AS HIS COMICS COLLECTION HEADS TO AUCTION, ‘RENO 911!’ CO-CREATOR ROBERT BEN GARANT REFLECTS ON HIS SERIOUS FASCINATION WITH THE CLOWN PRINCE OF CRIME
By Robert Ben Garant
Is this my collection’s origin story? Maybe?
I wasn’t 100% sure this wasn’t a dream, until my 83-year-old dad brought it up a couple of years ago out of the blue. It really happened. When I was 7, Robin, the Boy Wonder was my hero. I used to pretend I was Robin (my older cousin was always Batman). Even when I was alone, I pretended to be Robin, for some reason. So, Burt Ward came to my school when I was in first grade. He told us to listen to our teachers and don’t do drugs, and then he plugged that he was going to be at a local car dealership that night signing autographs. It must have been part of this same tour.
I begged my dad to take me. My father was not exactly “a drinker and a fiend,” but he was not thrilled to drive me to a car dealership on a rainy night. I was the only kid there – and I swear to God, Burt Ward, in full Robin gear, looked at me and said: “Your shoes are on the wrong foot.”
December 7, 2023
They were. They were my older brother’s huge hand-me-down galoshes. Then Robin, the Boy Wonder told me to get five bucks from my dad. I did, and he sold me an autograph. I never pretended to be Robin again. Eleven years later, when the Joker killed Jason Todd, I probably enjoyed it more than anybody. I enjoyed it deeply. I’m not sure that 1977 run-in with the Boy Wonder started my Joker kick, but it was definitely one piece of the puzzle.
Or is this the origin story?
First off, don’t do drugs, kids. BUT … when I was a young punk rocker/wannabe comedy writer in NYC in my early 20s, I was experimenting with psychedelics, at the same time Death in the Family, The Dark Knight Returns, The Killing Joke and Arkham Asylum all came out. I devoured those books. I did the Killing Joke “one bad day” monologue in one of my acting classes. I dyed my hair green. I even got a Joker tattoo – BEFORE the Tim Burton Batman, when EVERYBODY got a Joker tattoo – and there’s video proof (I’m at the 1:08 mark, at some comic book shop in New York; it was 1992, and it sounds like I’ve been doing helium).
One of the only times I had a full-on hallucination, I was walking in the rain with my buddy Josh, really tripping balls. He turns to me and says:
Where did Ben go?
I’m right here.
You’re not Ben. You’re the Joker.
I looked at my reflection in a building window: Yup, I had a full-on “I was the Joker” hallucination. Purple fedora, white skin, the whole nine yards. It was intense.
I was collecting Jokers this whole time, since I was little. I think my Uncle Dan got me my first Batman comic, but I’ve been reading them as long as I can remember. In my 30s, I got a safe for the collection – not to protect it from burglars but to protect it from the elements, from a pipe bursting or something. I was very aware – these are important. These are art; they’re an important part of culture. They’ve been around longer than I have, and they’ll be around long after I’m gone. I need to take care of them.
That’s about when I decided to collect all the Joker covers. Every single Joker cover, ever. His appearances on comic books other than Batman, foreign ones, giveaway ones, variants. I scoured comic book shops, Atomic Avenue, eBay, Heritage Auctions. I did a search at least once a week, for years. And I got them all. I mean, I’m sure there are foreign ones I don’t have, but other than that, I really do think I might have them all.
I stopped collecting new ones when the Joker turned 80. DC started doing this bad, ridiculous thing: Every issue had 20 variant covers. They’d never be worth a dime, even if you kept them a thousand years, and, honestly, most of them were downright ugly. I stopped buying new ones, and DC comics in general, but I kept buying old ones if I didn’t have them. If I ever saw an issue with a higher grade than any I had, I bought it. I upgraded but kept the old one, which is why I have so many copies of Batman No. 11. (That’s also my favorite cover and, in my opinion, one of the best comic book covers of all time.)
Years ago, I decided to sell them when I turned 50. I knew that if I died, my kids and wife would have no idea what to do with this collection; it would just be a headache. And I was scared they’d do something crazy like open them up and read them.
ROBERT BEN GARANT is a writer, actor, director and producer based in Los Angeles.