, this even confuses me.

New collectors that want all of a series have no choice but to to buy it from the old collectors who already have it.

I say, stop giving them money.

Get art that actually means something to you. Does the first appearance really mean something to you? Then great, chase that. But other stories and art could and probably should connect to you. Don't just seek out what collectors try to sell you in the after-market. It's a 50-year-old practice to make you think the most important issue is some random character’s first appearance.

That's like saying the best day of your life was the day you were born. Even for Wolverine, and probably even Man-Thing — both of whose first-appearances are historic — that’s just sad.

Oliver Graves is an award-winning columnist and stand-up comic. Oliver’s World runs every other week in the Argus-Courier. Find out more at OliverGraves.com or on Oliver’s Facebook page.

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