Thor Observations 1: The Tangibles

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I have pushed through my first 25 issues of The Mighty Thor. The experience has been a surprisingly pleasant one so far. I had anticipated that the quality of the stories would be the limiting factor in how quickly I could read each issue. It turns out that the limiting factor is the density of the plot.

These older comics are so dense, contain so much dialogue, that it takes 3 to 4 times longer to read each single issue. This preponderance of plot is offset by lower quality artwork. I have some additional thoughts on this subject, but I will reserve those for another post.  Maybe after I have a chance to bounce some ideas off my friends.

Right now, I want to focus on my very first impressions, the really superficial “judge a book by it’s cover stuff.”

Age.  First of all, these comics were not Thor circa 1993, like I had guessed. This collection starts with The Mighty Thor #335 which was published in 1983. The cover price is $0.75, the following issues drop back down to $0.60.

Color Printing. There isn’t much to say here. Color printing has obviously improved tremendously in the last 30 years. I can only imagine how an artist with a time machine would feel if she could see the subtlety and range available in current print comic books. Tears of joy.

Paper Quality. Older comics were not printed on glossy paper. The old single issues I’ve been handling are all softer and grittier feeling. I love the feel of my current pull list, especially the upgraded paper for various Image titles like East of West. I want to touch these older comics as little as possible, like with just the very tip of my index finger if I can manage to turn the page that way. On the other hand though, old Thor smells like an antique bookstore and I take a nice big noseful each time I open a bag to read the next issue.

When I look at the increase in the price of comics books over the last thirty years, I often forget to account for additional improvements above and beyond standard inflation.

Location of Credits. Thor is the only name appearing on the exterior of these single issues. On the interior page, the full title of the comic, at the top of the page reads Stan Lee Presents: The Mighty Thor. At the bottom of the page in no more than 12 point font, are the names of the creative team, which includes the editor and editor-in-chief, who are given equal billing. None of the names are larger than any others, which I suppose is fair.

This is intriguing to me because there have recently been Twitter discussions regarding crediting creative teams in modern comics. We’re currently at a point where comic book marketing is frequently built around the writer and artist roles, with coloring and letters as an afterthought. I wonder if comic book creators consider the present state as progress compared to 30 years ago. There’s no longer equal treatment, but at least some creators seem to be getting more recognition. It’s seeming like this could be a zero sum issue. I dunno, is fame a conserved quantity?

Prelude: Journey into Reading ALL THE THOR

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I am going to read a lot of 90s Thor in a very short period of time.

During the summer of 2013, my local comic book store changed locations. The store had been situated in the Rotunda, a shopping center, adjacent to a small movie theater and a local Sbarro clone. After losing the anchor grocery store, the location was unable to attract a new large tenant and there was significant turnover in the the smaller businesses. The owner decided to turn the site into combined retail, offices, luxury condominiums, and additional parking.  It was a reasonable decision, but made on an accelerated time schedule that was inconsiderate of the current tenants. I believe that the comic book store had 30 days notice to find a new location and vacate.

When my LCS moved to their new location, they sold about half of their inventory and then boxed up and moved everything else. I responded to a call for volunteers to help with unpacking boxes of books. It’s funny because I remember I was recovering from a cold that weekend, and I remarked that I had gotten my germs onto almost every book and surface in the entire store. Once all the boxes were empty, I was told that if I showed up again I would be trained to use the cash register. They asked, Are you sure you can’t do weeknights?

That is the long and winding story of how during the winter between 2013 and 2014, I came to be working in my local comic book store one evening per week. At this point, all of the employees were volunteers, paid in the store credit equivalent of inventory; i.e. you got your pull list for free.

I volunteered on Saturday nights. Alone. In downtown Baltimore. I have an incredible number of stories about my evenings there, hopefully I will get all of the other stories out of my brain before I forget them.

