First Comics, Christmas Edition

Action 425It’s about a month on, but I thought I’d share one of my Christmas gifts with everyone. I got a copy of Action Comics #425 from my lovely wife, Joanne. It’s a beautiful copy for a 46 year old book with an iconic Nick Cardy cover.

This book is a quasi-key for me for although it doesn’t have a historic story element or first appearance, it has an important place in my history as a collector.  Prior to this I’d had limited exposure to comics.  I had some vague memories of the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man and “The Marvel Super Heroes” cartoons, although I was convinced that that last was called “The Merry Marvel Marching Society” because of the closing theme (I have no recollection, what-so-ever of the opening theme btw).  I think I recall my Dad reading a Daredevil comic or two to me but, 50+ years later I’m not even sure that’s an actual memory and not some sort of mental ret-con.

Over the previous few months, I’d gotten a few comics and enjoyed them and as seriously as a 9-year old could, I decided to become a “comic book collector,” whatever I thought that was.  I promptly marched out (as promptly as I could, anyway, given that I needed to amass 20¢) and picked up this issue.  This was my first comic as a collector.

I hadn’t reread this book for most of the intervening time, in fact all I really recalled of it was that there was a “story about an emu.”  That’s still better than it could be, I suppose.  I can’t remember anything about my first Batman comic, although I know there must have been one since at some point in my life, I didn’t own any Batman comics, and now I own a few.

I’d made a few attempts to figure out what this “first official comic” was in the 80’s to no avail.  I knew it was an Action, I thought it had an emu in it and I knew it came out sometime in 1973.  That’s surprisingly little to go on when your main resource is whatever happens to be in stock at your LCS.  Still, 45 years after I’d first picked up the issue, with some skills of google-fu and a visit to what a friend calls “that dark web site,” I managed to track it down.

It’s easy to see why I’d have picked this book.  The cover is amazing.  It’s unusual in that the main hero isn’t the focus; the cover centers on some older kids reading a comic while a little red-haired kid is excited to see Superman flying by in the background.  I’m sure it spoke to me.  I can’t imagine a better cover to attract a kid who just decided to become a collector.

The interior of the book is less impressive.  There are three (Count ’em! 3!) stories, which is a surprising number for a standard sized comic.

Spoilers follow, but come on… you’ve had 46 years people!

The Superman story begins in New Zealand when a hunter, Jon Halaway is attacked by a 12-foot tall flightless bird.  He kills it in self defense.  It turns out, the bird was a Moa (Sorry, Emu fans). There were nine species of Moa in New Zealand, but all of them had been hunted to extinction by the year 1500.

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Halaway is distraught, and becomes obsessed by this tragedy.  He searches and discovers the Moa had left an egg near an underground hot-spring that emitted “strange fumes.” He wastes no time bringing the egg back to the States, where it becomes clear that it is sapping his life force.

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The egg hatches and the Moa develops some bizarre powers, including the ability to fly by flapping its feet.

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After getting telepathic messages from the Moa, Superman is able to return it to the hot spring and Halaway recovers.

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It’s a pleasant, lightweight story, and I liked the conservational aspect.

The second story features the Atom though the title, “The 13 Men Who Run the World” is a bit of a bait and switch. A lot happens and is hung on a thin plot in a mere 6 1/2 pages. We discover Ray’s size-control mechanism is malfunctioning and that Jean is representing a biochemist who is accused of stealing gold from Fort Knox. Her client is being falsely linked to the aforementioned 13 men in the title. In quick succession, a witness who wants to come forward is murdered, Ray and Jean are kidnapped, we learn that the 13 men don’t actually exist, Ray beats the actual bad guys as the Atom and they are brought to justice.

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The final feature is the first installment of an early Human Target story and it stays close to the character’s formula: someone is in danger of being murdered and Christopher Chance assumes his identity to catch the killer. In this case the potential victim is “the Great Antonio” who is scheduled to walk a tight-rope across Niagara Falls.

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The ads are fun too. Did you know that a BB gun is an ideal way to convince your parents that you’re responsible enough for an actual, real gun? The ad doesn’t quite come out and say that, but I think the subtext is clear.  Evidently owning a B-B gun leads to responsible gun play in later life.

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Also, you can get enough training from an outfit that advertises in comic books to get a good job in “electronics.” Mr. Bemis, by the way, is the name of Burgess Meredith’s character in the Twilight Zone episode “Time Enough at Last.”  Things do not end well for him.

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There’s also 3 pages of ads for “Pirates of the Caribbean” model kits, which probably seemed excessive for the time and still seems excessive after 5 movies.  Also, also there are Sea Monkey’s but not Polaris Nuclear Subs or x-ray glasses.

This book was a pleasant trip down memory lane.  It makes an interesting addition to my collection; it’s wildly different from the other books I have from the same time period.

Credit Where It’s Due Department: Don Heck and the Wondrous Wasp

“Who created the Wasp?” might be less of a settled question than is usually believed.

