The Antithesis of Artistic Elitism: Junk Treasures on Retro Bizarro

In 1972, Marvel released a comic series titled “Night Nurse.” You may not have heard of it. I hadn’t until about two weeks ago. It faded into obscurity after a few issues, never to be seen again until Brian Michael Bendis incorporated the night nurse into one of his tales. The hokey dialogue, cheesy scenarios, and grainy three-color ink is a throwback to everything that is bad about comic books, everything that stands in the way of graphic novels being accepted as literature . . . and I want those issues.

I collect junk. I don’t care much for the philosophical and literary works that are being infused with hypertext and made available online for scholars. There are plenty of people who have committed themselves to sharing this information with the next generation. I prefer the limited run of Madballs to the countless volumes of Shakespeare. I’d rather read Clive Barker’s aborted Marvel creations like Hokum & Hex than another work by Nathaniel Hawthorne. And I know I’m not the only one. Along with Brian Michael Bendis, Neil Gaiman has incorporated obscure characters in his mainstream work as well, like the DC character “Prez” in the Sandman series.

For me, the incorporation of these characters into the work of top-selling authors is validating. Junk collecting is prominent among authors whose works sit on the shelves of literary elitists. It is relevant. It is significant. And I’m proud to be among the ranks. Nevertheless, marketing strategies are already being employed to manipulate the junk collector. So being a junk collector entails treading a fine line between true acquirement of the obscure, and falling victim to the perpetuation of the illusion of obscurity which many retailers use to manipulate collectors.

Junk collecting is relevant because it ensures that information discarded by artistic elitists gets picked up by the catcher in the rye of one’s culture. The junk collector takes the refuse of capitalist endeavors and keeps it until it carries alternative values, nostalgic, monetary, and historical. This is an important role. More important than the college undergrad collecting every work of literature featuring the academic stamp of approval. Everyone already knows Socrates is important, so who the hell cares if you have his works on your shelf? You’re just a cog in the intellectual system regurgitating the values of your predecessors. But if you have a few of the old depression-era Whitman Big Little pulps, then you’ve got something that has fallen off pop culture’s radar. And that’s important.

Junk Collecting in Brendan Mitchell’s Night Owls

Junk collecting is a phenomenon that crops up in a lot of underground works today. Brendan Mitchell’s Night Owls recounts the tale of a young man on a quest for the rarest of films. On his search he runs into Troma producer Lloyd Kaufmann, ass-kicker Shawn C. Phillips, and Ron Jeremy. Part 5 of the series is below:

Unfortunately, Brendan’s journey is one that ends in disappointment. The ass rape he endures to acquire the video turns out to be in vain, for the video he seeks is obscure for a reason: it sucks.

Junk Collecting in Jordan Krall’s Beyond the Valley of the Apocalypse Donkeys

A similar type of disappointment occurs for the protagonist of Jordan Krall’s Beyond the Valley of the Apocalypse Donkeys. Our main character, a film reviewer, strives to find a rare film which he only had the opportunity to watch once. Upon finding it, he loses it to a VHS player with malicious intent, or so it would seem. His search leads him down some dark and seedy paths. He almost dies as he gets caught up in the downward spiral that begins with a search for a rare and obscure work.

These two works point out the danger inherent in junk collecting. In some cases, we have the potential to lose ourselves to something greater. In other cases, such as depicted in Night Owls, we get “raped,” whether literally or figuratively, and we end up with trash.

The most recent pit I’ve fallen into is the acquirement of rare video games. One of the games that had been on my list for years, which I finally gave up on, was a CD-i, live action Zelda game. It’s rare as hell. The reviewers warn you that it isn’t worth the money. For some reason, every damned red flag that popped up along the way told me this was something I wanted. But was it something I wanted to spend over $200 dollars for? Probably not. Since copies fly off Ebay incredibly fast, chances are this game isn’t as “rare” as I initially thought. People are taking painstaking efforts to make sure this work is preserved, so it will survive the generations without my endeavor to acquire it.

When it comes right down to it, Night Nurse and Prez will live on as well. For me, the important thing is to spread the word about these obscure gems. They’re not literary gems, mind you, but they are nostalgic gems. They are a part of our history. They, like pulp softcovers such as my 1881 copy of “The Blunders of a Bashful Man” or my moldy copy of “Pinocchio in Africa,” are valuable in ways that highly visible classics can never be. And when I can’t afford the obscure “gems” I seek, I have a wish list here on Retro Bizarro.

The Future of Junk Collecting

Junk collecting has changed over time. Back in the day there were fewer works being published. A lot of today’s junk treasures were books whose publishers had hopes and dreams. The authors aspired to create commercial successes when their works were created and printed, but they failed. A lot of companies hoped the world would forget.

Atari buried millions of copies of this piece of shit in a New Mexico desert landfill in hopes that people would forget it existed. Despite that, somewhere out there, some jackass is willing to pay top dollar for this game.

With the possibility for digital publication today, there’s less risk involved, so failure doesn’t matter as much. And there’s less quality material today, so that reduces significance of the once-rare below-par works that peppered the literary world. Back in the day, it was refreshing and/or amusing to see errors in commercial products. Today, seeing errors in kindle books is so ubiquitous that it is just annoying.

Do these changes make junk treasure a thing of the past? Will tomorrow’s world see junk treasure the same way my generation does? It’s likely that the trash-to-treasure phenomenon we encounter today will always manifest in some way or another, but it is changing fast.

What kind of junk from your childhood do you strive to re-acquire now that you’re older? What do you collect?

4 thoughts on “The Antithesis of Artistic Elitism: Junk Treasures on Retro Bizarro

  1. Sweet post. I’m with you on the Garbage Pail Kids cards (big and regular). I also had a mean bucket full of M.U.S.C.L.E. figures. Huge basketball card collection still somewhere in my mom’s house, along with a few Atari games I stole and might actually be worth something today.

    • The M.U.S.C.L.E figures were great. I used to love basketball cards. I passed up some great stuff (like early issues of Sandman and some valuable packs of Magic: the Gathering cards) for Shaq and Webber rookie cards. The things I lost and couldn’t get when young, those are the things I hunt down now. Do you remember those Dinosaurs Attack! cards? Man, they disturbed the hell out of me when I was a kid. The sets come cheap on Ebay now, which is nice.

    • It carries a decent price on Ebay with the box and instruction manual. The pornographic Atari games are where the real money is, however. Those things sell for hundreds, which is amazing considering how rough the game play is. I wonder if there are any copies of Custer’s Revenge in the New Mexico desert landfill.

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