One night a man comes in carrying a long box. He claimed that when he moved into his house 10 years ago, these comics were in the garage. Now he was moving to a new house and hoping to get rid of the books for a few dollars. I think he added some detail about, he put the boxes in his truck, and that they had actually already sold the house so he couldn’t just put them back, and blah blah blah. I don’t know. In any other situation I would have told him that I don’t care, but I was in ‘retail employee mode.’ You know, that mindset where you try to make people happy.

Like most people who try to sell comic books to our store, this gentleman was under the delusion that these things would be worth real money. He had no idea that comic books from the 90s are dime-bin fodder at best, and might more useful to an art teacher who wants to do a decoupage activity with her second graders. I’m also sure it never crossed his mind that the long box was originally abandoned because it was full of all the shitty, random books that the original owner didn’t want anymore. No serious collector would just forget an entire long box when he was moving.

Even if the books had been worth anything, there was no one on staff who could appraise the comics, and definitely no one working in the store that night. Unfortunately, the customer was adamant that he couldn’t take the books back. If I didn’t take the books from him somehow he was going to throw them into the dumpster behind the store.

At this point everything moved into slow motion like where you’re watching yourself and you can’t stop no matter what. I looked into the box. Bagged and boarded. Okay. Thor, it’s almost 100% Thor, okay. They are in the box in order. A sequential, bagged and boarded box of Thor. Oh, you have another box in the car. So almost 400 comics, bagged, boarded, in order with crossovers and tie-ins. ugh, yeah, I’ll just take them from you. Personally, I will buy these from you. I gave the guy about $40. I think, it might have been less. I don’t remember properly because I had already mentally moved onto logistics of how much it would suck to carry two long boxes up 4 flights of stairs. I got them home, I went through them once to see what was there, I found an Infinity Gauntlet trade, some really really crappy singles in the bottom, and then I pushed the long box behind the guest bedroom door and never looked at them again until it was time to move.

I moved the comics. I carried each long box down to my car, drove across the state, and carried them back up 3 flights of stairs. I told myself that I liked Thor and Sif and Loki and that I did really want to read these at some point. I could take an hour each weekend and read a trades worth. But no. I never did. Part of being a comic book fan is feeling guilty about not reading all of the comics.

I promised myself and my fiance that Thor would not be moving with us. That the next time those comics left our apartment they were either going to a comic book store that accepts back issues, to the post office to be swapped with someone else, or to the dump. These comics were not going to be coming to our next home.

Then we started house shopping. A few weeks ago, when we saw that house we wanted to make an offer for, the one that broke our hearts, part of me was happy. Another large part of me was relieved to know that I wouldn’t be trying to read 400 issues of Thor in only a month. Knowing that we would continue house shopping, that my day of judgement was approaching, I started reading some of these books. That was the beginning of July, the beginning of my descent into madness…

House Shopping Disaster, The Second

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We went to an open house without our agent. We weren’t expecting the home to be a realistic option for us, but we were a little bored and it was a good excuse to get out of the apartment. First impressions were good, but not perfect.

Over the next few days, the house grew on me. The yard was amazing with a good fence for privacy and for protecting a large dog. The open floor plan on the first floor was really nice. The entire upstairs could be turned into a private owner’s suite, with a walk in closet and a small workspace for each of us. However, we weren’t crazy about the current aesthetic of the home interior and I had doubts about how comfortable we would be moving into a house without central AC.

That yard though.

Almost a month after the house was originally listed, it was still on the market. We have been house shopping in this area for a while, we knew that the home was overpriced. How low can we go? We went for a second visit with our realtor.

Walking up to the front door, well the bird bath in the front yard is broken and just sitting on the ground. When did that happen? Why didn’t the seller throw it away? Oh, the linoleum floor in both bathrooms is barely attached to the floor anymore. That unique paint job actually just stops in the middle of the wall once you get to the top of the stairs, the owner didn’t bother to tape off at the corner. There is a crack in the ceiling. There is an electrical socket in the middle of the floor but the cover isn’t screwed down. Carpet tacking strips, there was a quarter inch perimeter of the entire house where the floors needed to be refinished. There is still asbestos insulation around the plumbing in the basement. There is a support pole in the basement that appears to be jacking up the house, and it is preventing a closet door from closing. Why didn’t they just remove the door? There is a cracked window, COME ON, THAT GLASS ONLY COSTS $150 TO REPLACE!

