Lightening the load

Got a note from one of our agents today: “I notice that you’re letting go some of your art collection on Heritage – I hope you’re only cleaning the closet and not getting rid of all your visual treats.” (He’s referring to “The Richard and Wendy Pini Collection” auction at Heritage Galleries.)

Well, first of all, no way am I getting rid of all my “visual treats!” I’ve still got eyes in my head, so I’m still eminently open to whatever the world has to display. Even if I stop being a wag and take the comment in context, I’ve still got a lot of bits and pieces of artwork and other imagery here at Elfquest Central to savor. But yes, I did make the decision – one of several, in fact – to see if I couldn’t find new homes for a lot of paintings, drawings, sketches, and pages of comic book art that I’d accumulated over some 30 years of collecting.

Most of my life, I’ve been a collector of one thing or another. When I was very young, it was stamps and coins. Every Friday night my parents would have some friends over for penny poker and every Saturday morning I’d diligently search through the penny dish to see if there was anything I needed for my blue cardboard “Lincoln Cents 1909-19whatever” coin holder. (Found a 1955 double-die cent in there once; thought it was counterfeit. But I still kept it, I report happily in highsight.) In my teen years I started collecting comic books, and there was no way I was going to be one of those “my mother threw them away” victims, nuh uh. My comics were kept in a filing cabinet that I fitted with a honking big steel hasp and padlock for which there was only one key. Even if my folks had wanted to get rid of the cabinet, I don’t think they could have gotten it out the door to my room. Out of college and into the grown-up world my attentions turned to astronomy and the efforts we humans have made over the decades to hurl ourselves into the “final frontier” of space. I started acquiring anything and everything having to do with rockets and launches and astronauts and observatories and… ( Let me tell you, there is some very tacky stuff out there purporting to commemorate our cosmic achievements. A space shuttle spittoon, anyone?) Then there’s the antiquarian books – again, mostly having to do with astronomy but with a generous portion of illustrated children’s books on the side.

And everywhere we moved, this ever-growing accumulation came with. Whether we lived in a small apartment or a larger apartment or a house, we were actually living inside a knick-knack cabinet of increasing size. The normal domestic functions of a home – eating, sleeping – were secondary to the true purpose of the place which was, as George Carlin so bang-on proclaimed, “to hold my stuff.” Up until very recently, the current basement bore a scary resemblance to the warehouse at the very end of “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Literally. Ever see a hermit crab, carrying along not only his shell but a growing concretion of bits and pieces of coral and sand glued to it as well? That was me.

Every so often I’d take a stap back, watch myself as I obsessed over catalogs and auction listings for meteorites and space suits actually worn by lunar astronauts, and I’d wonder what the heck I was really doing? All these tschotschkes I was grabbing and hoarding – was I enjoying them in my life or was it more a case of (as Mr. Spock famously said) the wanting being more rewarding than the having? But then I’d go to a flea market or antiques show and doggone if there wasn’t the neatest space thingy and look at how low the price is!

Not too very long ago, I had a revelation. See, I’d been waffling for two or three years over whether or not to sell my collection of comic books. Yes, I still had the comics I’d had as a kid (although now they were all safely in long boxes, the padlocked filing cabinet having gotten tossed when parental threats were no longer an issue), and I had added mightily to the catalog. Wendy had also loved comics before we met, and when we married suddenly we had also merged our collections! I could still – and can to this day – recall different emotions connected to various stories, and as I waffled I also wondered how I could ever part with these colorful and evocative reminders of past times. The revelation came in the form of the realization that if it was truly the stories I cherished, there were ways – in the form of nice quality reprint volumes – to hang on to those. If it was the content and not the package…then I could eat my cake and have it too. Sell or auction the original comics and keep the archive editions for the memories.

(There was another consideration in the emotional mix too, though it’s not one people generally like to talk about or even admit to. But what the hell, right? This is a blog! And that consideration was, simply, did I want to haul all this stuff around with me for the rest of my life? Would all those long boxes become like Marley’s chains? A longtime collector the Wendy and I knew recently passed away leaving several storage sheds full of magazines, books, and memorabilia, much of it untouched in years. Is that what collecting is all about, I had to ask myself?)

So when a very nice fellow named John Petty from Heritage Galleries came up to Poughkeepsie to assess the comic book collection, I took another deep breath and asked him, “Do you guys handle science fiction, fantasy and comic book art too?” And the answer was, “You betcha!” Which is how a lot of artwork that I’d purchased over the years – little of which ever saw the light of day and hung upon a wall – ended up in the auction that’s going on right now. (There’s Elfquest art in the auction too, but that’s for another blog. Maybe I’ll write it, maybe Wendy will, maybe we’ll take turns.) John spent three days with me going through everything here, and I will say it was both a nerve-wracking and exhilarating time. Nerve-wracking because I was finally letting go of things I’d had my fingers wrapped around for years. Exhilarating because I was finally letting go. Stuff I hoarded will find new homes, hopefully with people who’ll be able to appreciate it even more than I thought I did.

Which is not to say I’m sweeping the house barren! But part of the revelation was that there are things you keep because you love them, and there are things you keep because you think you need them to complete yourself in some way. Everything – and everyone – I love, is still right here, whether “here” is my library or my heart. I just no longer believe I need to look for happiness or completion in an unbroken, pristine mint run of The Fantastic Four…which went to pot as a series anyway years ago.

I feel tons lighter, spiritually. And it feels wonderful!