Last week I promised to talk about the care and preservation of our comic book collections, and that is just what I intend to do. Some of what follows may get technical or scientific, but I promise I will break it down for ease of use. Please keep in mind, this information is based on my own experience and some base science knowledge, as well as general consensus within the comic collecting/archiving community. This post is meant as a primer for your collection, I encourage you to research further. In addition, I should note I missed that Omnipotence/Omniscience 101 class they were offering at the local community college. Thusly if you see a mistake drop a line to firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will correct any inaccuracies.
First things first, what kind of collector are you? I break the community down into 5 archetypes: the reader, the casual collector, the serious collector, the investor and the speculator. Any one collector other than the reader may want to invest in some level of protection and preservation of his or her collection. You have to decide if you want or need to protect your comic book investment.
With even a minimum of care your comics can be around for a long time. There are many examples of people finding million dollar+ collections in a family member’s basement, stored only in a box or closet. That type of storage (closet/basement) however leaves much to chance and assumes near perfect conditions with no accidental damage.
So let us assume you give a crap about your collection and you want to preserve it for untold future generations. I myself am aiming for “this dude must have been an ancient American Pharaoh, class. His extensive collection of exquisitely preserved sequential art shows how much he was revered by his comic book slaves, harem and people, as the greatest of them all…we shall call him Dudenkhamen…or maybe even Comickhamen.” I like the sound of that.
Okay on to the nuts and bolts.
1. Bag or no bag?
No, I am not talking about grocery store bags, but about storage bags for your comics. Depending on your choice of materials the cost can be a significant factor so choose wisely my young Padawan. The most common bagging materials are PP (polypropylene) and PE (Polyethylene). Both can be used for SHORT term storage of your comics. 5 months (PP) to 1 year (PE) maximum. PP is a derivative of PE; it is transparent and tends to be more rigid. PE is translucent, has more give and is inert. Translucency helps combat UV light (a comic killer); being an inert material PE has a lower draw for contaminants. I personally would recommend use of these materials (especially PP) for no longer than a matter of months, save up the money for better storage materials and it will pay off in the long run.
Upgrades to the following types of bags are in essence, archival grade storage solutions, and this is where cost can become an obstacle. Mylar D/ Mylite (Mylar was invented by the DuPont Corporation in 1954), and Melinex 516 (an equivalent product form ICI Corporation), are the material of choice for long term protection (5+ years.) Collectively these solutions are made from a material called PET (polyethylene terephthalate) and are the standard used by the National Archives and Library of Congress for storage of paper materials in need . PET offers many types of protection, it is dielectric, hydrolytic, reflective, and offers UV protection. PET comes in varying thicknesses from .5-4mm, at the lower end PET is brittle and difficult to manage, however at higher thicknesses rigidity can be a factor and may in fact damage your comics. My preference is 2mm Mylite (Mylite2), offering protection and give in the material. The 2mm option also helps keep costs down as 4mm Mylar can be very expensive (in the near 400-600 dollar range for 1000 bags, compared to a little over 100 dollars for the same quantity of PE.)
The final variable in baseline protection is encapsulation. Companies like CGC (Comic Guaranty Corp.) or PGX (Professional Grading Experts) offer for a fee to encapsulate your comic(s) in plastic containers. I can’t speak to what materials are used exactly, but I do know they both use an inner Mylar well and MCP (micro chamber paper) to protect the individual comic. Encapsulation can be very expensive, but may have value for very high dollar comic books which require extra protection. It should be noted that these containers are not hermetically sealed and can still take damage if placed in water or left in direct sunlight etc. Another drawback to encapsulation; your comic can’t be read. Once certified, graded and sealed, the owner is now unable to read the comic (unless you want to break open the packaging you just dropped serious coin for.) If, however you have a comic you plan to auction, or is susceptible to damage without encapsulation, you may wish to consider this avenue.
2. Backing Boards and MCP
I will refrain from categorizing and just go with one type of backing material. Acid and Lignin free boards, really that is it, nothing else should be backing your comics. Over time and especially with older comics (pulpy old newsprint for the most part) they will breakdown from the lignin, well more due to the oxidation and exposure to sunlight/UV light of the lignin contained within the material. Lignin is the bonding material of cells and fibers in plants and wood. With exposure to oxygen and UV, the material begins to breakdown and release acid/gases trapped within. Said release will cause removal of ink to your backing boards if not changed out periodically. This release is also why CGC and PGX encapsulated comics are not completely sealed, there needs to be a way for the released gasses to escape. Even with this protective measure these boards like your Mylar’s should be changed on a 5-7 year cycle.