Let’s be clear, this home was not a foreclosure. This was a currently occupied home, impeccably decorated (just in a style that I hate), and priced at a premium. In fact, it was so overpriced that our agent warned us that the bank appraisal would probably not support our offer.

We low-balled them, knowing that no one else had made an offer yet, knowing that the home inspection would be complicated, but also knowing that the meager improvements to this house had been a labor of love. After coming in about 15% under the asking price we got shot down, obviously.

The seller’s agent provided us with a list of comparable recent sales in the area that were supposed to justify the ludicrous asking price. The list included houses in higher income neighborhoods, houses with central AC, houses with finished basements, houses with a front porch, houses with a hot tub on a covered patio, and only one house sold within the last six months. The list of “comparable” houses only convinced us that our target house was totally overpriced and reminded us that there were really great houses available at the price point we were trying to find. There was no need to compromise and try to get a deal on this house.

The seller was hoping to net a certain number, which was higher than our maximum escalation. But interest rates were going up now, fluctuating by more than an eighth of a percent overnight. The difference between what we thought the house was worth and the seller’s walk away point was less than the extra interest we might be charged by delaying a contract. I wish I didn’t know math sometimes, because interest rates shouldn’t be the deciding factor when you choose to buy a house.

That yard though.

We were close to just offering at their target net amount. We figured that a low appraisal would simply result in a price negotiation, and a home inspection would identify enough defects to bring the house back down to our original price estimate. We were about to buy a very nice yard with an okay house attached to the front.

After the holiday weekend and the drama of not learning to ride a motorcycle we were exhausted. Therefore, in what might be one of the most mature decisions we’ve made this calendar year, we delayed the decision to actually buy a house until we weren’t so tired. Meanwhile, the seller lowered the price over the holiday weekend and another offer finally came through.

The house was not worth a bidding war. At the time I was tremendously frustrated. I wanted the yard. I couldn’t understand why the seller was so certain his house was the greatest thing ever; if he liked his house so much why wouldn’t he repair the broken window first?

I no longer regret the missed opportunity to own this house. I only regret that I can’t be there for the ‘I told you so moment.’ I want to see the look on the seller’s face when he realizes that the home inspection yielded a 50 item long to-do list. I want to explain to him why we offered so little, to explain how things like leaving a paint job half finished suggest that your DIY improvements might have also been half-assed.

I also know that there are some people with such radically different minds, who can’t reason rationally about something so important as a large investment. This seller is a such a man, someone who goes through life primarily feeling instead of thinking, someone with almost exactly the opposite value system that I employ. The world definitely needs such people, but I don’t want them in charge of home maintenance.

We’ll probably remain indignant about this encounter for the rest of our lives, but by all practical measures we’ve already moved on. We’ve got a contract on a different home right now. A month from now we might be moving into our first house.

living in the present is being stuck in the middle

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The Past

There’s something funny about the internet, about journaling, about knitting, about anything that keeps a record of the past. Sometimes you want to build a wall and separate yourself from that past. I’ve been feeling that a lot recently, that I want to delete everything and start over with a clean slate. I know that this feeling is normal sometimes. I also feel like the healthiest response to these feelings is to build a mental wall, but to not actually deny the reality of the past.

As an aside: I think it’s hilarious when I see users on Instagram or Twitter go through and completely delete everything. Deleting your history doesn’t fool anyone, and imagining that everyone cares is vanity approaching narcissism. I understand the feeling; I don’t understand how this connects to the impulse to action. It seems like I have a tighter valve on that section of my brain.

