Stories Within Stories

Organizing comics isn’t just rearranging a horde of single issues for some. It’s revisiting your past and the story behind each of them.

There’s a part in Stephen Frears’ 2000 film adaptation of Nick Hornby’s novel High Fidelity I’ve always related to. John Cusack plays a record store owner named Rob Gordon, and when he’s reorganizing his records one day, one of his employees stops by his apartment for a visit. The employee, a deep, deep record nerd played by Todd Louiso, observes the records and quickly attempts to figure out how his boss is organizing them.

“Chronological?” he guesses, with a swift negative in return. “Not alphabetical…” he softly says to himself, before his boss just comes out with it.


Cusack’s Rob, a successful man child who understands things better than he does people, 1 easily could be a comic book fan of a certain age, and I mean that in a sincere and not dismissive way. To anyone who truly loves any type of entertainment medium, there’s a logic to them that people themselves often lack. When you put on a Fleetwood Mac album or watch Aliens or open that collection of the X-Men event X-Tinction Agenda, you know what will be waiting for you: a wonderful experience loaded with memories connected to previous times you engaged with them.

While I’m not sure I could organize my comics autobiographically as Rob does in the movie, I understand the idea behind it because like his records, many of the comics I own have a story behind them. There’s the story they have and my story with each of them, eternally tethered together like the pages of the comics themselves. Take the spinner rack I have in my home office as an example.

You might think that The Avengers #1 is there simply because it’s old and cool, and the same for the copies of X-Men #101 or Uncanny X-Men #141 that are there. You might see Infinite Crisis #4, West Coast Avengers Annual #2, and Nonplayer #1 and think to yourself, “Well, David clearly used a roulette wheel to decide which issues should be highlighted there.” But each comic on it is there because of a personal connection, a story that leaps off the pages into my own life.

The Avengers #1 reminds me of a family trip we took to Washington state when I was a kid, during which we visited an antique store – as we often did in my youth – when I came across a copy of this comic for $10, my exact allowance, a find that nearly made me pass out on the spot. 2 I think of standing up on a stool in my childhood home when I search my memories of X-Men #101, as I snuck through my parents’ bedroom in pursuit of Christmas presents and discovered #101 and #120 hidden in their closet. The stories go on and on: a day at an antique store with my buddy Brandon, the first single-issue comic I bought after getting back into reading them, one of the stories that made me fall in love with the medium, etc. etc.

The past couple years – obviously excluding this pandemic riddled year – I’ve had comic book garage sales at my house, as I look to reduce the size of my frankly unwieldy comic book collection. While I included an immense number of comics in those garage sales, some of which floored the customers who stopped on by, 3 there was a considerable collection I left behind in my office. And it wasn’t value or esteem or the long-term future of each title that guided my decisions to hold onto them, but those connections to my own life and fandom. I don’t keep the comics I should; I keep the comics that mean something to me, even if they mean nothing to anyone else. 4

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to dive into this world again because it was organization time. I’m off on a month-long staycation, and because of how I’m wired, my time is used productively because that’s how I’m built. And as much as I hate bagging and boarding comics, 5 I love organizing them because it gives me an opportunity to revisit these stories I love and what they mean to me. While it doesn’t necessarily have the same oomph to it when it’s all newer comics, as the memories behind those are fresher, I love it all the same.

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  1. Except when it comes to how they’ll respond to The Beta Band’s “The Three EPs.”

  2. I mean that legitimately. I was trembling as I went up to the cash register, hopeful the person behind it wouldn’t recognize the grave mistake they were making.

  3. “Are you sure you want to sell this?!” was a regular question.

  4. This is how you end up with a collection that is mostly X-Men and X-Men related comics, Christopher Priest and M.D. Bright’s Quantum & Woody series, Impulse’s one solo series, all of Bone, Y the Last Man and Chew, and more Gen13 comics than I care to admit.

  5. My buddy Brandon loves it, as he claims it’s relaxing. He is insane in my opinion.