The Beginning of a Collection: T-Shirts!!!
I started collecting comic book t-shirts relatively recently. It began, as with so many things, within the pages of the Fantastic Four. Call me crazy, but every time I spend too much money on a comic book I read it cover-to-cover. Ads, letters and all. Somewhere in the forties, the t-shirt solicitations caught my eye, and although I wasn't completely won over by the FF design at first, Dr. Strange piqued my interest. It was as if I thought I was the first person to realize these things existed. I figured I’d be able to snap a few up real quick on eBay… they actually proved to be impossible to find.
I spoke with the gurus at my local shop and they let me in on a little bit of the history of the Graphitti Designs reproductions. Apparently, since the original art was either lost or destroyed, Steve Rude, and one or two others are responsible for redrawing the line of close reproductions in 1998. Two saved searches and over a year later, the FF and Spider-Man shirts came into my possession for a fair price, and are among my most cherished items in my “comics” collection, and they sit in a special closet eagerly awaiting Stephen Strange’s arrival.
I got a new bug. Now at the flea market every weekend I hunted shirts after going through the comics. Crazy thing is, shirts I never imagined existed were out there, and I bought most of them in new condition for incredible prices. I found three Crow shirts, (one is a Maleev, the other two O'Barr), the unbelievable Generation X shirt, and a dozen others all within just a few months. As for Starlin’s Warlock piece, well, I'm not about to entertain the chance that people will pursue “1st t-shirt appearances”, but having a t-shirt featuring Drax and Gamora, two decades prior to their breakout as mainstream characters, has been a source of pride for me.
The surprise star of my flea market finds, is the piece by Simon Bisley, and for complicated reasons. I was raised not to fight, but recently my feelings about violence have changed. I realized that if something were to happen to a member of my family, I didn't trust myself to respond appropriately, and it was one of the worst feelings I’d ever had. When I acquired this shirt, I hesitated at first because it was, like, super aggressive! It was the Biz, so I brought it home anyway. That night I was stricken with this liberating sense of accountability. I put this shirt on the night I realized that I could fight for those I love.
I was quickly able to sustain my newfound t-shirt habit by parting with the few I bought for speculation purposes. I went shopping online to fill a void I noticed immediately in my small collection… No Batman! I was lucky enough to find the Graphitti Designs ‘Tec 38 and was satisfied with the great quality, art-style that suited my preference, and of course for our pal Dick Grayson, smashing through alongside the caped crusader.
To end at the very beginning, I'd like to share my most recent acquisition. This is the first piece of Batman memorabilia I owned from the year it came out (but in a much smaller size), which I surprisingly remembered and was able to track down. Not my favorite style of Batman, but the nostalgia factor rules in this case, and I actually think the neon highlights are a pretty nice touch. In case it's hard to tell from the photo, “arch enemies” is printed in topographically exhilarating puff letters.
Believe it or not this is the only shirt I've shown which was not printed in the 90s! Batman shirts from '89 are by no means rare, but there are a hundred different styles and in most cases particular designs can be hard to come by. You might be asking, “what’s the big deal about these shirts from the 90’s? I got a zillion comics from the 90’s no one wants!” The thing is, in the 90’s comics had been a topic of speculation for decades, and even for the casual fans, books read once and safely tucked away fared much better than t-shirts, stretched ‘cross the chests of nerd-warriors on the move, with sweat building up in the armpits, stray branches from the urban-landscaping cutting at their sleeves, and hanging on as the only line of defense against coffee, sandwiches, exploding ink pens… People wore the shirts. Not all of them read the comics, but they pretty much got dressed, and went out and experienced real life, with a t-shirt on.
There’s perhaps more to knowing where to look, than trying to push to the front of the line on the next hot commodity. Face it: comics are picked! So maybe you’re not a t-shirt person! (seriously?) So go find something cool that no one wants, because if you don't, it may just disappear into the trash. I would love to hear some of your unique perspectives on collecting, and clothes, and I will try to answer any questions in the comments. Thanks!