Feb 17, 2014

The Value of Old-School

You can't put a price on everything.  Or can you?  I can't remember who said "If something exists, it exists in some quantity that can be measured", but it sounds pretty good at first glance.  I thought about this quote the other day when I finally took my daughter to one of the old comic book stores I used to go to when I was in High School.  It's the kind of place where the people behind the register are always in some animated comic-related discussion when you walk in, but never talk to you, except briefly in numbers.  As in, "That'll be ten eighty."

The center of the rectangular floor plan is dominated by tables.  On the tables are white comic boxes filled with back issues in plastic sleeves.  Around the perimeter of the room are slanted shelves displaying all the latest comics.  A few posters and action figures (can I still call them that?) are shoved in a corner, but let's ignore them for now.  The back issue boxes are relatively organized alphabetically and by publisher, but there's still the occasional outlier.  Sometimes, I've even found old D&D modules stuffed in the cardboard boxes.

You can look at the customers and get a sense of who they are, not just by their clothing, but in where they spend their time in the room.  Are they patiently digging through back issues in a specific area?  Are they casually flipping through a few, then moving on to the next box?  Are they walking the perimeter, glancing at all the shiny new covers?  Are they carefully combing through the latest issue of Astonishing X-Men, looking for the most pristine mint copy they can find?

Can you guess which customer I am?

My daughter is nearly five, so she can't even peer over the white boxes.  Even if she could, I don't think she'd exercise the patience to look through back issue after back issue.  The most current comics, facing the customers, dazzling eyeballs with a plethora of vibrant colors, and within grabbing distance and little fingers, clearly win the bid for my daughter's attention.

Let me back up.

I used to live in Cincinnati, then I married a woman living in Cleveland and moved north.  Whenever I make the five-hour trip home I try to squeeze in at least one little father-daughter excursion into my childhood.  Taking her to a comic book store has always been high on my list, but I had to wait until she was old enough.  By "old enough" I mean she could understand this talk that I had with her in our car after I had pulled into a snow-covered parking space in front of the comic book store I used to frequent:

"Alright, kiddo, we're here."
"What is it, daddy?" peering around the passenger seat, still buckled in her child's car seat.
"This is a comic store.  I used to go here when I was a kid."
"Before you grow up?"
"Yep, before I grew up.  You know cartoons like Spongebob and Rabbids?"
"I love Rabbids!"
"This store sells books that are like cartoons.  I'll let you pick two.  Any two you'd like."
"Really!?  Awesome!?" struggling to release catch.
"Hold on.  Before we go in, let's talk about rules.  First, stay by me.  Second, don't touch anything unless you ask me first, ok?"
"Ok, daddy."
"What are the rules?"
"Don't touch..."
"Good enough."  I get out of the car, release my daughter, and, hand-in-hand, we cross the slippery lot and step into the fluorescent-lit interior.

So my daughter invariably selects two comic books that she can recognize; Spongebob and Adventure Time.  I spend the few minutes in which my daughter can muster a semblance of patience, digging through a few random back issue boxes before settling on some Conan and Kull the Conqueror issues from the early 80s.

We interrupt the raging comic argument between the two guys at the register to pay.  I hand over a twenty-dollar bill without even thinking about the prices, but when I finally get my daughter re-secured in her car seat and pull her Spongebob comic out to hand her for the ride home, the receipt flips out on to my lap.  I glance at it in surprise.  My several back issues of Conan and Kull were in very good shape and are full of relatively dense text and excellent art.  The page count is higher than most current comics.  However, I paid less for all of my back issues combined than I did for a single new comic for my daughter.  At this point my mind wanders to my basement over two hundred miles away.

In my basement I have my original Playstation and Playstation 2.  I love a lot of the RPG games for those systems.  Lunar, Final Fantasy, Persona, Xenogears, ... the list goes on.  I still play them to this day.  Oh sure, I have an Xbox 360 with internet and Netflix, but I still love some of the low-bit games.  It's not a luddite rejection of current games, but an appreciation for the story, characterization, and world creation from some of the old games.  The point to which I'd like to direct your attention, however, is the price tag on these games.  I bought most of them via eBay for a sliver of a fraction for what I'd pay for the current generation games.  A lot of times I'll simply enter "RPG" and select "Playstation One" to quickly find countless excellent games for under ten bucks, let alone under the typical $60 price tag for current games.