I’ve been working my way through the Ant-Man/Giant Man era in Tales to Astonish (TtA) and I made it img_4223up to the first appearance of the Wasp a month ago or so.  I was enjoying the story and the art and looking at the picture to the left, it’s obvious that Don Heck is the penciller.  The art looked particularly good, and I wondered who did the inking.  Could Heck be inking himself?  I turned to the credits and to my surprise, I discovered Jack Kirby is credited as the artist while heck is only credited as the inker.  That seemed to contradict everything I see in the book.

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The Wasp is generally considered a Lee/Kirby creation or a Lee/Hart/Kirby creation.  I probably first read this story when I scored a copy of The Superhero Women (TSW) back in the early 80’s.  Here’s what Stan Lee had to say about the art in this story in TSW.  “As for the artwork – who else but Jack Kirby?  And it was a real treat to have Dashin’ Donnie Heck available to do the inking.”  But he says something else that’s interesting.  “Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to write the story that introduced Janet Van Dyne.  Luckily, however, after writing the basic plot, I was able to give it to an old friend of mine, Ernest Huntley Hart.”   A bit later we see “Why he signed his name as H. E. Huntley is something the world may never know…” [1]

What do we get from this?  Lee was busy, busy enough to pass off the scripting duties for this issue to Ernie Hart.  Tales to Astonish #44 was published for June 1963.  To  quantify how busy Lee was at that time, we can check his credits at ComicBookDB.com.  He worked on at least 11 comics in May of 1963 as well as 8 comics in June and 11 in July.  Kirby was no less busy; he worked on 10 comics in May, 7 in June and 10 in July.

Let’s look at a few panels from Tales to Astonish #44, from page 12…

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and from page 17.

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There’s not a lot here that seems reminiscent of Kirby.  You can compare these to any of Heck’s pencils from this time period, this looks like his work.  The faces and figures look like Heck’s; one of the characters on page 12 could be a doppelganger of Happy Hogan.  The hands look like Heck’s work; he tended to draw longer, more slender fingers on the male characters.  The shading also looks like his work; here that tends much more toward hatching (clusters of close parallel lines) than is typical of Kirby’s work.

Compare these to some other panels credited to Kirby published the same month, first from Rawhide Kid #34…

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and these from Journey into Mystery #93.

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The art in these issues scream Kirby.  The faces look like Kirby’s and the figures look like Kirby’s.  The shading looks like Kirby; Kirby tended toward more and larger areas of solid black than Heck did.  The hands look like Kirby’s as he tended to draw blockier, squared-off fingers on the men.

So, giving Kirby full credit for the artwork seems dubious.  The credits in the issue certainly make it seem there is some element of truth to it, but the other evidence should at least make us think there’s something worth investigating here.

Who created Iron Man?

ToS 39 Splash

Let’s rewind three months to a comic published in March of 1963.  Tales of Suspense (ToS) #39 introduced the Invincible Iron Man to the world.

The creative process for “Iron Man is Born!” seems very similar to the process for “The Creature from Kosmos!”  Judging from the credits, Lee was responsible for the basic plot, but he handed off scripting duties to his brother, Larry Lieber.  We know Kirby did the early design work for Iron Man and penciled the cover while Heck was responsible for the interior art.

But, actually it’s not that simple.  Kirby claimed to have done full breakdowns for the story and this was reported for years.  Mark Evanier did a careful study of Kirby’s involvement with this story and with Daredevil #1 and concluded that Kirby…

“definitely did not do full breakdowns as has been erroneously reported about … the first ‘Iron Man’. [In the early 1970s], Jack claimed to have laid out those stories, and I repeated his claim in print — though not before checking with Heck who said, in effect, ‘Oh, yeah. I remember that. Jack did the layouts’. We all later realized he was mistaken. … Both also believed that Jack had contributed to the plots of those debut appearances — recollections that do not match those of Stan Lee. (Larry Lieber did the script for the first Iron Man story from a plot that Stan gave him.) Also, in both cases, Jack had already drawn the covers of those issues and done some amount of design work. He came up with the initial look of Iron Man’s armor….” [2]

Is the situation here analogous to TtA #44?  Is it the very same situation with the claim of doing the layouts preceding the writing of the credits box?  Much depends on what is meant by “art” and “inking.”  It’s likely that later credits would delineate the tasks here as “layouts” and “embellishing” which recognizes a much greater contribution on the part of the inker, but comic book credits were still in their infancy.

Introducing Credits

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During the Golden Age, comics tended to credit a single creator if they credited anyone at all.  This practice had not changed much by the time Fantastic Four (FF) #1 was published a mere 17 months earlier, as you can see here it credited only Lee and Kirby.  It was Stan Lee who introduced the “credits box” to the industry, mimicking credits in motion pictures in an attempt to give comics a greater sense of importance.  Eventually the credits would recognize editors, writers, pencillers, inkers, letterers and colorists and some more nuanced roles such as co-plotters, layout artists and embellishers.  At the time I suspect that the lines between these various roles was still being codified.  Is it possible that the only difference in the credits between TtA #44 and ToS #39 is merely different, but not  yet codified meanings of “art” and “inker?”