I’ve been letting history and baggage keep me from action though. I keep dragging a list of ‘shoulds’ around with me, and then I compare that list to everything I have finished. It’s not a great mindset and I end up wasting a lot of energy.

For example, when I look at how often I haven’t been writing, I have direct evidence of how I have disappointed myself, and then I need to cope with those emotions before I can actually start writing something new. After forgiving myself for being lazy, I only have enough energy remaining to write a paragraph and then save a draft. Sometimes I feel like if I just delete this evidence, if delete everything I’ve already written, then it will be easier to move forward and write more. That’s silly.


The Future

Conservation of mental energy helps me understand why external factors can be great personal motivation. Making decisions takes energy. When an extrinsic force makes the decision for me, it leaves me with more reserves for managing execution.

Looking forward, I can see a huge external factor that will drive most of my decisions for the next few years. Knowing that everything will change soon makes it difficult to devote myself to exerting any efforts immediately. Why should I invest energy and effort to get back in the habit of running regularly, when my entire schedule will change in a month? Why should I clean up my comic book reading pile when I’m just going to cram them all in a box in a few weeks?

I am excellent at rationalizing inaction.


The Present

So now I’m in one of those weird hurry up and wait situations… again. I’m excited and anxious which means I don’t sleep well, which means that I have less energy, which means I’m even less active than usual, which means I’m more disappointed, which also wastes energy. If I’m not careful, I will wind myself into a little knot contented to push off all of the ‘shoulds’ and wallow on the sofa in a puddle until I’m poked from the outside.

I have been in this exact spiral before. The last time, I just started excessively planning ahead. I systematically packed all of my belongings and started moving my belongings across the state, one car load at a time. I found this long, drawn out process preferable to waiting for a single afternoon on the weekend. The anticipation was going to drive me insane otherwise.

I think that this time around, a more suitable solution would involve making some short term goals. If I can focus on accomplishments that have nothing to do with next month then maybe I won’t feel like a waste of life between now and then. Whatever goal I choose needs to be more realistic than ‘reading 200 comic books’, and slightly more involved than ‘do your laundry.’ Step one would be some brainstorming, you know, that planning to plan phase where I can further rationalize and procrastinate to delay achievements.

Back to Business

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For some reason I had assumed that when we got back from vacation my life would immediately snap back to normal. Better than normal, actually. In my imagination when we came home I wouldn’t be tired or distracted or bored at work. Instead I’ve been flustered by useless feedback, technical malfunctions, and a cat that wants to sit on my face at 4 am. I’ve been accomplishing less than usual and having meltdowns for no discernable reason. There should be a warning label on my forehead right now.

I’m planning to try to sleep early tonight. I tried that last night, but the cat guaranteed that my efforts yielded fewer net hours of rest. Surely she can’t bother me two mornings in a row, surely if I try exactly the same strategy everything will work out perfectly and I am not crazy.

I’m also planning to try to restructure my morning routine. For the last year, I’ve been taking cues from my fiance, for instance I wait for him to finish getting dressed before I start picking out my clothes. Unfortunately that man is blessed with a flexible, laid back attitude that allows him to mix up his morning routine while still maintaining his status as a functional human being. He can leave a few minutes early or a few minutes late, he can shower before or after breakfast, all with no repercussions. He’s like a morning superhero. Morning Man? Heh. heh… I think that sounds like something else.

Mornings are not a good time to communicate about anything. Especially not silly logistical issues where the potential to misunderstand each other is huge. Seriously, I know I sound like a nutcase when I try to convince another adult that my success for the entire day is determined by whether I’m already wearing shoes at 8:15am. In fact, just a few hours later, all I can feel is confusion and frustration with myself.

So with a few hours and few meals as perspective, we’ve agreed to flip the script. We’ve decided that I’ll be the one to set the pace in the mornings. I don’t know if I’ll be able to remember this decision in the morning with a half functioning brain, but it’s worth a try.

