Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Lillian Chan's Batgirl Project and memories of my own

And over at Empty Bamboo Girl, Lillian Chan-- an ace cartoonist in her own right-- details her ongoing quest to collect all the Cassandra Cain comic book appearances.  She's even set up a page to catalog all her finds.  It's her Batgirl Project.  She's such a fan, she's even going after Batgirl:  Redemption Road.  That, my friends, is dedication.

This takes me back.  I've done the same thing so many times.  Love and Rockets, HateNexusXenozoic Tales, Gen13, Micronauts.  For each of those, I got so caught up in the stories I couldn't stop thinking about them and about my next purchase.  Where would it come from?  When would it be?  On my way to the store, I'd be so pumped on adrenaline I walked twice as fast as my usual pace in my hurry to get there and see what I could find.  Along came Cass.  Oh man, it was exciting combing the back-issue bins at various comic book shops-- okay, just four comic book shops-- to find a Batgirl here or there.  Like a treasure hunt.  The rush wasn't quite as intense because, unlike Nexus or Xenozoic TalesBatgirl was still an ongoing title.  Back issues weren't too difficult to come by then.  The money to buy them all in one go was.  That's a major part of what sustained the quest-like feel:  knowing I had to budget myself.

The American stage of my Cass-quest took place in Athens and Albany, Georgia.

The Athens store always made me feel kind of weird about buying superhero comics.  I love them, of course, and my Cass addiction drove me to dare crazy things, but this store is up some gray concrete steps, in an old building with worn hardwood floors and intimidatingly stocked with art books, self-published titles and highbrow comics.  More of a Comics Journal than a Wizard type place; obviously, I'm being hyper-sensitive and projecting my own silly insecurities.  I mean, when I think about it, the owner was always super kind to me.  He taught me how to pronounce Kamandi, sometimes slipped cool freebies into my bag, was the source of my first Xenozoic Tales and Love and Rockets comics.

If you bought a Cass Batgirl, he'd ask you if you knew anything about Alex Toth's Black Canary stories and point to the latest issue of Comic Book Collector magazine.  I love that kind of thing.

The Albany store, way down in the deep, deep south, is more of a sports card/NASCAR collectibles place that happens to carry each month's mainstream books.  A shopping center retailer.  Which, for me, took a lot of pressure off to maintain the pose of the sophisticated, urbane graphic novel reader.  I didn't feel the need to add a copy of Eightball to my purchases.  The two women who ran it back then-- they still do, as far as I know-- were chatty about baseball and softball and what cards were moving that month.

If you came to the register with a handful of Batgirl issues, they'd offer to call their other store and see if they could have more shipped, just for you.  I love that, too.

Then I moved to Japan, where American comics are difficult to find.  Not impossible, just rare and expensive.  The first city I lived in carried Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and one or two of the X-Men titles and they ran about six bucks each after they factored in the exchange rate and import fees.  The second city had the same comics.  So I did a little Internet research and found better sources.  After a few trips to Blister in Tokyo (Manga no Mori Presents American Comix died abruptly and I still mourn; the Manga no Mori in Ikebukuro carries very few English-language titles), I'd manage to corner the market on Cass here.

I bought every single issue of Batgirl available in Japan.  You cannot find any because I own them.  If James Bond's greatest foe was Goldfinger, then I became Batgirlfinger.  The only thing I wouldn't do is irradiate someone else's collection to make mine more valuable.  The value is in the reading and sharing, involving others in Cass.  But that's the only difference.  I even cheat at golf.  Miniature golf.

Soon after, DC cancelled Cass's book and that was that.  I held onto the comics and started buying the paperback collections.  These I could get from Amazon.jp and from Tower Records in Shibuya.  Eventually, those fell out of print.  Blister-- now in a more isolated, difficult to reach, location-- continued to stock Batgirl:  Fists of Fury, but since I owned that and the issues it contains, for me the hunt seemed over.

Until I discovered Comixology.  Then the obsession started all over again.  And this blog.  I started buying Cass again from the beginning.  I even expanded my collection by buying some other comics in which she appears, ones I'd overlooked.

Anyway, that's the story of my own Batgirl Project.  I'm going to keep up with Lillian Chan's and hope she keeps going with it.  The excitement is infectious and really brings back a lot of fun memories.  Maybe someone at DC will notice, too, and put Cass in a new story.  I'm pretty sure there are at least two people who would buy it.

Oh, and if anyone's interested in getting his or her geek on in Tokyo, here's a link to a nice list of comic book and hobby stores.  You can see for yourself how few carry American titles.  Finding Cass in the wild seems as likely as shaking hands with Sasquatch.  Also, I've been there before you.  But warning-- I'm not sure when this was compiled so it may be VERY outdated by now.  Your best bet for mainstream American stuff is still Blister.  Which has very limited hours and where you'll only find Fists of Fury and maybe Destruction's Daughter.

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