After a wild first half of the year, my comics and I are now settled in our new home in Madison, WI. If I have my way, this house is going to be our forever home. So I was actually quite excited to schlep seven Home Depot moving boxes worth of comics into a U-Haul, for what will hopefully be their last ride:
With my wife’s help (don’t ever fill a moving box full of Batman comics, kids – it’s far too heavy to lift without hurting yourself and/or others), I pulled the boxes inside. Then I got to work doing what comics nerds do best – organizing and shelving comics. In Minnesota, I purchased three IKEA BILLY bookshelves, whose sole purpose is holding comics. My seven moving boxes contained the entirety of my print collection (maybe – we’ll get into that later). Prior to pulling everything together in Minnesota last year, I hadn’t had all those comics together in one place for over a decade.
Just seeing them all together in one place, as a mess or a well-organized collection, still brings me a lot of joy, after years of moving around with only bits and bobs:
Piles and Piles and Piles of Comics
That said, every time I pack and/or unpack comics, they always end up disorganized. Pre-moving, I had things mostly in order. But I didn’t keep that order when putting comics in boxes, and I also added a bit to my collection in our time between houses.
So first, all my comics went on shelves haphazardly, just so they could get the heck out of our living room. Then, everything came off the shelves again to our basement floor, where I pushed it into piles that do actually make sense I swear:
As said above, I bought three IKEA bookshelves. Because I’m living my best life, the shelves stretch from floor to ceiling. (Actually, I have extensions that can make the shelves even taller, but they don’t fit in my new office space. One of the only advantages our old house had on the new.) Each shelf is designated for a particular set of comics:
- The indie and manga shelf
- The Marvel shelf
- The DC shelf (also known as the shelf that is pretty much full already oh god oh no)
What’s On the Shelves (and Where)?
The indie shelf holds pretty much everything that’s not a Marvel or DC superhero comic – and even some stuff that arguably is. Yes, Watchmen is on the indie shelf. No, The Sandman: Overture isn’t. The difference, to me, is that when Dream shows up in JLA and vice-versa, it’s cool. Meanwhile, when Watchmen characters show up outside Watchmen, it always sucks. So I’m going to go ahead and pretend Watchmen is its own self-contained thing, thank you very much, and shelve it with Sex Criminals and The Life and Times of Savior 28. And that’s that.
This shelf’s organization is actually the easiest to explain: In the indie section, everything’s just shelved alphabetically by title. The one exception is John Constantine, Hellblazer, which I shelve as an H, not a J. This changes its position on the shelf by a whole one book currently. In the manga section, series are shelved as space best permits.
Of all the shelves, the indie and manga shelf is the one that actually most threatens to overrun its allotted space. This is because a) I buy far fewer superhero comics these days and b) manga series run so long. I want to buy the next or first volumes of multiple series, and those series alone will overrun my current manga section. The Marvel shelf, meanwhile, is looking to its left and right and cowering in fear, because it knows its days of being solely the Marvel shelf are numbered.
I’ve always been more of a DC guy than a Marvel guy, so the Marvel shelf is admittedly sparse. It’s organized as follows:
- The Spider-Man shelf (he gets the top shelf because he is the literal best superhero)
- The X-Men shelf
- The Fantastic Four shelf
- The “street-level heroes but also Guardians of the Galaxy” shelf
- The Avengers shelf
- The Ultimate and other kooky non-616 stuff shelf
You’ll note that, between the Spider-Man shelf and the also-a-majority-Spider-Man Ultimate shelf (which has some Spider-Girl in it for good measure), roughly half my Marvel collection consists of Spider-Man comics. That’ll likely change over time, as I catch up on owning some runs I’ve read via libraries and other sources while moving around over the past decade. The Avengers shelf, particularly, will grow, as the rest of the Matt Fraction Invincible Iron Man run and Jason Aaron Thor run find their way here. Also set to grow is the Fantastic Four shelf, which really needs vol. 2 of those Waid/Wieringo hardcovers. I always miss not having that when I re-read those books.
That brings us to the big boi. The DC shelf. The shelf that, despite me buying these shelves to future-proof the space needed to hold my collection, is already pretty much full. As always, it’s all Bruce Wayne’s fault. You’ll see what I mean when I break down the shelves’ contents:
- Superman, Superman/Batman team-ups, Detective Comics, the start of Batman
- Batman continues, The Batman Adventures to Batman Adventures
- Batman mini-series, one-shots, etc., Bat-family series (yeah, it’s mostly Nightwing)
- Not Batman-related! Finally! Basically all other DC solo and team series except …
- Justice League stuff (old-school JLA, JLI, Morrison+ JLA, minis, some JSA)
- Event and team-up stuff (your Crises, 52es, Brave and the Bolds, and inter-company crossovers)
Both the Marvel and DC shelves are organized by character/team, but to me, the DC shelf’s organization is a bit more meaningful. For example, I could’ve chosen to start the shelf with Batman comics, but I think it makes far more sense to start with Superman. Supes’s section then naturally segues into Superman/Batman team-ups, which itself naturally segues into Batman’s section.
That section starts with Detective Comics, Batman’s first series. Both Detective and then Batman are shelved in chronological order. Crossovers between those series and others are shelved in Batman, because then all the major Bat-events are shelved together in order. That’s followed by non-mainline stories, shelved roughly in chronological order of when they’d take place in Batman’s career. Finally, we come to the larger Bat-family’s series, beginning with Dick Grayson and ending with Damian Wayne, shelved in roughly the order each ally appeared in comics.
The “other DC shelf” goes from Wonder Woman to Hitman, shelved in descending morality order (or at least, that’s the least verbose way to describe it). The Justice League shelf tracks mostly chronologically, as does the event shelf, though some later-published series set in the past are shelved roughly when they “took place.”
And Lo, There Came a Shelving Unlike Any Other
And … I think that’s it. The comics are shelved on a wall and a half of my downstairs “office,” which is neat because I can push away from my work desk (or writing this blog post) and grab any ol’ trade or single issue off the shelves. My one gripe with this fantastic and slightly imposing setup is that I can’t see the covers of most of my books, but I have a fix in mind for that. It rhymes with dinner snack …
It might sound stupid, but shelving my comics in a space that’s my own makes that space feel like home to me. It also gives me a sense of how far I’ve come and how far I hopefully have yet to go in life. I have comics shelved here that my parents bought me when I was a kid, that I bought while living in Australia and South Korea, that were gifts from dear friends, and that were probably more formative than they should have been during my teenage years. Looking at these books is a (weird and very reductive) way of looking at my life. So putting my collection in order and getting to see the whole thrust of it at once still has a great effect on me.
That said … I’m fairly certain there’s stuff missing. And not just stuff I’ve loaned out or purged over the years (our move to California was a big driver of paring down my collection). But stuff that I’m fairly certain I would have kept, and that I’m fairly certain isn’t currently loaned out. The original Civil War was fairly influential on a summer of my life; it’s not here. There’s a neat 52 follow-up series in which Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman fight the Four Horsemen; it’s not here. I’ve wanted to re-read Daytripper for years; I can’t find it. And there’s more.
So, the battle continues. Somewhere in my parents’ house, there’s likely at least one more box of comics, hiding somewhere I have not yet looked. I’m hopeful that someday soon, I’ll find that box and be able to bring it here. And then, my comic collection will finally be whole again.