Devin Berghorst was recently in a shop in Grand Rapids when something on the wall caught his eye.
It was a Captain America-themed board game from the mid-1970s, and he had to have it.
“I had no idea it existed,” said Berghorst, senior case manager for student support services in the Dean of Students Office. “It was like $60, so I snagged it, and I’ve got it in my basement now.”
That basement is becoming quite full of Captain America memorabilia, and while he’s only been collecting that for a few years, Berghorst has been around comic books and superheroes his entire life.
His father, Douglas, was and remains an avid comic book collector, and his wares were readily available for Berghorst and his brother to enjoy when they were children.
“The comics were everywhere. That’s what I grew up with,” Berghorst said.
His father’s favorite superhero is Thor, as evidenced by the Thor tattoo on his shoulder, some original Thor artwork in his basement and a mountain of comic books he collected over many years.
“My dad has almost the entire run of Thor back to the 1960s,” Berghorst said. “We just got him what’s called the golden record reprint of Journey into Mystery No. 83 when Thor made his debut. That was a really cool find.”
Rather than piggyback on his father’s Thor collection, Berghorst decided to start one of his own and picked Captain America. While he had already amassed a vast collection of various comic books over the years — gifts from his father, mostly — college and graduate school put a pause on doing anything more formal than lugging the books from place to place.
But five years ago, he hopped back into the collecting game, starting with the controversial “Avengers: Standoff!” run when Captain America was revealed to be a secret agent for the villainous Hydra, often associated with Nazis.
“That’s really where I started,” he said. “I walked into my local shop and said, ‘I want to get started with the monthly books.’ The guy I talked to said Captain America is literally starting right now, so it worked out.”
Since Captain America first appeared in a comic book in 1941, one could spend a large fortune trying to collect every book. Berghorst is not so driven, preferring to focus mostly on comics since Captain America joined the Avengers, by Marvel, in the 1960s rather than the pricy Timely Comics before that era.
The Timely Comics are so rare and expensive that Berghorst counts among his collection one solitary page of one of the books, issue No. 9 from 1943. A fellow member of a Facebook group is attempting to collect the Timely Comic books one page at a time and had an extra page of issue No. 9 that Berghorst bought for $30.
“Just holding them, it’s a lot of fun, especially some of the stuff from the World War II era because it feels like a piece of history,” he said. “Reading the books is fascinating because the language is different, the content is so different, it almost feels like a time capsule of the era.
“Especially with Captain America because Captain America stories have always been based on what’s happening in the country at the time.”
Berghorst estimates among the couple thousand comics he’s obtained over the years, between 400-500 are Captain America. An app on his phone helps catalog the books as he gets them, so he doesn’t unknowingly buy a book he already owns, which has happened on a few occasions.
He keeps the books in storage boxes specifically designed for comics, the largest of which hold about 400 books. Berghorst said he takes advantage of trips to northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula to visit flea markets and antique shops to try to find books, but the best source remains his father. At its height, Berghorst estimates his father’s collection held between 10,000 and 15,000 books.
“He has just boxes and boxes of books,” Berghorst said. “He’s trying to focus on his Thor run and trying to make space, so every once in a while he’ll give me a box full of random stuff.
“A few weeks ago he gave me a box, and in it I found the first appearance of Brother Voodoo, a sorcerer in the Marvel universe. That book is worth $500-$600.”
Then there’s the Captain America memorabilia. Berghorst has a Captain America statue, several toys, model car, Lego sets, a print from one of the original Captain America artists, a 1974 comic art convention program with Captain America on the cover, and several Funkos, which are roughly 4-inch figures with big bobble heads.
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All the books and items are stored in his basement, a condition agreed upon by Berghorst and his wife, Liz.
“She enjoys watching Marvel movies with me, but that’s as far as her fandom goes,” he said. “As long as my collection and stuff does not leave the basement and spread into the rest of the house, she’s OK.”
The same cannot be said for Berghorst’s son, Grayson. The 3½-year-old is naturally curious about his father’s collection.
“He doesn’t care how valuable the book is,” Berghorst said. “If I have a stack out, he’ll grab one and walk away, and I’m like, ‘Oh, no.’”
Berghorst, though, is not into collecting to make money. He said any books he might sell would only go toward finding something else to add to the collection.
He keeps one eye open for a few things that would take his collection over the top: Avengers No. 4, in which Captain America makes his first appearance as a member of the Avengers, and any of the old Captain America Timely Comics.
Until he finds those gems, he’ll continue to visit shops in search of items to add to his collection. “I love finding people who collect comics because it’s a fun conversation,” he said. “I love to go to different comic book shops and then start chatting with the people who work there because most of them collect as well, and you can always strike up an interesting conversation.”