Organizing Comics

A caricature of the author smiling while holding several bagged and boarded comics, drawn in September of 2018 after visiting a comic book convention.

I love reading comic books, but I also love collecting them. It’s such a fun escape to flip through my favorite series in sequential order, admiring the cover art, remembering where I was when I first discovered the adventures therein.

But the pandemic made collecting comics pretty tough. You couldn’t visit shops (without a ton of protective measures), paper shortages disrupted publication schedules, conventions were canceled, and a speculator boom drove up prices online.

It was a perfect time to focus on enjoying the comics I already had.

But as I dove back into my collection with renewed interest, I noticed it showed some signs of its age. Some of the storage boxes would flex worryingly, quite a few bags and boards had yellowed or felt greasy to the touch. These supplies were meant to protect my fragile, cheaply-printed periodicals, but I’d acquired them piecemeal over 25+ years: Many were well past their prime.

So I decided to refresh and reorganize my collection.

Storage

A figurine of Groo and Rufferto looks over three bagged and boarded comics on a desktop: Groo the Wanderer number one, Madman number one, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles number 50.

I’ve had terrible luck buying bags and boards in the past: I always seem to buy too small a bag or too large a board. I asked my nearest comic shop for advice, and they recommended BCW “silver” sized poly bags and backing boards. I also picked up a smaller amount of mylar bags for books that are especially important to me: These won’t degrade as quickly, but they’re several times more expensive, so it felt frivolous to use them for the whole collection. (I avoided the resealable versions of these bags, I find a small piece of Scotch tape less finicky.)

When it came to storage boxes, I wanted something sturdy enough to survive a move, and stackable so I wouldn’t need a new shelf (the old one showed some signs of disrepair). BCW’s short comic book bins fit the bill, though I followed some advice from Kyle Willis and fused the seams with Testors plastic cement during assembly.

Labels

A stack of assembled BCW short bins with printed labels using comic book artwork featuring characters like Groo and Madman.

The bins I bought have little notecard-sized slots on either end for labeling what’s inside. Instead of numbering these by hand or summarizing each series one by one, I decided to print a bunch of wordless comic book artwork. These clue me in on what series is in the bin, but also where it falls alphabetically.

The top of an open comic book bin, showing a bunch of comics separated by dividers. The dividers have printed labels with artwork and the name of the creator or series.

I hadn’t planned to replace my dividers, but at some point I saw Blind Science Design’s label stickers, so I just had to try making my own. I bought some black comic book dividers and measured the label space, which was about 3¼ by ⅝ inches. This wasn’t a standard label size, so I used some printable sticker paper, a cutting board and a paper corner rounder (best invention ever) to roll my own.

Odds and ends

A classic comic book spinner rack containing miscellaneous comics from my collection

I started tracking my collection in a spreadsheet back in high school (🤓), but this was a perfect opportunity to correct errors and improve the data. I added cover art, publication year and recorded the date the bag was last replaced. I know there are apps available for this sort of thing, but the ones I’ve tried seem designed more for speculators than readers. Plus, it’s hard to compete with the longevity of a spreadsheet.

I always keep some comics in the spinner rank I bought from Jim Demonakos’ Kickstarter. I consider this more of a fun display than long-term storage, but I thought I’d mention it since it’s always visible behind me on video calls.

Throughout this project I had YouTube channels like ComicTropes and Cartoonist Kayfabe on in the background. They helped me reconnect with some of the deeper corners of my collection and embrace what I find special regardless of how rare or sought-after it may be.

Rediscovery

Every comic book in my collection is finite: Eventually the ink will fade, the staples will oxidize, the pages will crumble to dust. What’s really important are the tales they tell, the ideas they inspire and the memories they make. So it might seem a little silly or even materialistic to devote so much time and energy to organizing a collection. For me, it’s always felt like tending a garden of joyful thoughts. It’s rewarding, relaxing, and a chance to reconnect with the art form that fired so many of my formative synapses.