Many DC and Marvel enthusiasts collect comic books and paraphernalia, but Ian Fox takes his passion for one DC superhero a step further.
Fox’s entry “Hunting the Dark Night: Books on the Batman” took home the $1,000 grand prize at the 2013 Collins Memorial Library Book Collecting Contest, an event that Library Director Jane Carlin calls the “Academy Awards for young book collectors.”
Collections consisted of up to 30 books or documents, a bibliography, an essay explaining the collection and a “wish list” of other titles that the student would like to add to their collection.
Fox’s collection, including first-edition items, chronicles the superhero’s evolution, from his debut in 1939 as a caped detective to his modern day depiction as the vigilante “Dark Knight.”
I talked with Fox about the early stages of his collecting career, which began last year when he started collecting books themed around mental versus societal madness in literature. “That really opened me up to the world of book collecting and I got pretty obsessed with book stores, antiquarian books, etc.,” Fox said.
But why the Batman? Like many fans, Fox admits that he was first hooked by the films, but he now sees Batman as more than just a caped crusader.
“I think Batman is the most morally complex, fundamentally flawed and realistic character around,” Fox said.
The story of Batman and his various enemies evoke deeper questions for Fox, ones regarding society as a whole and the very concept of right and wrong. These questions led Fox to begin scouring used bookstores and combing the Internet for references and books.
“For a long while I built my collection by looking at works cited, annotations, etc… In that sense it turned into a bread-crumb hunt, except I didn’t know what the end result was supposed to be,” he said.
He even contacted one of his favorite authors on the subject, who gave him tips on what to look for and a long list of titles to check out. “Everything was fair game with my collection,” Fox said.
Fox’s specific goal was to assemble the most comprehensive collection of academic texts pertaining to the Batman. “I don’t know if I succeeded … but I think I did pretty well,” he said.
He intends for his collection to serve as a “big-picture look” at the character, specifically focusing on the academic applicability of the various tropes of the Batman.
When he first started the collection, Fox was interested in the political theory and ethical applicability of the series. However, as he delved deeper into the realm of comic books, he realized that “its richest yields were in cultural studies and literary theory,” themes that just so happened to directly coincide with Fox’s chosen major, English.
The first book in Fox’s collection was called Batman and Philosophy, part of a larger series published by Open Court Publishing Company called “Popular Culture and Philosophy.” While not the most academic of texts, Fox credits the book with “getting his gears turning” in terms of what the character of the Batman had to offer to the reader beyond the storyline’s fantastical nature.
While his collection has grown greatly in volume and academic credibility, Fox admits that winning the Book Collecting Contest has added a level of legitimacy to his endeavors. “Before when I would tell people about it they would brush me off, but now… people are more interested,” Fox said.
To his surprise, Batman readers have revealed themselves left and right on campus, eager to discuss his collection. He has even received media attention in the greater Tacoma community. Fox was recently interviewed for a piece in the Tacoma News Tribune.
“It’s all very strange. I never expected a committee of … collectors to reward a superhero. So that’s neat.”
Fox’s collection will be entered in the prestigious National Collegiate Book Collecting Contest, with support from the Jay I. Kislak Foundation.