Every once in a while, when I am perusing my father’s immense collection of Silver Age Superman comics, he will remind me of a tragic tale of loss that almost physically hurts every time I hear it. It goes like this: In August 1967, my father left home to get himself a college education. He didn’t have much room in his getaway car, so he could only pack core necessities—Superman, Action Comics and some of his favorite Superboy issues. And a toothbrush, maybe.
Fast-forward about six years. Returning home, triumphantly grasping his hard-earned degree, he is met with some horrible news. His mother threw out all those old comics in the attic to make room for the new nativity display purchased for their front lawn last Christmas. Not donated: TRASHED. All of his friends from Earth-One had been wiped out in a terrible act of spring cleaning.
This is a cautionary tale, my father stresses, as he relives the painstaking efforts he has since undergone to rebuild his collection. It is his intention, and mine by association, to ensure that no comic book lover has to experience such an injustice again. Now, as I carry the generational torch of comic book preservation, I have some advice for all you collectors out there.
Protecting Your Comics
Whether you are hanging on to your comics as your legacy to future generations or as an investment for early retirement, the first priority should be preserving your comics’ condition. Obviously, keeping them in the attic is a bad idea. Bugs and rodents aside, the attic or basement is the most susceptible room to changes in climate, including temperature and humidity. This is the number one threat to a comic book’s longevity.
Some commonly practiced methods are actually quite harmful to comic books, such as placing cardboard behind the cover or putting them inside a paper bag. These methods should be avoided due to the acid content in both cardboard and brown paper, which causes yellowing. Most comic book stores sell acid-free comic backing boards and polypropylene sheets in bulk, so stock up on these. You can also buy Mylar sheets for those really rare and valuable issues. They are much more expensive, so save them for comics whose value is either equal or exceeding the cost of a pack of Mylar sheets.
Storing Your Comics
Once you’ve bagged your comics, which should make for a fun, nostalgic Saturday, you’ll need to box them up. Again, comic book stores generally offer those white boxes especially made for comic books. You can also look at reputable online suppliers like BCW, who provide all the materials you’ll need. Boxes generally come long, which store 250-300 comic books, and short, which top off at 100. The short boxes are functionally easier to carry and store, and if you’re opting for the “Fortress of Solitude” I’ll outline in this article, they’re also more space-efficient.
Once you’ve chosen and built your boxes, store the comics upright in whatever order you prefer, using dividers as necessary. At this point, it might be helpful to catalogue your comics as you box them, using Excel or a table of some sort and labeling each box.
Comic book houses are an excellent way to add functionality to an otherwise inaccessible stack of boxes. They are specifically designed to fit around a comic book box, and create a drawer from which you can easily access all of your comics. Again, look online or at your local comic book store. A long comic book house might be difficult to use in a tight space, so be aware of the amount of room you have to work with.
Building Your Fortress
Now you have a healthy accumulation of boxes in your living room, and depending upon your situation, you may have some co-inhabitants that expect you to do something about it. This is the easy part. A self-storage unit is ideal because most are secure, climate-controlled, and pest-free— all extremely important factors in maintaining your collection. Find one in your area with SpareFoot.com by typing in your zip code.
It’s your discretion to decide how much room you need, but I recommend at least 10’ x 10’ to avoid a Kandor-esque arrangement. Write down a few options, then contact the facility managers to make sure their company policy allows for leisurely habitation. Ask about features like lighting and power outlets. Some units have lighting, some don’t. Most facilities do not have power outlets inside the units, and instead have them in the hallways. Try to get a unit as close to an outlet as you can.
Gather up your comics, your favorite chair and a lamp or two, and head down to your storage unit. Remember, you are operating under the pretense that you’ve decided to spare your family the clutter of your childhood once and for all. They should eat it up. Maybe heave a nostalgic sigh as you pack the last box into your car. This is your show, so have fun with it. If you have a kid who might end up being your comic book protegé, let him or her in on your secret when he or she is old enough to play along.
Organization is key in a limited space. If you have long boxes, stack them four-high at most to avoid crushing the bottom row of boxes. Short boxes can stack a little higher, but do so reasonably. To assist in the structural integrity of your boxes, try inserting a sheet of cardboard between each row. This will both decrease wobble and protect that bottom row. Otherwise, feel free to arrange the space as you like. Hang up a few posters and pictures to make it yours. If you’re down for sharing, you might have room for a second chair. Make it a subordinate chair, one that adds to the kingliness of your chair. After all, you are the Superman of this fortress, and any visitors will and should feel like a Jimmy Olsen.
Bring an extension cord for your lamps if the outlet is far away. When all is said and done, you will have assembled your very own climate-controlled Fortress of Solitude, perfect for preserving your sanity as well as years of comic book connoisseurship. Enjoy your life here, but remember to check in on the little things, like your job or friends/family.
A couple closing thoughts:
- Get a good, reliable lock for your unit. This is your legacy we’re talking about. Here’s a short overview: Choosing a storage lock.
- Make sure you’ve considered the cost-effectiveness of your new fortress. If renting a storage unit doesn’t fit in your budget, find a spot in your house, like a closet, attic, garage or a corner of your bedroom that might serve the same function.