By Vince Mancuso, Storage.com
While leaping out of the big screen through the past decade, the actions heroes of today have long been contained within the pages of comic books as early as the 1930s. And while our beloved heroes and feared villains have fought, destroyed, and otherwise demolished countless battlefields for the last 70 years or so, it’s not uncommon to see the dust settle in piles of comics around the home.
Whether you’re a long-time reader or new to fandom, comic book collecting can be a fun but space-consuming hobby. If you have a comic book collection that could fill an entire Batcave, you might want to think about moving your collection somewhere safe and out of the way. That’s where using a climate-controlled storage unit can be a good option.
Preparing Your Comic Books
It’s important to note that good storing for any collection begins with good hygiene. If you’re seeking to preserve your copy of “Hulk No. 340,” something as simple as washing and drying your hands before reading can greatly reduce the likelihood of smudging, soiling, oil staining, or creating other conditions caused by poor care.
While this may seem like a cosmetic concern, personal hygiene will protect the life of your comics in your storage unit from the mildew and mold growth, which can spread through various storage materials.
The next step is protecting it with a specially-sized plastic sleeve and cardboard backing—typically referred to as bags and boards. “They are sturdy enough that they will not allow your comics to bend, which will mean that you won’t get any rips, tears, or creases of your comics during storage,” says Trevor Van As of HowtoLoveComics.com.
Van As also recommends storing comics in boxes, standing straight up in a file-format, which makes it easier to find comics when perusing your collection later. “Having them stacked on each other can also cause the comics to bend in the center, as the spine is generally thicker than the rest of the comic book. While a few [are] fine, after a certain amount, the stack starts to create a U shape.”
While the bags and boards are a vital part in keeping your comics safe, there’s another step to take before putting your comics in self storage—placing them in the right box.
Using a box adds another level of security to your comics, as well as more organization in your unit. While some may store their comics in plastic totes or storage bins, there are specially designed boxes to fit the size and width of a comic book.
“I would highly suggest comic boxes, as they are purposefully built for storing comics,” Van As adds.
These boxes come in two sizes—short and long—and each should be considered, depending on the size of your collection. A short box can fill 150 to 200 comics and weigh roughly 30 pounds when full while a long box can hold up to 300 comics and weigh more than 50 pounds. While many of these boxes open from the top with a lid, some manufacturers also make drawer boxes—that is, boxes that fit into a thicker outer shell and slide out like a drawer. These boxes, though more expensive, allow for better stacking.
Van As says that the most common material for these boxes is thick, corrugated cardboard. However, he recommends plastic boxes to protect more valuable comics.
Picking a Good Storage Unit
After bagging, boarding, and boxing your collection, the next step is finding space.Due to the sensitive material and inks used in comic books, especially vintage comics, it’s crucial to find a dry, cool, and dark place to store them. Unfortunately, that space in a home is usually a basement or attic space, both of which are rarely safe from humidity, pests, or extreme temperatures.
“Storing your comics safely is key to preserving your collecting,” says Bob Bretall of ComicSpectrum.com. “Storage units are a great alternative to home storage if your collection is growing.”
Bretall currently has more than 95,000 unique comic books in his own personal collection with more than 100,000 when counting duplicates and magazines. However, when he had a smaller house and smaller collection, he kept the bulk of his comic books in a storage unit. “That’s the thing with a large comic collection—having a safe and secure place to keep them is very important.”
There are some important factors to consider when storing your collection, and Bretall highly recommends a climate-controlled setting. “Comics don’t like high temperature,” he says. “Keeping them someplace climate-controlled is important.”
For this reason, Bretall suggests an indoor storage unit that’s insulated from the elements by other storage units, as well as an entrance from an interior hall to avoid sunlight heating the room by warming an external door.
Additionally, he says comic books—specifically older, rarer comics—can’t handle moisture, so using a climate-controlled unit that can also moderate humidity levels is another good option for protecting your collection. If humidity control isn’t available, Bretall uses silica gel desiccant packs, which absorb moisture.
Both Bretall and Van As recommend selecting a storage unit with security features, such as individually-alarmed units, surveillance cameras, and gated access, though security is a matter of personal preference. Although it’s not a regular occurrence, Van As says valuable comic book collections have been stolen in the past. He adds that any collections from the golden and silver ages—ranging from the late 1930s to 1970s—can be considered a target and should be given more of a security priority.
Storing Your Comics in Your Unit
It’s also important to take other steps in protecting your collection from water and pests, which can damage your collection during storage.
“Never store your boxes directly on the floor,” Bretall says. “Get some kind of shelving, or at least platforms that keep the bottom row of boxes at least a couple of inches off the ground. This will protect you from errant leaks that put water onto the ground.”
Comics must also be protected from potential water from above, as many units have fire suppression systems. This is as easy as using plastic sheeting or a tarp.
As for pests like insects and mice, which can eat away at paper, Bretall says they’re “a fact of life, so you need to worry about managing them.” Simply place mousetraps and insect bait with your collection.
What boxes you use, and how you use them, also play a part in the proper storage of your comic books in a storage unit. “Normal comic boxes are not built to bear the weight of too many extra boxes stacked on top of them,” Bretall adds. “Typically, you want to optimize your use of storage space, which usually means wanting to use vertical space as much as possible.”
Given the potential weight of a full box of comics, you shouldn’t stack more than three boxes. So a 5×5 unit could hold a collection of seven long-boxes, two rows deep, and three layers high for a total of 42 boxes. However, this arrangement makes access inconvenient, if not difficult.
Bretall says that drawer boxes can be stacked up to six boxes high, which better uses vertical storage space while still allowing easy access through your unit. That being said, the drawback of drawer boxes is horizontal storage space is limited to allow the drawers to open.
“That’s always going to be a trade-off though,” Bretall explains. “You can fit more regular long-boxes stacked flush up against one another on shelves, but then it’s really difficult to get to the stuff that is not in the front rank. If you use drawer boxes, you can open them and access the books, but that sacrifices precious space that you’re paying a monthly rental fee for.”
This trade-off may also affect the size of storage unit required, depending on your wants or needs, so it’s important to determine your size needs versus accessibility before moving into a comic book storage unit.
Comic book collecting is a hobby of many, but it does come at a cost of valuable space in your home. That’s why using a climate-controlled storage unit can be a powerful tool to protect your valuable collection while saving your living space.