To bag or not to bag? That is the question for this week’s Panelology. Bagging and boarding is a seemingly necessary albatross hanging gingerly around our necks. There is seemingly no way to avoid this unyielding practice. Or is there?
I remember the first time I was introduced into the Secret Society of Comic Fandom. Having just bought some of my first comic books, I made my way to my cousin Heath’s house. He was a few years older than I was and he had a massive comic book collection. At least it seemed massive at the time. His eight long boxes represented the apex of what I wanted to be. Heath seemed like a major player on the comic book scene. Probably most of us had a similar initiation, and probably one with perhaps less homoerotic undertones. Here’s how it went down (no euphemism involved).
I bought a comic just like Heath! I was a big boy now. I proudly made my way down to his dungeon with my copy of Detective Comics #604. He lived in the basement of his parents’ house, any fanboy’s dream. Right? I wanted to show off this no doubt priceless comic book, the book that would put my kids through college. I actually didn’t think of it that way; I just wanted to read the issue. I hadn’t given a thought to actually keeping the issue for posterity’s sake.
Much to Heath’s dismay, I hadn’t bought some bags to keep my comics in. It was in this moment that Heath passed on to me the anal-retentive, yet necessary, practice of bagging comic books. Heath initiated me into the practice of collecting comic books by explaining why we need to bag and board our comics. While unimpressed with my issue of Detective Comics featuring the Mud Pack (and a free poster), he gave me a few bags and told me to go on in peace. One man’s crap is another man’s treasure, and even if the issue wasn’t deemed to be cool, Heath deemed it to be worth saving from inevitable deterioration. All of Stan Lee’s children are equal in his eyes and should be saved.
He patiently explained to me the basics of comic book collecting, the three key essential rules of comic book care. Store comic books in a cool, dark place. Keep comic books out of direct sunlight. Store comic books in bags. These Three Commandments form the foundation of our collecting hobby. Of course, there are probably more Commandments that could and should be added, but these three structure the groundwork of comic book collecting.
This is the curse: Comic books, like all printed media, will bleach and depreciate over time. The chemical composition of the inks and materials used in the books contribute to this yellowing degeneration. The cardboard boxes in which we commonly store our comics usually contain acid. Even the boards we place oh so carefully behind the books can contain acid. The comic collector is constantly fighting the enemy of time. But is this a necessary battle?
A few weeks ago, I pondered the possibilities of a Green comic book industry. One of the things I wondered about was the environmental impact of creating these Mylar bags. The conversation that followed got me thinking about the necessity of bagging comics. Could I draw myself away from bagging my comics in order to help the environment? Ouch. I honestly don’t know. Can a Fundamental Southern Baptist change his stripes? I remember seeing an interview Kevin Smith several years ago where he related a story about bagging. He said Dave Lapham told him to not worry about bagging books. Just slap them in a box unbagged and be free from hauling this polyethylene cross around our hobby. The idea sounded thoroughly liberating, attractive even. No more bags and boards? Sign me up, posthaste! Right?
After much careful thought, I have almost decided that I just can’t do it. Heath did too good of a job indoctrinating me into the blight of comics. Years of operant condition thereafter with other fans, comic shops, and trade shows solidified this unquestioning dogmatic practice in my head. I think about not bagging my monthly box of comics and my blood pressure rises, I begin stuttering, and my eyes twitch. Despite my loathing of the time consuming bagging and boarding process, I just can’t let it go. God help me. I’m an addict.
But there could be an alternative. I keep my Star Wars figures in clear plastic storage boxes. These plastic boxes are acid free and keep the figures in a cool, moisture free environment. These boxes can easily be stacked and stored. These boxes are comparable in price to comic boxes, and can sometimes even be cheaper than the premium acid free boxes, especially if you exploit the plight of poor Chinese workers by shopping at Wal-Mart. Maybe the Smith-Lapham method of comic storage could work with these types of boxes. It would at least work better than throwing them empty-bagged into a cardboard box.
The drawback of course is the plastic itself, or more accurately, the petroleum it takes to create such a product. Ultimately, cutting back on Mylar bags by simply replacing it with yet another large plastic product doesn’t make much sense on the Go-Green surface. For the time being, I think I will stick with my bagging practices. I am fielding the idea of doing away with the boards. My eyes don’t twitch as much when I think about doing away with the boards as they do with the bags.
We’ll see how it turns out in the end, but until then I will just have to equally bless and lament the day I ever walked down to Heath’s room and became a disciple of bagging. However, I don’t regret the times he let me watch the Adult Network on his satellite, but that is another tale.