The National Collectors Marketplace is a regular mart for comic books, trading cards, books and merchandise related to science fiction, film and TV. According to the website, it is the largest of its sort, hosting 130 tables in the Royal National Hotel near Russell Square in central London. When I arrived on a wet Sunday at the beginning of the month, I could believe the claim to size.
The hotel had three large rooms packed with sellers – I recognised Paul Hudson, who owned Comic Showcase (one of the shops I frequented in my youth) until it closed down in 2006, and Incognito Comics (I used to buy from the Canterbury store when I lived there) had a huge stall of boxes filled with 25p comics – with the emphasis on comic books. And the comic book fans were there in force to buy from them; I arrived 30 minutes after the doors opened at noon, and the place was packed. Unfortunately, these readers of comic books hadn’t taken to heart any of the ideals of altruism and looking out for your fellow man that populate superhero stories, because they didn’t care about anyone or anything else apart from finding comics at a good price.
People – mostly men – were flicking through the comics in the longboxes and not letting anyone get a look in. If you were lucky enough to locate a space to examine the comics, the people on the either side were not very friendly or patient. There was one chap who had spent all his money on comics and not an optician, because he kept his head absurdly close to the comics as he flicked through them. There were the hunters with their lists – computer printouts of spreadsheets for some, aged, folded pages of hand-scribbled titles for others – obsessively going through every box and every comic book to find their missing items. There were some ‘ordinary’ punters, but there was also a large contingent of the type of comic book fan who are examples of the stereotype that rest of the world sees: overweight, wearing superhero t-shirts that were too small, unfamiliar with personal hygiene (the smell in the rooms was a little on the ripe side).
I had intended to take some photos of the mart to accompany this reminiscence but I felt too awkward, too uncomfortable in the confined space with the crowds – if you want some photos, see the report by Dom of London Loves Comics. I’d been looking forward to rifling through comic boxes looking for bargains and trying to fill gaps in my collection, but I felt out of place and didn’t enjoy it as much as I had wanted. Oh, I wandered around and looked diligently through the boxes – I even found the five issues of Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis at 50p each – and thought the variety of material for sale was impressive (trays full of Doctor Who novels in plastic bags, old British comics lying on tables, old cult films on DVD, original artwork, even old British porn mags). However, the experience left me little deflated and out of sync with my collecting hobby, which is a shame. I can’t fully explain it but I don’t have the urge to return to a comic book mart, even though I still have the desire to buy cheap comic books. It’s not to do with the National Collectors Marketplace, just an adverse reaction to my first interaction for a while with the hardcore comic collecting community. I don’t classify myself as a real geek because I don’t have the depths of geek-ness I perceive in real geeks, even though I’ve just spent 600 words talking about going around a room full of old comic books, but this was yet another sign to confirm my belief. Your mileage may vary.