I fully expect that the net result of this transition will be no overall gains in life satisfaction while I go back to blaming myself for everything that goes wrong. Can I arrange to have the coffee injected directly into my skull 15 minutes before I wake up? Is there any way to prevent my animal brain from taking over and ruining everything while I’m still exhausted?

House Shopping Disaster, the First

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I might function better when I’m slightly sleepy. The parts of my brain that don’t want to focus seem to be quiet. My standards for productivity are lower. I get to really indulge in caffeine and sugar with less guilt because I need it. Exhaustion isn’t a thing to fear maybe.

At some point in the last few weeks I might have thrown together some half baked notions about house hunting, what I was feeling, what I expected. I think those notes got accidentally deleted, but that doesn’t change the fact that yes, we’re shopping for a house, and yes, I’m relatively freaked out about the entire process.

I find it surprising and (surprise!) frustrating that the process isn’t more standardized. My parents have purchased homes at least 4 times that I can remember, and each situation was completely different for them. Beyond the most generic advice of ‘location, location, location’ and ‘think of the resale value’ their advice isn’t relevant for our current market. My co-workers, who mostly bought homes a decade ago, or purchased custom new construction townhomes also don’t have much help to offer with regards to order of operation and which step comes next in the overall process.

We have an interesting set of requirements to balance. We’re willing to buy a house that isn’t move-in ready, if it’s at the lower end of our price range. However, we’re not in a position to buy a house that needs so much work that we can’t live comfortably there while we gradually add updates. So essentially, we’re willing to update a kitchen or add a bathroom. Maybe we’re willing to install air conditioning, but not also update all of the windows and electrical simultaneously. Essentially, what we’re after is a house that has been well maintained regardless of the current aesthetic.

What we’re finding instead are a plethora of homes with superficial improvements implemented unprofessionally. These updates are often layered on top of each other. For example, we saw a home last night where there had been new cabinets installed in the kitchen about ten years ago. There were awkward small cabinets above the sink. What could we possibly use those cabinets for? We opened the cabinets to check and found that the cabinets were mostly blocked off with 2x4s, possibly structural. There was wiring  and light fixture in there which illuminated the sink basin area, so it turned out that the cabinets didn’t have real bottoms either. I mean, it wasn’t horrible, it’s just a little weird, but I would rather not spend money undoing someone else’s improvements, only to discover that the inexplicable protrusion into that second bedroom is actually totally explicable by some constraint that will require us to completely change the floorplan of the home to work around.

The few listing’s we’ve seen online that were actually move-in ready were off the market in less than a week. Think about that. A house goes on the market over the weekend and by Wednesday, multiple families have already viewed the home and gotten preliminary financing and an offer in place, and simultaneously the buyer has instigated a bidding war and declared a winner. Don’t these people have jobs, or lives, or laundry? Do they really have nothing better to do than to stalk the neighborhood waiting for homes to go on the market? I’m afraid that to get a really good house we will have become similarly aggressive. It could be the end of the school year is driving everyone crazy.

The home we saw last night was a nearly perfect match for us in a nearly perfect location. One of my favorite features was the potential to use the entire basement level as a master bedroom suite. I also really liked the yard and the style of the stone patio. I was less enthusiastic about the kitchen, but I knew that in the range of the asking price we would have been able to afford to remodel the interior after a year or two. Despite making several calls during our appointment, our agent was unable to get in touch with the listing agent. We didn’t think anything of it at the time; we were just excited to be putting an offer in a house we loved.

Too excited to sleep, my fiance checked his phone and started cursing a moment later. Worse than being outbid, the house had been put under contract while we were viewing the property. In my imagination, the seller’s agent didn’t answer his phone because he was too busy helping his client review the offer they were about to sign. My soul was crushed. It was the moment when you realize that the hot guy in your class is graduating, or your newest crush is from Europe and going home in a week, when you realize that your love is unrequited entirely for circumstances beyond your control. So unprofessional, I thought, fuck them! The next moment, I wonder if they will accept a backup offer, maybe something will go wrong with the first deal. No! Nevermind, I don’t want that house just to spite them! What if the house across the street is available, would I be comfortable driving past that house every day? We’re never going to buy a house if people keep fucking us over like that! Maybe we should just make a lowball offer on that crappy fixer up-er we saw a few weeks ago, no one else wants her, so I’m sure she’ desperate enough to put out by now.

