Comic books are memories. We don’t collect the stories inside the covers as much as we reclaim the stories within ourselves when we first held them.
Who was I back then? What did I wear? Who were my best friends? How did I pay for it? What bike did I ride? What did my mother think?
Our collections don’t so much represent a lifetime of comic-book tales as they do real-life memories that tell the stories and the trajectories of our own personal lives.
Such is the case with every collection we buy, appraise or consign. And such is very much the case with our latest collection.
James Andrew Cummings (Jimmy to all who knew and loved him) was born in rural Oklahoma in the year 1937. America was still clawing its way back from the horrors of the stock market crash and the depression and famine that followed.
A tough time for any woman to rear and raise a child, much less four in a short span of years. But women had children in those days. The more, the better. And Doris Cummings was no exception. Jimmy was one of four of her children to enter the world, despite the obstacles put before him.
Female doctors barely existed in the ’30s, and it wasn’t entirely legal for them to deliver babies. Midwives assisted male doctors and that’s just how it was. Being a midwife was a good job and it was a good living. Regardless of the financial difficulties in the country, babies would be born and hands would be needed to catch them.
But in the winter of 1937, while Doris Cummings sweated and cried and pushed, the doctor was late and time was against her. The midwife knew that she couldn’t deliver the child without risking the loss of her job, much less the wrong side of the law. So she did what every midwife of that era was forced to do to feed and clothe children of their own.
She held Doris’ legs together.
Jimmy wanted to come out and meet his mother. He wanted to take his first sweet breath of air. Were it not for his grandmother, who pushed the midwife aside and let nature take its course, Jimmy would never have known this world at all.
But out he came, dark blue and gasping for breath. Out he came, his brain damaged beyond repair.
Jimmy grew and did his best to fit in. His siblings protected him and created personal family languages only they knew. He clearly had emotions, but didn’t respond to direct communication and had deep learning disabilities.
School proved nearly impossible and despite the efforts of all around him, Jimmy walked away in the 5th grade and never looked back.
It would be a while before the doctors discovered his deafness. It explained so very much. How could he respond to basic language when he couldn’t even hear it? Brain injury is misunderstood and often misdiagnosed even now, much less in the middle of the 20th century.
So the family created a rudimentary “house-talk” and suddenly, Jimmy could live a different sort of life. One of connections.
He went to work in his father’s potato factory once school was over. Solitary work in cold storage seemed comforting to Jimmy. Handling, peeling, processing. Dreaming? Imagining? Who really knew?
Somewhere in the 1950s, Jimmy found what he was searching for. He found a world he could call his own. A world of stories he could understand and compartmentalize. A world where he was normal. Strong. A world with no limits.
A world with four colors.
Every week, like clockwork, Jimmy made his way to the newsstand. Every week. The “newsies” knew him by name, perfectly content to have him spend entire days standing and reading at the racks. Sometimes, they even gave him their damage returns. Unsold funny books stripped of their covers, returning to the distributor for much-needed credit.
Imagine reading the interior of Amazing Fantasy #15, its cover neatly stacked next to it!
Jimmy’s friends at the newsstand were protective. They knew his family, they knew his situation and rather than alienate him, they accepted him the way you would a child. So Jimmy now had family and friends.
Jimmy was methodical. He needed one of everything. Everything. Marvel, DC, didn’t matter. His mind was damaged in so many ways, but when it came to comics, he was razor-sharp. He could recall intricate storylines and track every character. He’d found his calling.
Every issue was read only once and stacked carefully away in alphabetical, numeric order. Eventually, he would be lost in a sea of stacks, his room overwhelmed by four-color classics. But for the next four decades, Jimmy was busy building. Building a collection even the best of us would admire and respect.
One by one, his siblings cared for him. His parents passed away, but his comic-book room stayed constant. His brother passed, but his comic-book room stayed constant. His sister, Ann, did the best she could, becoming not just a sibling but also a best friend.
Then it came time to move. A large house with no one to look after Jimmy just wasn’t possible. Reluctantly, Jimmy and his collection (carefully) moved in with his loving nephews and nieces in Bakersfield. The comic-book stacks were lovingly recreated, with Jimmy insisting no one touch them but him.
But Jimmy just couldn’t shake the memory of his old room. Something in him couldn’t believe that his old family home was gone. He’d often ask when they would be going back to his old house. He missed it badly, obsessed and confused over its loss.
On April 8, 2004, at the age of 67, Jimmy Andrew Cummings announced to his sister Ann that he was going home to his room. While she was concerned about leaving him alone, work doesn’t wait and Jimmy was a grown man. A man still faced with many challenges, but one able to make decisions and have a sense of right and wrong.
Jimmy was found that night, lying comfortably in a field. His backpack filled with everything he needed for his journey. A change of clothes, some snacks and a comic book.
Jimmy had set out on an empty Bakersfield road to find his way back. Back to the phantoms of his parents, the newsstands and the four walls where he discovered himself as not just a human being, but a specialist. An aficionado. And after nearly 50 years of stacking, stacking, stacking, a comic-book connoisseur.
Jimmy had set out to go back home. And according to his family and all of the beliefs they hold dear to their hearts, Jimmy had accomplished just that.
Blastoff is proud and honored to announce the unveiling of the Jimmy Cummings Collection, both on our website and in our North Hollywood store.
Twelve thousand comic books that have made their way through the decades. A collection carefully constructed and closely protected by a man who beat all the odds against him from birth to death. A man true of heart and character.
A portion of our proceeds from the Jimmy Cummings Collection will be donated to the Brain Injury Association of America. (www.biausa.org)