Sunday, February 24, 2019

A Crowded Life in Comics –

The Origin of the Collecting Bug

Cartoon by Orlando Busino about the Marschall Move from Connecticut.
by Rick Marschall

… or at least my variation of the bacilli.

This is not ancient history, but for the fact that I am ancient. The “origin tale” of how I fast-forwarded to a collection of comics, art, magazines, newspapers, and comics ephemera that fills a house, eight storage units, and corners of friends’ and relatives’ odd spaces.

When I was in first grade, I was already drawing cartoons at a feverish pace for my own enjoyment and, no doubt, the annoyance of neighbors and relatives. I had drawn as early as the first day I discovered which was the working end of a pencil and that it was not intended to probe electrical outlets.

My father was never a cartoonist, never even attempted to draw that I saw. But he was an inveterate cartoon fan. As a teenager he read and saved the cartoon weekly Judge magazine (ironically, when we moved from Ridgewood, Queens, in New York City, to north Jersey, he sold his collection despite transitioning to a larger space that could house them). On Sundays he bought a dizzying array of newspapers, just to read all the funnies he could. Some papers’ main sections he never opened.

We subscribed to the New York Times, the only comics apostate; and the local Record out of Hackensack. (Eventually I was a Record newsboy, and I requested a route that included Al [Mutt and Jeff ] Smith’s house, though it was half an hour by bike, and required me to take more than 100 houses in between.) But Dad subscribed to the Sunday editions of the New York News, the Journal-American, the Herald-Tribune, and the Mirror. Back in New Jersey, we took the Newark Star-Ledger, the Newark News. He induced my uncle to save the funnies of the Long Island Press; an old army buddy saved the Atlantic City Press (which carried all the NEA strips), and friends in Philadelphia saved the color funnies of the Inquirer and the Bulletin.
By the time I was 10, thanks to my father, I probably tracked more comics than Editor and Publisher’s annual syndicate issue. Dad also went to out-of-town newsstands in Manhattan and routinely picked up funnies from far and wide – Chattanooga was exotic to me because its Times bore a resemblance to The New York Times (it also had been founded by Adolph Ochs)… but overflowed with color comics: the only paper I discovered that ran a Standard and Tabloid color section every Sunday. So I had them all, and still do, from black-and-white Sunday sections of newspapers whose unions had not yet bled and struck them to death, to garish Rotogravure sections so shiny I could comb my hair by them.

One can see how my comics and collecting appetites both were nurtured. Of course I saved all these funnies, and was a prototype of the Hoarder of current cable-TV celebrity. My mother used to mutter that her house was turning into the Collier Mansion – that era’s disparagement of collecting, an invidious comparison to a Manhattan brownstone inhabited by two eccentric brothers and such an accumulation of ephemera that callers (eventually, first-responders) could scarcely gain entry. I politely declined the compliment, because I did not save things indiscriminately. For instance, gum wrappers were beyond my ken. At least most of them. Or some of them. Theoretically.

Anyway, my father continued to enable this addiction. When I left home for college – and every day until he died – he dutifully cut the daily comics, too, from the papers where he lived, and saved them with the Sundays for my next visit. Needless to say, he read every comic, and liked discussing them all. The ones that made him laugh out loud most often were Bob Montana’s Archie and Dick Brooks’ Jackson Twins.

So I built a respect for otherwise “normal” people who liked comics, or certain comics, and liked them obsessively. My father-in-law knew the details of every one of Prince Valiant’s adventures. My boss in my first political-cartooning job (William Loeb, HQ’d at his chain’s flagship paper, The Manchester (NH) Union-Leader, used to take time to call me or write notes discussing plotlines in Steve Roper or the gags in Hagar the Horrible. Occasionally Charles Schulz called my house, to do no more than pick my brain about an old strip, or chat about – often venting – contemporary strips.

Cartoon by gag cartoonist Herb Green about the Joy of Moving a Collection...
The collection grew to such a size that it has become a logistical nightmare to move it when I move to new houses. More than two 4-foot moving vans. It is something of a splendid distraction – for a fan, a good problems to have? – but for my cartooning friends, a bit of a subject for merriment.

A couple of drawings, here, done by friends Orlando Busino and Herb Green, when we moved from Connecticut to Pennsylvania. Moving van gags, even almost 35 years ago...



  1. My impression is that no matter how small or large your place is, you can fill it to overflowing with your collections and other stuff.

    I sold off almost all my comics and comics ephemera via Jerry Weist in 2007, my pulps a couple of years ago. Despite that, all my shelves—built when I moved in here by Ted White—are still full, sigh...

    1. Yes! Like some romantic types are in love with being in love, some of us are wired to be collectors. We joke (I joked) that it is a disease, but honestly I think the urge to accumulate (wisely) is borne of a voracious curiosity, and a natural affection for the trappings of our culture.