My students in Art Since 1960 this semester interviewed people they knew who were collectors—self-described or otherwise. Last month I shared the first of these interviews, which covered a wide range of collections and people. This month, I’m sharing an interview carried out by student Scout Marshall; next, we’ll have our final interview, by James Hamilton.
I asked longtime friend Tim Grishcowski (henceforth TG) if he would be interested in being interviewed about his comic book collection. We agreed to meet Friday night at Finnegan’s Pub, in downtown Stillwater. As the interviewer, and someone unfamiliar with comic book culture, I learned a lot. As it turns out, there is a lot more to comic books than idealized anatomy crammed into spandex.
SM: Why did you start collecting comic books?
TG: It started about four years ago because Batman had always been my childhood hero. So I wanted to learn more about his story and began picking up his comics.
SM: Where do you go to find your comics? Is it somewhere in town or do you travel for it?
TG: I go to the Legendary Comic Shop here in Stillwater on Perkins Road. I use Amazon.com and eBay as well, because so many individuals and even companies sell comic books. When I go overseas—I lived in Switzerland for a while—I seek out comics there too. There is a comic scene in Europe very different from that of America.
SM: How is it different?
TG: Well, America’s known for Marvel and DC—they’re called the Big Two—and many other independent comics. Europe is more… well basically they don’t have any superhero comics. It ranges anywhere from western stories to fantasy stories to sci-fi to pulp fiction to romance comedy. There is definitely no testosterone superhero stuff. Most of Europe looks down on the superhero thing.
SM: Do you share your collection with anyone else?
TG: I have friends that are into comics. We share stories, of how we acquired them and then just the diversity of stories. We have never physically shown our stuff before; we just talk about our connections with our collection. I’ve tried multiple times to get my sisters to read some of my comics, but they just aren’t driven by it like I am.
SM: How do you store or display your collection, even if it is just for you?
TG: Most comic collectors have long boxes that are the right size to keep a comic book. If I’m reading a certain story, I’ll take all the books out for that story, and I lay them out chronologically and read it.
SM: Do you consider yourself a collector?
TG: I’m definitely not as hardcore as other collectors I know. I like to keep it on the moderate scale because I only seek what I really like, not just for later rise in value, like a lot of people do. I take pride in my collection. I really take pride in supporting the comic artists and writers that I like, because comic books are technically a collaborative work.
SM: Why is this important, significant, and/or valuable to you?
TG: I am a visual artist—I’m a professional now—and I really appreciate good draftsmen. In the fine art world, a lot of artists don’t take the effort to learn how to draw, but in comics, if you don’t have great draftsmanship skills, you won’t make a living. Being a comic artist is a lot more demanding of a job than people realize. They usually work over 12 hour days. They try to do a page a day, which is doable, but it’s just a lot of work. I also just like the narratives. The only superhero title I collect is Batman and a few other independent comics. When I say independent, that’s just when the creators own the rights to the comic and just write whatever they want, without any outside influence. They own the international property rights, because if you write a story for Marvel or DC, they own whatever you create, and then they just give you a paycheck. It’s a much different system.
SM: How do you choose what to add to your collection?
TG: That is determined by the people that are creating the comics and the kinds of stories that I’m interested in. Right now, I’m really interested in the writer for the mainline Batman title, and of course he’s my favorite superhero, so that meshes really well for me. The artists that are illustrating [Batman] right now, I’m also very into, so it interests me on all sides. I also like to support indie comics, new ideas and creators who are taking risks. I like the ones that tell the stories they want to tell. For the ones that do that, I’ll support their work and buy their comics.
SM: Outside of the superhero comics that you like, were there any of the European topics that appealed to you and stuck with you?
TG: My all time favorite comic artist—and a lot of people probably say he is their favorite—is Mobius. He’s deceased, and he was from France. He began doing comic work for Western style stories, a book called Blueberry. It was a western set in the American Southwest, but it was written and illustrated by a Frenchman. Then, he does his own comics that he wrote and illustrated himself. I would describe them as mystic science fiction; they are very spiritual. He did a lot of work with Joseph Darowski. He’s a famous writer in Mexico and Europe, but not so much in the US. So Mobius was the only famous comic writer that I liked. But he’s deceased now. I will occasionally look for the older books he worked out, but they have an inflated price because they’re collector’s items now. I’ll occasionally look for one and buy it and keep adding to my Mobius collection. He’s also a big influence on my art, because his style and themes resonate with me. He’s an artist that I look up to.
SM: Coming from a person who knows next to nothing about comic books, what could you tell me about comic books that are particularly interesting that could potentially get me involved?
TG: Well, first I would ask you what kind of themes you are interested in. You watch TV, I assume, so what kind of stories do you like to watch?
SM: I like funny shows about the everyday, mundane modern life, such as “Parks and Recreation,” “The Office,” and “Modern Family.” I like shows that point out the everyday quirkiness that we may overlook in our own lives.
TG: The thing is, my collection is actually very diverse, especially after I went abroad and became familiar with the more off beat comics that aren’t masculine centric. So I’m pretty sure that I have at least one book you would like. However, I don’t own any that fit that description you just told me. I do know of comics like that and could point you in the right direction. Immediately, I think of a comic called Maximum Minimum Wage or another called Cleveland that is just about this guy’s everyday experiences of living in Cleveland, Ohio. Since you are also a visual artist, I guarantee you would just love Mobius’s style because anyone who appreciates draftsmanship would love his work.
The connection that Tim shares with his modest and selective comic book collection is centric only to him; he does not collect to show off to anyone and has no intentions of selling his books for a higher price later. It appears he does not even try very hard to reach out to other comic collectors. Unlike many collections, whether it is paintings, sculptures, or stamps, Tim’s collection is displayed only to him, for his own reading pleasure. Usually, when non-collectors think of comic books, the male dominant theme of “superhero” comes to mind. However, Tim collects, not only for his own intrigue, but also to support excellent draftsmen who are “taking risks,” a theme we have discussed in class in the debate of what makes art valuable. The fact that his collection is also valuable to him for its heavy influence on his own work makes his collection undeniably valuable on a personal level. It is important to him for reasons that have ultimately led him to be the draftsman that he is today.