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Why I No Longer Want To Collect All The Things

December 15, 2016

They are in pristine condition. As flawless as the day they were printed. I didn’t even trust them to a shelf. Instead I tucked them away in a box for safekeeping.

My prized collection of Schlock Mercenary books.

Sharp eyed readers will notice volumes 1-9, with a few extra copies of a couple. These are no ordinary books. Anyone who wants could visit and order a complete set. It will put you back about $200 and it’s well worth the price.

Howard Tayler, is the brilliant creator, writer and cartoonist responsible for creating these bundles of entertainment. Schlock Mercenary is an online comic. Every year or so, Howard collects the online stories, adds some additional content to make them unique and has them bound into truly beautiful dead-tree editions. 

I have been collecting these since he released the very first one, Under New Management, many years ago. Fortunately, I live close enough to have a chance to occasionally help Howard and Sandra, his business and life partner, ship out new copies to fans all over the world. 

As a generous token of their appreciation, I’ve been able to collect copies of the books. 

These books are not like the books that get shipped out in mailings so large they warned the post office, “You need to bring the big truck.”  This collection, my collection, is probably the most unique and possibly valuable collection of Schlock Mercenary books in existence. The following pictures indicate why.

When Howard gets ready to release a new book, he gives his fans a chance to order them in advance. And for a small number of fans, they can order a copy that is autographed by him and has a personalized sketch of one of the characters in it. Howard refers to it as “vandalizing them.” These books, my books, are all what are known as “Sketch editions.” That would make them valuable enough. But, with the exception of #3, these are sketch editions that are all unvandalized.

If you are not a Schlock fan, it might not mean much. To Howard’s fans, one of which is me, these books are rare enough as to be considered non-existent. And I have a complete set: 1-9 (with the exception of 3.) I had a thought at one point of waiting until the series is complete (somewhere around book 18 is the current estimate) and then imposing on Howard to create a custom story for me with 18 panels in it (although, the 3rd panel would have to be Tagon.)

At that point, I would have all the things, and the most unique collection of Schlock books every assembled. I knew I would have to wait a long time for it, so I made sure to keep the books in pristine condition.

Then, a funny thing happened. My kids started getting interested in the comic. I’m embarrassed to say that they didn’t know it was an online comic. All they ever saw were the dead-tree editions. Not the ones pictured here, of course. These books were practically under glass with a sign saying, “In case of fire, save these first.” But, I had other copies of the books that my kids liked to read.

This week, I pulled out my collection. I marvelled at how vibrant the colors still are after so many years. I took pride in the fact that these don’t have a scratch on them. Not one dog-eared page. No creased pages. Certainly no tears or stains. Yup, I had effectively taken a product my friend made and rendered it completely useless for its original purpose.

What was I thinking?

How stupid is it to buy a book and then not let anyone read it? To hide it in a box? To forbid anyone to touch it for fear it will be somehow damaged?

I realized I didn’t want a complete set of museum pieces. I wanted a set of books that my kids could pull off the bookshelf and lose themselves in for an hour, or an afternoon.

I realized that I no longer wanted to collect all the things. I didn’t want to anxiously wait for Book 18 or 20 or whatever the final number was, only to have my own personal stamp placed on them. So, what’s to do?

I’m returning them to the manufacturer. I reached out to Howard and said,

I have this set of pristine, unvandalized, sketch editions. Could I trade them for similar copies out of the scratch and dent pile?

I have no idea what Howard will do with them. He’s pretty good at thinking up innovative marketing or charity things. Maybe he’ll offer them for auction. Maybe he’ll reward some of his most loyal fans. Maybe, he’ll keep them in a box as a reminder of the early days of his career. I honestly don’t know. All I know is that they became a “thing” to me. Or rather several things. And I no longer wanted to be collecting a thing just to be collecting it.

I’ll get replacement copies, that even if brand new, will soon be dog-eared, and creased, and possibly slightly ripped and perhaps even stained. They will be dropped, and stepped on, and piled onto a shelf and drug back off of it. They’ll eventually get to the point that the’ve been opened and closed so many times that the binding literally falls apart.

At least I hope so.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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(c) 2016 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

  1. This was beautiful. You’ve given me a new appreciation for the beauty of a battered book copy. Thank you.

    • You’re welcome. I think it’s the fact that I’m a writer that make me stop at times and think, books are to be read, and reread, and then loaned out to someone else who will read them, and then given to children to read, and then donated to the library so they can be read some more. And finally, when the book has finally succumbed to the ravages of time and use, it should be donated to the recycle center to be made into new paper and new books.

      • Well, we certainly don’t write words just so they can be cast into the recesses of a box somewhere. By the way, thanks for introducing me to Schlock Mercenary and webcomics all those years ago. It seems to have produced a strange and positive influence.

  2. Jeremy H permalink

    I bought the defaced editions of the books not to keep them under lock and key, but to support the wonderful author that has brought me so much joy over the years. So while my books will get beat up and used like “collector’s editions” probably shouldn’t be, I consider it a necessary sacrifice that will probably make the other defaced editions even more valuable.

  3. At least one of my copies has had its bindings start to fail, so it is just a matter of time. That doesn’t stop me from rereading them on the balcony on nice summer days every year or two. Even if some of them are the vandalized copies.

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