There's this instinct I've come to develop over the years for when something crosses my path that's a) interesting to me, b) largely unknown, and c) not likely to turn up again anytime soon, if ever. Many of the key books or music albums or movies in my collection are of this nature. I come across them, I get a certain "wow!" from them, and I realize I'm going to regret it deeply if I don't pick it up because there's a good chance this is the first and last time I will find it. There may not be that many copies out there, and what other few there are may have ended up in the hands of the few people who're like me in that respect. So I pounce, and the total number of times I've regretted such a pounce I can count on a hand with fingers left over to grip my fork.
All this came back to mind when I took a short break over the weekend to reorganize some of the bookcases in my office. Physical goods aimed at vertical audiences have become more precious to me now that digital downloads and streaming are becoming the default formats for many things. Much of what's in my collection in that vein are things that just don't work digitally, like artbooks or large-format comics. You can read much of Osamu Tezuka's work digitally in English, and I'm grateful this is at all possible, but his best work deserves a physical form, and many printings of his work are only available at rapacious collector's prices.
Sometimes, things do come back from the dead. Taiyo Matsumoto's No. 5, never completely issued in English, is being retranslated and reissued later this year. I couldn't be happier. I own the older, incomplete edition, and so when the new one hits my doorstep I might donate the old one to some private library that preserves such things, for reference's sake. I never did get my hands on an original copy of Codex Seraphinianus, although I understand a newer, expanded edition is out there.
But you can't count on such resurrections taking place. Many of, say, Seiichi Hayashi's manga in English are not likely to show up again. The original, higher-quality printings of Disney's animation bible Illusion Of Life will never be seen again because the film used to compose them was misplaced. And many things just don't have the audience needed to give them a reissue, because the originals were so costly and so marginal. Many of Kishin Shinoyama's photo books are only ever likely to be seen by collectors of such things.
Earlier this week I ordered Grudge For Life, a book about the band Ramleh. Documentations of such marginal, ephemeral cultural scenes fascinate me, and what few copies get made almost immediately get slurped up. Most never make it into libraries; they just go straight into the hands of fans. I did the same with England's Hidden Reverse, the superb book about the bands Nurse With Wound, Current 93, and Coil; I was dead certain I wouldn't see that again if I blinked, and so far I've been right.
The precious stuff is worth protecting, because there's no guarantee it will ever have defenders. I don't worry about any of the Marvel movies requiring the same kind of vigilance; they won't vanish even if we want them to. They don't need our help. But a far bigger and more fascinating universe of culture out there does. And sometimes it's creepy to realize you may be one of something like only a hundred people in the world, tops, who care enough about it to keep it from vanishing forever.
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