DRAWN & QUARTERED
Take care of your vintage collection
In the early '60s, I was introduced to Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four at my cousins' place. They kept comic books in a cardboard box. Raggedy stacks of comics, wrinkled and tattered and ripped and stained, and, often, if the exciting conclusion was missing from the issue I was reading, I had to root around in the box to find the missing pages.
The box also smelled faintly of cat pee.
You can stop shuddering now. Comic books were once thought of as disposable items. Read 'em, pass 'em on and toss 'em. The reason early comic books are so valuable today is not because of their seminal influence on pop culture, but because there are so few of them left.
In the 1970s, people began not only buying comic books, but deliberately preserving them in collections. It took a fair amount of your lunch money to keep up to date. I recall the widespread horror when the cover price went from 15 to 20 cents, and then to a quarter. (Hey, minimum wage then was less than two bucks an hour!) Comic book buffs began to build up collections, libraries of their favorite titles, which also meant they began to take care of their investment.
Comic-size protective boxes were then invented. Mylar bags to seal them in a micro-environment. Acid-free backing cards to keep them from being bent. The whole idea was to keep your comics as pristine as possible.
By the '80s, comic book expenditures began to be thought of as comic book investments. Hey, if "Spider-Man" No. 1 is worth a couple of hundred bucks, then in a decade or so my multiple copies of Charleton Comics' "E-Man" will be worth a fortune! The preservation of comics became a science, with dozens of products available -- anyone else buy spritzer bottles of Wei-To Solution? -- and comic book specialty shops sprouted across the land.
Comic book investment was a fallacious theory that seemed good at the time, sort of like AOL a decade ago. There were two major problems with the investment theory: 1) The only people willing to buy your stockpiled comics are other collectors, and 2) The only reason early comics are valuable is because they're rare. A comic book is worth only what someone is willing to pay for it.
The comic book market had a spectacular collapse in the mid-'90s, with dozens of titles and publishing houses folding or going bankrupt. Ironically, the comic books produced in this time period are printed to much higher standards than older comics and far easier to preserve.
Another irony: Although the big comic book bubble burst, the number of titles and specialty shops are back to what they were in the early '70s, when the market was pretty much limited to the true believers.
This doesn't mean that your collection is worthless. There's always a buyer out there on eBay if you keep looking. Even if he only pays a dollar for your carefully preserved comic (plus $4.70 USPS shipping!), that's still a fivefold increase over your initial 20-cent expense.
The main thing is that your treasured collection is still in pristine condition. If you have other paper items, magazines and books, comic book preservation materials will help keep them intact in a silverfish-rich environment like Hawaii.
HERE ARE some tips:
» Put comics into individual mylar (not vinyl!) sleeves. You might be tempted to cut costs by forcing several issues in one bag, but that puts stress on the comics and keeps you from sorting them later.
» Some high-quality bags have resealable stickum on the flaps, making it easy to open and close. Others need to be taped shut -- don't use masking tape or duct tape! Be careful not to stick the tape or flap to the comic cover.
» Include an acid-free cardboard backing that is slightly bigger than the comic. If you buy bags and boards from the same source, they should fit together without problems. The treated side of the cardboard is the white side. Replace the board every five years or so.
» Store them standing up in a sturdy, specialized box. These come in short lengths, holding about 100 comics, and long lengths, holding about 300. The short ones are far easier to handle in an average closet.
» Keep the boxes in a stable environment, away from light, smoke and humidity, and away from extreme ranges in temperature.
» Comics come in various sizes, generally based on the era they were produced in, and bag sizes reflect this. Here are the generally agreed-upon designations: Victorian Age: 1795 to 1899; Platinum Age: 1897 to 1938; Golden Age: 1938 to 1955; Silver Age: 1956 to 1969; Bronze Age: 1970 to 1979; and Modern Age: 1980 to present.
Does it work? I pulled a short box of comics out of my attic, where they've resided for nearly two decades. It's pictured here. Other than some discoloration of the box itself, and a fingerprintlike pattern worked into the outside of each bag, the comics look pretty much like the day they were read once and then carefully stored away.
Great. Now what do I do with a complete run of "Dagar the Invincible"?