Friday 18 June 2010

On Collecting

Call it a hobby. Call it a compulsion. Call it a disease, even. For some of us, collecting is in our blood.

I've been pondering how my collecting habits have changed over the years, both in what I collect and the way I collect. (And yes, I know what you're thinking: the days must fly by chez Louis.) Increasingly over the past year, I've been collecting modern firsts (Patricia Highsmith, Donald Westlake and others), but I've also been doing a large part of my collecting online, so much so that I've developed a daily habit of checking eBay for particular authors and titles, checking Amazon, checking AbeBooks... It's got to the stage where if I don't see an auction to watch on eBay every day or something to buy elsewhere online, I'm slightly disappointed. (Today I'm not disappointed; I found something to watch on eBay, and the lead on a couple of Peter Rabe books I mentioned yesterday paid off. Huzzah.)

I don't do all of my collecting online, of course. I still haunt bookshops, book fairs, comic shops, junk shops and the like. I still get the thrill of anticipation when visiting a shop I've never been to before, or even a shop I have been to before, even if it's just up the road. For instance, I'm off to Tunbridge Wells tomorrow with the bird to meet a friend, but I know that trip will involve visits to the various second hand bookshops there, and that's what I'm really looking forward to (particularly because I've seen a book listed online at one of the shops, which I'm really hoping will be there...). I mean, it'll be nice to see our friend... but y'know... books...

Even so, internet shopping has utterly transformed the way I collect. Not everything you might want to find is online, but most things are. Gawd knows how I'd have followed my Westlake/Stark obsession years ago without the internet. I guess it'd have involved visiting bookshops and book fairs even more, picking up catalogues and the like – basically the way I used to collect comics. I was a regular at comic marts in the late 1980s and then again in the late 1990s/early 2000s, when I got back into comics after a ten year break, mostly at the London marts, turning up on the dot of opening time, rifling through comic boxes, wants list in hand.

I've always collected something. The first thing I remember collecting was, bizarrely, the backs of football stickers. I've never been remotely interested in football, but for some reason, back in primary school, when footie stickers first came in, me and a friend started collecting the peel-off backs, picking up the discarded ones. After that, it was probably Star Wars bubblegum cards, and then American comics, starting with Captain America, then Batman, Superman, eventually discovering Alan Moore and Warrior, Watchmen, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, then graduating to indie and UK small press: Fast Fiction, Escape, Eddie Campbell and Chris Reynolds and John Bagnall and the like.

In early teens – concurrently with the superhero phase of comics collecting in the mid-1980s – I got into music in a big way, and started collecting records. I was heavily into electro and hip hop, so I'd make regular trips up to Groove Records on Denmark Street in Soho (long gone now – the shop, not the street) and the other record shops up in town and buy the latest import electro 12"s (all of which I've long since sold, guh). After that, and following a brief flirtation with electro pop, I got into indie: Wedding Present, McCarthy, Creation Records. And so a new phase of collecting began, which changed again when I discovered (or maybe rediscovered) dance music: techno, R&S, rave, hardcore. That led to a job as a music journalist on Mixmag, whereupon I started getting free records, and that obsession ballooned.

Somewhere along the line I rediscovered comic books, and as my interest in dance music waned I found myself working for a comics and graphic novels publisher, Titan. And then I started getting free comics and graphic novels. And my comics collection grew to a ridiculous size (which it still is, despite regular culling). And now it's books – novels, first editions, which again has grown and grown.

And now this post has wandered off the trail somewhat, if it was even following a trail. So I'll stop there.

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