Stand-up comic collects comics8/4/2021
Dan Umthun excels at finding and accumulating action figures and comic books.
Meet Dan Umthun.
“When I was 8, I brought a Superman figure with me to Grandma’s farm house in Eagle Grove. A calf jumped a fence and started running towards town. My dad and uncles managed to catch, calm and corral her, but I had decided to help.”
Bringing Superman along for moral support turned out to be a mistake.
“At some point, I dropped him in a pasture,” Umthun continues. “When we sold the farmhouse a few years ago, I gave the pasture another once over. Maybe someday in the far future someone will find a little kid’s treasure, an icon of truth and justice, appropriately in a field in the heartland.”
That failure in Umthun’s youth has not been indicative of future behavior. He now excels at finding and accumulating action figures and comic books.
“I think the very first one must have been a Superpowers figure from DC back in the early 1980s,” he remembers, “the Batmans and Supermans who would swing their arms when you squeezed their legs. In the 1990s, I collected X-Men. As an adult, Mattel produced DC Universe Classics, which was essentially a very advanced sculpt version of Superpowers line. That DC license is now with McFarlane toys, which are absolutely silly but very good figures of recent comic characters specific to DC.”
Some items can be valuable — a few hundred dollars to the right collector — but collectibles are only worth what someone will pay. Money probably shouldn’t be your primary motive.
“It’s a matter of whether it brings you joy,” he explains. “It’s more the hunt for something hard to find at a good price. I’m about to sell a lot of the mint-condition, in-box figures at probably half what they are notionally worth.”
He simply needs to make room.
“That’s going to bring some collectors out there some joy, I think,” he laughs.
Umthun’s collection is big enough that he doesn’t know exactly how big it is. He estimates it to be shy of 1,500 individual pieces.
“I have nearly every figure in DC Universe Classics, save for the Legion of Superheroes and some of the mail order releases. … I’ve got all the McFarlane DC so far.”
If his house were burning down and he could only save one action figure, which would it be?
“That’s rough,” he laments. “In-box, it might be the Marvel Legends Archangel they released in around 2015. Loose, it might be my Mattel DC Barry Allen Flash.
A comedian. A collector. A husband. A man born in Alabama but raised in Iowa. A storyteller. A pet owner — two cats and two dogs. Fiction writer. A webcaster. Umthun is also a man with something to say.
“American history in the 20th century is strongly influenced and even a product of our popular culture,” he says. “In that sphere, art has imitated life and life imitated art.”
Comics, jazz and stand-up comedy are uniquely American art forms, according to Umthun, and that art affects the world.
“A billionaire that looks like Lex Luthor (Jeff Bezos) just took a rocket to space with a crew dressed like the Fantastic Four,” he says. “The U.S. may never have entered WWII without Captain America punching white supremacists.”
The impact also extends beyond superhero stories.
“Desegregation may never have taken place without Bill Gaines publishing ‘Judgement Day’ in 1953,” says Umthun.
After a dozen-plus years of doing standup, Umthun is proud to have worked with many of his comedy heroes, either at the Funnybone or while hosting an open mic at Lefty’s — every Tuesday for about 11 years. If you want to hear more from Umthun, look up Doomcast on YouTube.
“I think of myself as a creator,” he says, “not of content but of meaningful culture. … If Alton Brown did a comedy show about comics and pop culture, mine would still be better. It’s more than a Wikipedia article on comic stories; it’s the news, history, context and secret origins. It’s funny and, most importantly, accessible. You don’t have to know comics or anything to enjoy it.”
Editor’s note: After a 6-year run doing the Beast Village Comedy Festival, Umthun has stepped aside. “I turned it over to fellow comic and creator/streamer Matt Jacobsen in 2019,” Umthun says. “Des Comédie Festival is the name of the new incarnation. It debuts the first weekend in October of this year.” ♦