It was a chance conversation on Twitter that started it. Who was the best artist who ever drew Silver Surfer? Jack Kirby or John Buscema? Of course it’s a popular discussion among comic book aficionados and even had a scene dedicated to it in the major Hollywood movie Crimson Tide.
It was when I tweeted this divisive question that West Yorkshire’s secret millionaire came clean: that he, like I, was a comic book obsessive.
Carl Hopkins has many guises: advertising agency guru, prolific Apprentice tweeter, secret millionaire, coffee with Klooger, wannabe Dragon and comic book collector and connoisseur.
Now I like to think I’m no slouch in this world – as a young boy, I avidly collected Marvel comics and I have a huge collection stashed away and a not too shabby knowledge of the Marvel universe. So we agreed to spend an hour or so talking comics – not business or creative industry, but Marvel (with a little DC thrown in, but not much). It was a wonderful indulgence and quite exceptional to be engrossed in conversation about nothing other that superhero characters, artwork, writing, paper, printing techniques and the perils of being a collector.
Carl began collecting whilst at Jacob Kramer College in Leeds (we worked out he was in the year below me I think) whilst studying Graphic Design on the same course. For fifteen years Carl built an impressive collection of modern and classic titles until he realised his obsessive collecting was perhaps a little bonkers – classic sign: buying three copies of a single comic, two for the archive, bagged and sealed, and one to read.
Ever since I was a young lad, I loved collecting too but for some strange reason I was never that hooked on the pristine comic book collection. I always liked the fact that they’d been read and actively swapped comics I’d read for ones I hadn’t. I’ve never been the ultimate completist – but Carl is pretty much the closest I’ve ever met to one.
For Carl it was family reasons that the comic book collecting came to an end (and maybe a realisation it had become more than just a hobby) and now, he has behind a sliding door, a highly enviable collection of books spanning 30 years or more. Anyone who collects comics will be green with envy with the pristine set up: no damp, every copy lovingly wrapped, characters stored in sections- ‘you want Daredevil? Here he is, just here – Frank Miller…?’
Daredevil and Spider Man loomed large – and I can’t disagree with that. These were my two favourite characters from the 1970’s. Matt Murdoch and Peter Parker were the ultimate heroes for a young teenager who didn’t feel exceptional in any way and liked the thought of being an outsider without actually being one.
We agreed to disagree on the best artists for the characters and the names of these artists came readily as you’d expect from a couple of art school boys. For the record, I will always love Ditko and Romita for Spidey and although I confess Miller’s Daredevil is off the scale in terms of coolness, the early Daredevil yellow costume gives me goosebumps.
On this snowy afternoon, I brought along some of these new fangled graphic novels, on shiny paper, showing some of out best-loved old characters reinvented: Thor, Captain America and the marvellous Avengers. Carl caressed the books like an alcoholic who’s not touched a drop for twenty years. I left them for him to take a look at and we swapped books like old collectors do.
For people like Carl and myself, I think comics inhabit a space that hasn’t been entirely filled by the modern world. Movies like Inception are amazing and the effects are incredible, we talk about them for weeks on end. But. And there is a but. Comics created worlds that were so inventive and exciting and weren’t limited by the special effects on the screen – it’s all about the mind and how you create it for yourself.
Inevitably though, comics are bound to be all about escapism they created in the relatively austere times we grew up in the 50/60/70s. But the characters endure and when they are effectively translated to the big screen, the results can be eye-popping (Iron Man is the best adaptation to date) and be as genuinely creative as anything ‘brand new’.
So, the comics were packed up, lest Carl’s young son might find the bright colours too attractive and we finished our coffee and both wondered if it was wise to re-acquaint ourselves with the insistent world of comic collecting. Although I’ve found the instant fix of all the titles wrapped up in a graphic novel just right for me and the my life, I think that Carl would see that as cheating in some way.
Having said all of that, it seems to me in this world the relentless searching, completist collecting and sublime discovery of the comic is almost as good as the read itself.