MCP (no, not the Master Control Program, Tron nerds) or micro chamber paper is another available protective element. Placed between pages (my preferred and probably overboard method is 1 sheet between front and back cover and 1 at center) MCP pulls contaminants away from your comics and decreases the release of gases from comic pages. While not cheap, it is a viable and comic saving/ preserving measure, especially for high value comics.
3. Temperature and relative humidity
Temperature for storage should be number one consistent and between 65-72 degrees Fahrenheit. Consistency will help alleviate problems with drying and mold growth. This of course also depends on the relative humidity.
Relative humidity is a measure or ratio of moisture in the air relative to its potential to hold it (thus air is a vehicle and does not bind or encapsulate moisture) Low humidity conditions increase drying and cracking and high humidity leads to condensation. So much like your skin (hey I’m dry I need lotion or jeebus I am sweating like a pig…wait do pigs sweat?) your comics are screaming (quietly) for you to control the humidity. 50% would be close to ideal, not too wet and not too dry.
4. Location and environmental hazards
Water, fire, sunlight, insects, assorted vermin, nosy children, mothers who throw shit away!! These are the enemies. Water and fire should be pretty obvious. So no storage of your comics near fire or heat sources, or directly beneath that leaky pipe in your basement. If the basement is your only option, then make sure your books are at least one foot off the ground in case of accidental flooding. Also no storing in safes (oxidize faster) or storage sheds (please...No!) Sunlight especially direct sunlight and the very nasty UV light (yea p.s. keep your comics in a room with incandescent bulbs, no fluorescents) are seriously no bueno! UV light like oxidation increase the release of acid gases and accelerates the decay of your books.
Children and mothers are another concern (I suppose we can add nosy neighbors too) cake is bad for your comics. Chocolate is bad, juice boxes are bad, children are bad (I will caveat this with ADD comic loving children are good and they will grow up to be your master one day, be nice to them). Make them go away or lock the room your comics are in. Your mother really wants to free up space at her house for a children’s cake and juice box room. Your comics will be the first thing she passes out to neighbor kids at Halloween, drops of at the goodwill, or blasphemy of blasphemies throws in the trash!!! Go get them from her house and store them (properly) at yours.
Insects and assorted vermin are another and very serious concern for the comic collector. On the Eastern Seaboard of the U.S. where I live we have to name just a few; the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug (Halyomorpha halys), Silverfish (Lepisma saccharina), Termites (order Isoptera, species varies), and the Common Cockroach (order Blattodea, species varies). Vermin available range from field mice (Miceus Grossasshitus) to the giant city dwelling rat (Rattus nativeNewyorkus) All of the above plus many others will eat paper. Comic books are made of paper…you do the math. Now I have readers in the U.S., the U.K., Continental Europe, and Asia, I would recommend consulting an entomologist or zoologist if you have any area specific questions. You may have noticed I made up those vermin names…because rats and mice are nasty.
5. Basic handling
Okay so where do I start? Hands. Your hands contain oils. Oils are bad for comics. Especially old comics. Wash your hands. No, seriously wash and dry your hands prior to handling your comics, and if they happen to be really old, you may want to consider handling them with white (lint free, lisle cotton) gloves. Like you see all those guys in museums on the History Channel wearing, gloves are made to protect fragile objects from the oils and other potential contaminants on the surface of your skin.
Positioning and repositioning? Are my comics Vertical or horizontal in the box? When removing or replacing your comic in your acid and lignin free box, with your clean and gloved hands, that have previously shooed away bugs, vermin, people etc., then gently removing it from your Mylite2’s and placing it on your clean surface…yada yada yada. Personal preference as far as storing my books. I prefer vertical as I believe it can help to prevent spine roll, you may have other ideas. I respect that…but you’re wrong. Still do as you please what do I know… a lot, I’ve only been at this since before you were born. No seriously it really is a matter of room and preference. If you have space and feel comfortable than do so. In the end it is your collection, your treasures,, time and money. You have to decide how much care and concern your collection deserves. For me the future Comickhamen, they are my ticket to eternity.
Next time on “Sounds Better in a Bubble” we will talk about another key issue. Until then, keep reading Comics…they’re brain food!!