It was alarmingly similar to a fight with a friend. I knew that house shopping was emotional, but I really wasn’t prepared for the emotions to be like those I reserved for humans. So I guess the thing to do is to get over it like it’s a breakup. I have to delete my links and clear my browser history to discourage myself from lingering on the listing – which still indicates that the house is available, by the way. I get to have a short period of indulging in my misery, self medicating with chocolate and sharing my righteous indignation with any friend who will listen to me. We’ll be getting out of town for a few days soon, so a change of scenery will be a great external factor to break up negative thought patterns. We will make sure that the next few houses we visit are in a different style and neighborhood so that direct comparison is less obvious. I dunno, maybe we will never get over our first house love.

I had a lot of coffee today and it wasn’t enough.

Before and After

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I hadn’t really intended to perform a formal before and after comparison about my comic book convention emotions, but the experience was surprisingly introspective for me. I’m happy and pleasantly surprised to have found my notes from last Friday. As an aside, apparently I start writing little stories and notes to myself quite often, and then just abandon the words in unnamed files in a miscellaneous google drive folder. There may be some interesting archeology in store in the next few weeks, or at the very least a great digital purge.

There were some logistical concerns about the convention, issues that I might write about some other time. I think the important thing there is that I always get frustrated when I see an operation that is less than optimal. I want everything to be efficient, clean, effortless. Energy wasted on worries about the arrangement of the convention hall is energy that I can’t spend connecting with the people around me.

My first observation about the convention is that while I was relatively happy and energetic, I was not relaxed to the extent that I had hoped. It seems like whenever I’m playing travel agent, I’m not able to feel completely free from responsibility. I don’t want to say that my fiance gets in my way, or that I can’t really be myself when he’s around, but those thoughts are close to what I’m feeling. If I were paying less attention to my thoughts, I might accidentally say them out loud, with a negative connotation. He’s a constraint for sure, but one that’s largely good for me. Fuck, there’s no way to make this sound good. At least I was somehow aware of my attitude as it unfolded.

Then I start the second guessing. At a comic book convention it is possible to simultaneously feel amazing about yourself and terrible, and to oscillate between the two rapidly. At one table you’re overwhelmed, you want to offer a sincere compliment, to make a good impression on someone you admire, but they are too cool, you can’t manage it without fumbling. Then at the next table, the guy at the front of the line is staring stare intently at an artist, making deep eye contact while stroking the corner of the table. The artist smiles at you in relief when you’re halfway normal and just want to buy one of his books. You feel like a complete bad ass as long as you don’t open your mouth too often. Maybe at the next table you become the table caressing miscreant. We’re all at our best and our worst after being stuffed into a warehouse for a few hours.

The next day, I was exhausted, I’m still exhausted. The type of tired where you don’t want to talk to anyone, where you can’t get yourself to make any decisions, not even about the clothes you want to wear. We went to dinner at our friend’s place and I could barely convince myself to shower and wear shoes. I got frustrated because “3 or 4 in the afternoon”wasn’t specific enough for me to pretend to make plans around. I went for a run and it hit me…

I am still trapped under the “supposed to” fog. I have an immense mental list of things that I feel like I’m supposed to accomplish. Instead of just doing something, I decide to waste a few minutes relaxing before I get started, but I don’t let myself do anything I would really enjoy. The net result is that I procrastinate indefinitely, I don’t accomplish anything important, and I also don’t do anything that makes me happy or calm or relaxed. It’s a terrible way to go through life. If only I had the energy to change that… maybe I need another vacation.