Classic art with pops of color. Yellowed, torn pages. That old newsprint smell. According to Brian Flota, nothing compares to the look, texture and smell of old comic books.
Flota, a humanities librarian, recently donated more than 1,900 comic books to the Carrier Library Special Collections reading room. But his collection isn’t limited to comic books. Since early childhood, Flota has acquired a variety of items in large quantities including coins, baseball cards, vinyl records, books and postcards.
“I’m definitely someone who collects things almost as a compulsion,” Flota said. “It’s not for everybody; you have to be one of those people who likes the thrill of the hunt.”
Flota’s comic book collection began to grow at a young age when his father, also a collector, gave him many comics from the '60s.
“Out of all of those from when I was four or five years old, I’m pretty sure only one survived: a copy of Justice League of America No. 111,” Flota said. “It’s in pretty rough shape; it’s taped and part of the cover is missing.”
Flota, 40, began actively collecting comic books as a preteen interested more in comic book art than storylines.
“I treated this as a comic book stock market at 11- or 12- years old; I would pore through the prices and memorize what the key issues were and try to find them cheap,” Flota said. “I would save my allowance money for comic books, and people would send me a bunch for Christmas.”
At the peak of his collection during the early '90s, Flota owned about 2,700 comic books. When he became interested in vinyl records, Flota decided to donate his collection for others to use as academic references.
“A lot of students, especially ones going through writing, rhetoric and technical communication freshman year, often have to write papers about topics that may involve comic books, so I figured it’d be a good thing to add to the collection here,” Flota said.
About 1,900 comic books are available in the Carrier Special Collections reading room located on the second floor, while approximately 400 were donated to Flota’s undergraduate alma mater, University of California, Riverside. According to Flota, comic books have recently become an area open to scholarly review and research.
“A lot of scholars are now starting to pay attention to pop culture stuff like comic books,” Flota said. “Critics are looking for new angles that haven’t been written about, and comic books are definitely one of those areas.”
Because this medium is only now becoming an area of academic research, his vast collection sets Carrier apart from many other libraries.
“There’s a lot of possibilities of comics as scholarship, and because they were seen as sort of trash and kids’ stuff for so long, not a lot of libraries have them,” Flota said.
Having separated himself from his comic book collection to help others,Flota still experiences that “thrill” by hunting for vinyl records.
“Around '93 I got real interested in music and punk rock, so I started buying vinyl and CDs, and that’s where I still blow all my money,” Flota said. “I probably have 2,500 records, and I like to listen to them because I think they sound better than CDs or MP3s.”
Flota began actively collecting vinyl records in high school from 1990 to 1994 when rock music became practically every teenager’s go-to genre.
“I was at that age right when ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ came out, so I was really into Nirvana,” Flota said.
According to Flota, many people stopped buying records during the '90s, and now vinyl collecting is becoming extremely popular. One of his more valuable records includes the Melvins album “Houdini,” which was co-produced by Kurt Cobain.
“There’s been a sort of vinyl resurgence over the last 10 years or so, so all those records I have from that era are crazy valuable,” Flota said.
Flota attributes the tactile nature of vinyl records to their popularity.
“You can’t really love your MP3s since there’s nothing there except a file on your computer,” Flota said. “It’s not as immersive of an experience as it is having vinyl or even CDs.”
Flota typically listens to a record everyday, and when he’s in the mood for a particular artist or album, he has no trouble finding it.
“I’m a librarian so I definitely have a system,” Flota said. “It’s alphabetized by artist, and within that, it’s chronological by date of release; I know exactly where they are.”
And when he isn’t at home listening to records or working in Carrier, Flota can usually be found downtown buying, selling and trading.
“Wonder Records is solid,” Flota said. “I spend a lot of money there and trade a lot of stuff.”
While his collections have included various items over the years, often in large numbers, Flota believes that his life as a collector is related to any other aspect of life.
“Everybody hates doing research, but basically your whole life involves research,” Flota said. “That type of attention goes into a lot of other things like buying a house or a car; you need to do your research, and I put that into these collections.
Contact Jillian Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.