People that know me will chuckle at this next statement: I am not a very ardent collector. It’s true. Though I own an embarrassing number of books, movies, music recordings, and assorted art and trinkets, I don’t really “collect” them. A collector, to my mind, is someone who lovingly stores and categorizes their chosen wares, someone who understands and maintains the monetary value of a given item. I never cared about any of that shit, it was all I could do to keep the crap off of my bedroom floor, never mind sealing stuff in plastic bags and filing it away in some darkened box. I want to see, to feel, to possess the things that I like. Some collectors seem like they’re only borrowing things from future collectors, appreciating something’s rarity over the actual item. The cache of owning something special is worthless to me if you aren’t intimately aware of its every aspect.
We’ve all got stories of how great our lives would be today if we had kept our childhood accoutrements in pristine condition. I certainly could have afforded several yachts and a steak dinner had I left all of the Transformers toys I received in their original boxes and out of direct sunlight, instead of poking them with heated pins when I was in the sixth grade to simulate bullet holes and battle scars. But then, if I didn’t play with the toys, I wouldn’t have understood the nostalgia today that makes them valuable. A piece of unseen artwork has no value, it’s only after everyone appreciates it that the cost of it, well, appreciates. This is why obsessive collectors strike me as rather sad, often proud of their mint condition whatever-the-fucks that they haven’t touched or seen in a really long time, if ever. Open a museum or something, dude. Preserving the actual Amazing Spider-Man #1 isn’t as important as knowing what happens in the issue. (SPOILER ALERT: Spider-Man uses his super powers to fight villains.)
The only thing I can remember collecting with any devotion was a set of trading cards put out by Topps called Dinosaurs Attack! This was in 1987 or 1988, and right around that time I read about a set of trading cards from the 1960s called Mars Attacks! which piqued my interest. It’s likely that the timing was not coincidental, and I was actually reading some kind of publicity copy for the Dinosaurs Attacks! trading card series that referenced the earlier set. In any case, the promise of seeing dinosaurs disembowel people with maximum gory effect was too much to pass up–this was before Jurassic Park, when depictions of humans with dinosaurs were normally shown side-by-side for size comparison. I wanted to see someone get gnashed between the teeth of a stegosaurus.
It’s rare in life that our expectations are met or exceeded. Even when we set the bar low, reality is almost always disappointing. Once in a great while we are pleasantly surprised by something that delivers exactly as promised, and such was the case with my first pack of Dinosaurs Attacks! cards, immediately exploding in a gush of colorful guts and panic, each as educational about dinosaurs as Rambo is about proper gun maintenance. My dad is really knowledgeable about dinosaurs, but I’m not. I think dinosaurs are cool–who doesn’t, really? But I don’t need to know each of them by name or what their likes and dislikes are. I’m perfectly happy in assuming that they’re all vicious predators that would want nothing more than to smear our innards all over their snouts if the opportunity presented itself.
I ended up spending a lot of my allowance money on these cards until I eventually acquired a whole set. The cards actually told a pretty poorly-written story, culminating in the most horrifying and depressing trading card ever produced in human history. Better than having a complete set of cards were the many doubles that littered every corner of my bedroom while I was in junior high. I’d use them for the covers to mixtapes, draw extra bloody limbs on the artwork, give them away to my friend Justin who likewise appreciated these miniature works of art. In fact, whenever I think of these trading cards, I think of Justin chanting “Day of the Duckbill” in a monotone voice over and over, as he did on one of our recorded cassette tapes of comedy skits largely ripped off from Saturday Night Live. I’m pretty sure that we used that card for the cover of the tape.
If you want to see the entire set without worrying about getting your gummy fingers all over mine, check out Bob Heffner’s Dinosaurs Attack! Home Page here: http://www.bobheffner.com/dinosaursattack/. I didn’t ask his permission to link, but then dinosaurs never ask for permission–only forgiveness.