Body Background
Storing Comics - Part 1


by Ron Cloer

“Hey buddy you got a light?”

According to preservation specialists modern books are estimated to last 50 years.  Comic books are flimsier so no one knows how long they will survive.  What this means is that if you’re a young collector, sometime before you leave this earth your comics will be a brittle yellow pile of paper shreds.  Is that really how you want your collection to look?  Whether you like it or not we have to move beyond bagging and boarding our comics and focus on preserving our collections.

One important factor in preservation that has gone widely overlooked is light damage.  Light causes photochemical deterioration in the fibers that make up your comics and it’s irreversible.  Current paper fibers are smaller so it takes less to break them down.  As paper fibers get smaller the paper gets more and more brittle.

Here’s an experiment to try, take a comic and put it on the dashboard of your car for a couple of weeks.  Now compare it to a comic that was tucked away in a box.  As you study that book notice how the colors faded and distorted, especially the yellows.  The damage that you’re looking at is only a fraction of damage that this book suffered.  On a microscopic level the shorter wavelengths of the sun’s UV light have pounded the paper molecules.  You’ve probably heard of oxidation (tanning, browning and brittleness) but that’s only one part of the photochemical reaction.  It’s a scary thought for anyone who is serious about preserving their collection, and that’s just two weeks of strong light.

I know what you’re thinking, “I don’t store my comics in sunlight, dude”.  If the room where your comic books are stored has a window then you do have sunlight issues.  Natural sunlight is composed of 3 types of light, Ultraviolet with shorter wavelengths, visible light and Infrared light with longer wavelengths.  The funny or frightening thing is that all 3 types are damaging to comic books.  The Ultraviolet light which is beyond our sight is the most damaging because it attacks paper on an organic level.  At a minimum, windows need to have a window film that blocks out UV light.  Curtains that are thick enough to block sunlight are another requirement. 

What about a comic book room lit with fluorescent lights?  Sunlight can be up to 25% UV light, fluorescent lights emit between 3-7% UV light.  So what you thought was innocent lighting is actually damaging your comics.  It’s not as strong as sunlight but it is damaging.  Thankfully there are companies who manufacture UV tube guards for fluorescent light bulbs.  These “UV absorbing or inhibiting” guards slip over your existing bulbs and last for about 10 years.  Don’t worry about it making your room dark because it only blocks UV rays which are invisible to us anyway.  You can run a search on Google for UV filters and you’ll find plenty of options.  From my research I found UV guards that cost $9.00, not a bad price to pay for preserving the life of your collection.  (see link at bottom of page)

Even incandescent lighting can damage paper but for a different reason.  The primary issue with incandescent bulbs is that they give off more infrared light.  Infrared light damages comic books like heat would damage them.  But overall a regular light bulb is not a bad option.  Never use Halogen.  Never, never, never.  They emit massive amounts of UV light.

Remember all light is damaging to comics.  That doesn’t mean that you have to read in the dark but it does mean put the lid on the comic box when you’re done.  It also means that you need to take the proper lighting precautions.  Next month we will delve into the acid that exists naturally in comics and how to overcome it.

Get your UV guard HERE


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