Last August comic store owner Rick Whitlock of Panama City, Florida, reported that his box of rare comics worth $85,000 had vanished from a Comic Con extravaganza in Tampa. Fortunately, another dealer had taken them by mistake, and a joyous Whitlock got his comics back several days later.
My father wasn’t so lucky. When he enlisted in the Army in 1944, my grandmother took the opportunity to give his room a good cleaning. Into the garbage went dad’s childhood, including his entire collection of comic books.
Unfortunately, that collection included a copy of Action Comics No. 1, the book that introduced the world to Superman in 1938. The Holy Grail for comic collectors, a copy of this comic book sold in 2014 for $3.2 million on eBay.
“If you have just the cover for that book, it can sell for thousands,” says Nick Wood, manager of Atlas Comics in Charlottesville, Va. “There’s just not that many around anymore.”
When dad returned from World War II, he looked around his room. He dug through the closet. His heart pounding, he asked my grandmother, “What happened to my comic books?” More than 70 years later he still mourns their loss (especially that copy of Action Comics No. 1). Dad wonders if he had packed and stored them carefully, maybe his mother would have understood their importance.
8 Ways to Protect Your Comics
Don’t lose out on a potential million-dollar investment. Even if you never own a ridiculously valuable comic, your collection may be priceless to you – and possibly other comic book aficionados as well. But the risk in collecting comics isn’t just that your valuables may be thrown away by mistake or stolen; it’s that they may disintegrate if you don’t know how to take care of them. If you’re collecting for both fun and profit, Wood and other experts give these tips for preserving your treasures:
Bag Those Books
Serious collectors buy protective bags in the correct comic book size. As Wood of Atlas Comics explains, bags come in four different comic book size that match the four key periods in comic-book history: Golden (from around 1930 to 1960), Silver (1960 to 1970), Regular (1965 to 1980s) and Current (1990 through today). It’s still a good idea to measure the comics before buying bags since there is some overlap in publishing sizes during the four periods. You want a fairly snug fit so the comic can’t slide around inside, causing damage to the corners and edges.
What you want are archive-quality storage bags made of Mylar, polyethylene or polypropylene. These materials are acid-free to protect paper. Look for bags with a flap on one side that can be secured with a piece of tape so nothing touches the comic inside.
Save Mylar Bags for Your Most Valuable Comics
Mylar is the most expensive bag but lasts longer. Use Mylar for comics older than 1960 since the books from this era were printed on thinner paper and may be more prone to damage, says Wood. “We keep Mylar on hand because it is a little bit sturdier,” Wood says. “Poly bags will flop over, but Mylar bags have a lot more rigidity to them. They also keep out moisture a little better.” Because Mylar storage bags are more expensive, comic connoisseurs recommend less costly polypropylene bags for newer acquisitions in your collection.
Keep Them Cool
Avoid storing comics where they could be exposed to temperature extremes or dampness. This means keeping them out of the attic or garage. And always store them at room temperature. Books baking in the attic become brittle and may turn yellow.
Guard Against Theft
Just as you wouldn’t leave your grandmother’s diamond necklace lying around the laundry room, keep your comics books stored in carefully labelled boxes. And take the normal precautions: Lock your back door and turn on your security system (if you have one) when you’re out. If your comics are especially valuable, you might want to get a rider against theft and other loss in your home insurance policy.
Wash your hands and dry them before touching valuable comics. Moisture, dirt and skin oils can damage comic-book paper over time, Wood says. “If you’re handling older, very valuable books, you want to wear white cloth gloves when handling them because the paper can break down from oils on your fingertips.”
Back ‘Em Up With Boards:
Use acid-free card stock that helps protect bagged comics by making it harder for them to be bent or folded. The smooth side of the board goes against the comic, Wood says, “so it slides in and out as easy as possible.” Both book and board are placed in a bag and sealed.
Box Them Up
As a comic store owner in D.C. once told me, “If you leave something red near the window for a week, it’s going to come out pink.” Once boarded and bagged, comics should be kept in a closed box so light doesn’t fade the covers. Any cardboard box will do, so long as boarded comics are inserted and stored vertically. This keeps valuable books from getting mashed, which can cause pages to stick together. It’s also easier to flip through comics stored vertically to find the book you’re looking for. “Definitely store them upright because you’ve got the boards to keep them from folding over,” Wood says. “If you’re not going to bag and board the books, lay them flat so they don’t fold over.”
Ready to Sell Some Comics?
“CGC is a service that will grade your comics [on their condition] and store them in plastic slabs that keep them in their current condition,” says Wood. “If it’s something that’s going to be sold and it’s valuable – typically books worth $300 and above – grading the comic is the way to go. That gives you an independent evaluation so there’s no argument over the condition of the comic.”
Steve Evans, MA, is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years’ experience in daily news and business journalism. Among other jobs, he has served as managing editor of the Central Virginia Newspaper Group, as a staff writer for the Richmond Times-Dispatch and as a senior writer for SNL Financial and a roving reporter for MoneyGeek.com. He has written widely about consumer finance topics, including comics and other collectibles.