Tabletop role playing games are a lot like that.  A lot of times you can find systems on PDF for free.  Even if you like print versions, you can find older games for pennies on eBay or Amazon.  I bought a copy of Mentzer's Red Box still in plastic wrap for ten bucks.  I bought a lot of 20 Vampire:  The Masquerade and Palladium books for under 50 bucks a while back.  Recently I spent a whopping 23 bucks on 8 books and 12 miniatures from Troll & Toad.

While there are plenty of opportunities to pay top dollar for OSR products such as Lamentations of the Flame Princess, Goodman Games, and Frog God products, there are many more affordable options.  If you're willing to wait, you can often get your entertainment on the cheap.  That's pretty cool.

After a tearful farewell to my mom (as hard-nosed and orc-like as I sometimes try to sound here, I must admit to having a soft heart when it comes to family farewells) and five hours of interstate driving, I finally steer my car into the garage.  It's late, so I put my daughter to sleep, then settle on the couch with a beer in one hand and the remote control in the other.  Even though my body has done nothing but sit for the last few hours, I always feel exhausted after such a long drive, and it feels good to zone out with some Italian horror films from the 70s.  I pause the movie to get another beer, but stop at the base of the stairs.  A strange sound scratches at my ears.  I slowly creak up the stairs and peer around the corner into my daughter's dark room.  It's clearly the source of the sound.

She's sitting in her bed with her Flashflight Friend (it's a kid's toy; kind of like a flashlight built into a stuffed animal).  She holds her new comic book on her lap and pretends to read the words on each frame before turning the page (she can't read full sentences yet).  I watch for a few minutes, fighting tears, before sneaking back downstairs.

15 comments:

  1. You sound like good dad, my man. From one Northeast Ohio dad to another, good on you and way to go. I introduced my girls to old-school roleplaying games this weekend and it was incredible fun.

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    1. Awesome! I look forward to such a time.

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  2. Great story. Really, a great story.

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  3. >LIKE<

    Terrific story.

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    1. Thanks Boric. BTW, I dropped PDF off at printers and am waiting a web-filled phone call:)

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  4. Thanks for sharing this. My daughter just turned 21 years old. Her birthday presents? Two comic book tee shirts, two books ("How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way" and "Swords & Wizardry Core"), and some mugs from Etsy with Firefly sayings on them.

    Enjoy every moment. Each one is unique.

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    1. That sounds like a pretty good birthday to me. Hey, thanks for becoming a Constant Reader, too!

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    2. I cannot believe that I wasn't actually following your blog. I follow it on my phone (but I don't comment much from my phone). Now I am following for real.

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  5. Awesome. As they like to say these days, "Parenting: You're doing it right."

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    1. Thanks. It's great to hear from you again, sir!

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  6. As you can guess, this speaks to me on so many levels - the fatherhood part and the comics memories being the two primary ones.

    I've been taking my daughter to my local comic shop every Wednesday, plus Free Comic Day, for the past two years or so. One of my favorite parts of being a dad is when she grabs one of her comics and says, "Will you read this to me?" in her innocent little 4-year-old voice.

    On another note, my shop recently also had an old D&D module in the boxes of old comics - it was X1: Isle of Dread, which I already own but thought it was cool that it was in there. Turns out it was only the cover folder with the map - the actual contents of the module were missing.

    Anyway, another really well-written post. One of my all-time faves of yours.

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    1. Hey Martin! Yeah, I figured this post would be right up your alley. Glad you enjoyed it.

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  7. Darn it, now you made me tear up too. (Sigh). Now I have to wipe my eyes and get back to work.

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    1. ha. Thanks Chris! *ahem* now I'll get back to my regularly scheduled gaming...

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Thanks for posting to the Digital Orc! Be sure to pick up a copy of one of my old-school modules available at RPGNow.com!