I’m reorganizing my workspace this month, and I have decided to take advantage of that necessity by condensing and archiving my minicomics collection. Right now, it’s just piled into three boxes.
The boxes are working okay for me in two ways: they’re not damaging the minicomics, and they’re keeping the minicomics in a minimum amount of space. Or at least they were, until the past two years of SPX attendance overfilled my first two boxes. I’m clearly going to have to winnow the collection.
The main problem is that, as a supposed comics scholar, I sometimes want to find a particular comic without digging through fifteen pounds of other minis. If these were all standard-sized floppy comics, I could put them away in my longboxes with my Kamandi and Two-Fisted Tales. But because minis come in so many sizes, and because I don't live in a big palace, letting every mini take up the same amount of “shelf space” (even in boxes) isn’t really an option.
(Minicomics come in many sizes, see?)
I was stumped about minicomics storage, so I contacted Caitlin McGurk, the librarian at the Schulz Library of the Center for Cartoon Studies. I know they have a big minicomics collection at CCS, and I was hoping Caitlin would have some advice for me on the storage problem.
Being the head librarian at a comic-book school, I've not only heard the strife and whines of how to house minicomics that range drastically in shape and size, but I have also seen some of the most imaginative and interesting ways of storing them. Colleen Frakes arranges hers in the clear pockets of those back-of-the-closet-door shoe racks. Alec Longstreth took general measurements of his minicomics, then custom-built a shelving unit that includes heights ranging from five to fourteen inches. For the rest of us, those minis go in everything from shoeboxes to entertainment centers, milk-crates to I-can't-remember-where-I-put-that-awesome-jewish-supergirl-comic.
No matter which way you go, the biggest issue tends to be arrangement. If you have enough room on your shelf to store 'em all, it's no big deal to alphabetize and sift through. We don't all have that kind of space though, and I like to think that something crafted as uniquely as a minicomic deserves some special representation.
(This is a self-portrait of Caitlin.)
Now, these may not sparkle and shine, but I think the best method of storage (and the way we do it over at The Schulz Library,) is with any kind of Pamphlet File, like these, from Gaylord Library Supplies.
The corrugated cardboard ones are obviously not acid-free, but they are the cheapest way to go. Plus, if you're also using Mylar sleeves, they’ll protect from any harm the cardboard might cause. Otherwise, there are a wide variety of file sizes, colors, and acid-free treatments available if you've got the cash to spare. Once you've got these in your grips, my favored method of arrangement is to alphabetize by creator, tailing the collection with the anonymous material by title. You can slap or draw on a label to the front of each file indicating the contents (A-D, etc.).
The best thing about these files is that they can only hold so much, so once you've indicated the group, you can easily pull that off the shelf and cut down the search time. They're also easy to finger through as long as you don't pack them too full. Once you've got them arranged, they're easy to store on the shelf, in the closet, under the bed, or pretty much wherever. Also, if you have the time, try repurposing other cardboard with a ruler and exacto knife: with a little attention to detail you could easily copy the format for these boxes yourself.
I really like the Frakes and Longstreth solutions, but I want to be able to alphabetize my minis, rather than sorting them by size, so that books of various sizes by the same author wind up together. If I had more shelf space, those pamphlet files would probably do the trick. Unfortunately, storage space is really at a premium here. If I can help it, I don't want to use any system that makes two digest-sized minicomics take up twice as much space as a full-sized 8½” x 11” monster. I need to be able to store the smaller comics side by side, which means I need to store them flat, parallel to the floor.
Still, using Caitlin’s suggestion of pamphlet files, further consultation with her led me into a little bit more web-searching for other solutions. First, I came upon the possibility of document storage boxes; these led me in turn to some cheap cardboard mailing boxes at Staples.
Caitlin's response to this idea:
I’ve bought and folded a few of the Staples boxes now, and it looks like I’ll have room for twenty of them in the space where my original two boxes were. I should have an easier time finding the minicomics I’m looking for, but first I’ll have to spend a few dozen hours alphabetizing the collection and centrifuging the dross away from the gold. I anticipate that some real treasures will surface during that sorting process, and I’ll let those be material for a few subsequent posts.
If you have other tales of woe or success from the world of comics storage, I'd sure be interested to hear about them.