Iron Clad Comics Fights Time
The clock is ticking on the lifetime of your comic collection.
But you can fight back!
Comic books are collectibles classified as “ephemera.” That means they are impermanent, fragile, and fleeting. Comics are “limited edition” prints that owe their value to the demise of their brethren of the same issue. When comics die, the survivors become rare and therefore valuable.
If comic books were made out of cast iron, an Action #1 would not sell for $millions (and would be hard to read, too!)
Details on this issue at GCD
Seriously, Comic books are not made of iron
Printed on pulp paper, comic books literally eat themselves by creating acid that further breaks down paper fibers. The acid cleaves the long fibers into shorter and shorter pieces.
When fibers in paper become short enough, they cease to link together. In the final stages of acidification, paper becomes “brittle,” crumbling at the slightest touch or vibration, literally turning to dust.
When a comic book becomes brittle, it dies
The gradual process of comic acidification is irreversible and inevitable.
Acidification cannot be stopped, but it CAN be slowed.
The Iron Clad Comics system creates a form of “suspended animation” with the maximum mechanical and chemical protection for comic books. More on that later.
Along with time, these are immediate dangers for comic books.
Let’s take an inventory of the threats to your comic collection
The most dangerous “Arch Enemies” of Comics
Description: These otherwise kind beings have discarded and destroyed countless comic collections. They view comic books as trash, clutter, and a source of dust. Operating typically at times when the comic owner is absent, these agents of comic destruction are responsible for millions of dollars of comic wealth loss.
Power: Complete comic collection annihilation in one day of cleaning or “organizing.”
Shield: Information about the value of comic books. Publicity and the invention of e-Bay converted many mothers from comic destroyers into comic purveyors, some actually grossly overestimating the value of comics found in closets and basements. Let’s assume for the moment that your mother is not a major threat.
Description: Lower on the phylogenetic scale than mothers, rodents do not hate comics. They love them as chew toys, nest material, and rest rooms. Rodents operate mostly at night.
Power: A single bite from a rodent can drastically reduce the value of a comic book in a split second. Although not as powerful or fast as mothers, rats and mice can destroy entire collections.
Shield: Mechanical barriers composed of chew-proof material. Cardboard will not stop rodents.
Description: Still farther down the chain of life from mothers and rodents, insects love comics. As food and housing.
Power: Insects damage comic book paper by eating holes (silverfish) or soiling (cockroaches and others). Sneaky and insidious, they operate quietly, preferring darkness.
Shield: Mechanical barriers lacking any points of entry. Cardboard may serve as a deterrent but may be breached by another organism (see rodents).
Mold and Mildew
Description: Species of fungi that travel through the air as microscopic spores, mold lands and waits for humid conditions to grow on comic books.
Power: Creates stains known by comic book collectors as “foxing,” orange to brown spotting usually near the page edges of comic books, and on covers. The foxing mildew gets its name from (F)errous (Ox)ide which is the chemical name for rust. Powdery mildew is gray or white and indicates very high moisture levels. Mold emits a distinctive musty smell. It’s not the smell of rodent urine or acid paper, and it means the comics have gotten wet. Mold requires oxygen to survive.
Shield: Store comics away from moisture and humidity.
Description: This nefarious enemy of comics can take the form of a liquid or a penetrating vapor, condensing back into liquid when cooled.
Power: Even a few drops of water can cause ink to migrate, leaving permanent stains. Water also has mechanical effects of paper. Sources of water? Duh. Flooding, broken pipes, leaking roof, condensation — water is all over the place. But even if you’re smart enough to keep your comic boxes out of the rain, water comes in a more insidious form. Humidity. Water vapor actually fuels the chemical reactions that create acid in paper. And, of course, humidity works in league with mold and mildew.
Shield: Storage in waterproof containers. Climate control of humidity. Zero humidity is not good for paper. You want about 50% humidity, allowing for some leeway of about 10% in either direction.
Description: Light is an old enemy of art, fabrics, skin — you name it. The most energetic and damaging is ultraviolet light, the wavelength that causes sunburn. Certain fluorescent lights emit ultraviolet.
Power: Light causes fading of comic book colors and causes discoloration of paper. Some comics have a condition called a “dust shadow,” a dark strip along the edges of comics stored in stacks where a portion of the cover was not covered by the comic immediately above it. The “dust shadow” is not caused by dust but by exposure to light and air.
Description: Air pollution includes particles, sulfur dioxide, oxides of nitrogen, and ozone. But as far as paper is concerned, a most destructive “pollutant” is oxygen. Ironically, oxygen, the gas we need to stay alive, slowly kills comics.
Power: Air damages paper in multiple ways, over long periods of time. Since comics are typically stacked, their outer edges show the effects of exposure to air, even if they have been stored in the dark.
Shield: Anything that prevents air from making contact with comics: A bag, a box, an airtight container. Comics wrapped only in paper for decades have preserved in near mint condition. There is a myth that comics need to “breathe.” They don’t. However, sealing comics away from air is not enough to halt deterioration.
Description: With few exceptions, heat accelerates chemical processes, in some cases, dramatically.
Power: Heat destroys paper by speeding up processes already underway. Oxidation is sped up by heat, and so is acidification. Heat, in combination with humidity, is used by the Library of Congress to simulate accelerated time for aging paper. Heat makes time go faster for paper. Heat is a destroyer of paper. At Fahrenheit 451, as noted by Ray Bradbury, paper burns. At lower temperatures, paper deteriorates less rapidly but still it “burns.”
Shield: Cool temperatures.
The number one threat to comics?
Description: A byproduct of comic deterioration is acid. This acid creates a vicious cycle that breaks down paper, releasing more acid.
Power: The power of acid to destroy paper from within is legendary. Paper otherwise protected from all other threats, including mothers, slowly dies. Pulp paper is especially acidic. Paper made mostly from rags, a common practice in the time of the American Revolution, survives better than pulp paper. Modern acid-free paper lasts. But pulp paper dies. It is the cause of the “brittle book” problem in libraries. It is the slow fire that consumes comic books.
Shield: There is no perfect shield against internal acid. Comics can be treated, at significant expense, to remove the acid. There are acid-free cardboard backer boards treated with alkaline substances that react with acid, at least the acid that comes into direct contact. There are acid-free comic boxes. At least acid-free backer boards and boxes do not contribute to the acidic environment. But they do not stop comics from eating themselves from the inside out. When you smell an old comic, you are smelling acid.
The Iron Clad Comics system is an economical combination of mechanical and chemical shields that counteract every one of these threats, excluding mothers.
In the meantime, begin protecting your collection. Use oversized (Golden Age) mylar sleeves and acid-free backer boards. Oversized sleeves and boards reduce damage during insertion and removal, protect edges and spines.