Don Heck as an Inker

Some inkers are known for being heavy handed, where their personal style overwhelms the style of the penciller.  Could that be the case here?  It’s not likely.  Let’s look at a couple of examples.  Heck inked Amazing Spider-Man #63 over the pencils of John Romita.  Here’s a few panels.

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Romita’s style is undiminished while there are very few indicators of Heck’s influence.  We see something similar in ToS #80 where, more on point, we see Heck’s inks over Kirby’s pencils.

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This is quite clearly Kirby’s work.  The hallmarks are there: the composition, the poses, the black areas in the shading and the look of the hands.  If anything, Heck is responsible for giving the art nice, clean lines that enhance Kirby’s pencils rather than supersede them.  Although this is a small sample, it seems that, if Heck had been given detailed pencils from Kirby, we would have a finished product that reflected Kirby’s style. [3]

If we want to see a contemporary rendering of Ant-Man and the Wasp by Kirby, we need look no further than Janet’s second appearance in Fantastic Four #16, published the following month, July 1963.

Janet only appears in this single panel.  Let’s compare it to this image from TtA #44.

The broad scheme of Janet’s outfit is the same in both books.  However, in TtA #44 the outfit is more formfitting than the version in FF #16 and it drapes a bit better.  Both of these imply Heck’s influence.  The other distinct difference is in the outfit’s shoulders; in the TtA version the shoulders are smaller and up swept, making them more evocative of wings.  If both versions were pencilled in detail by Kirby, it seems as though there would be more similarity in the details.

In FF #16, we see Hank employ his catapult to travel across the city.  Compare the FF version,

to this image from TtA #44.

The final image in the FF version is far more dynamic, one of Kirby’s calling cards.  This second sequence seems much more similar to this sequence from TtA #43, (pencilled by Heck) than it does to the FF version.

This isn’t, by itself definitive, there are less dynamic catapult sequences that were penciled by Kirby.  Here’s another image from FF # 16.

Again, Kirby’s signature dynamism is on full display.  It’s tricky to find a similar scene in an Ant-Man story,  but here is one of the highlights of TtA #44.

The action is depicted competently, but it’s a much more conventional depiction than the fight sequence in FF #16.  In the latter piece, most of the action is parallel to the panel, occurring safely behind it.  In the first, the reader is either drawn directly into the panel or the action is projecting directly out of the panel, moving directly toward the reader.  The action is even more muted in this sequence from TtA #45 by Heck.

The scene from TtA #44 looks qualitatively different both from the panels from FF #16 and from Heck’s artwork in TtA #45.  It’s possible that TtA #44 is a hybrid, using Heck’s more traditional poses with a bit of Kirby’s flair for action.

Original Art Pages

One helpful consequence of the Ant-Man and the Wasp movie having been released so recently is that many pages of the original artwork for TtA #44 have been for sale online.  This makes it easy to find and inspect the artwork to see if anything can be learned from it.  Unfortunately, at least as far as can be seen on-line, most of the pencil work is covered by the ink lines or is not visible for other reasons.  But there are notable exceptions.

In the left-hand panel here, you can see pencil marks probbly meant to depict Janet’s shoulders as she faces the projected image more directly than in the final image.  In the right-hand panel, there is an oval in the approximate position of Janet’s head which might indicate an original sketch where Janet’s head was smaller than Heck drew it in the final version. TtA #44 pg 16 panel 4

There is an image of page 16 on-line where a lot of  the pencil work is visible.  Let’s look at two panels from this page.  The pencils in this image look rough.  You can also see penciled-in placements for the dialogue balloons.  That could be Kirby’s handwriting in the balloons, but there’s not enough visible to be certain.  What this implies about the plotting process is unknown.   TtA #44 pg 16 panel 5

The rough nature of the layouts is particularly evident in this image, where it looks like Heck made a number of changes as he inked the final version, specifically, Hank’s arm is at his side rather than  on Janet’s shoulder, his foot is moved and Janet’s wings are positioned differently.  There’s no reason to necessarily assume that the pencils here aren’t Kirby, but the work is sparse enough that, judging from this alone, they could just as easily be by Heck or any number of other artists.  Other Kirby pencils that can be found online are carefully detailed and definitely display the artist’s distinctive style.

Conclusion

I’m far from the first person to suggest this but it is clear that Kirby (or whoever did the pencils) did only a minimal layout for TtA #44.   Kirby was certainly  involved in the design work and the cover art.  Kirby is credited for the “art” but there are other indications that he is indeed responsible for the layouts.  The technology in the story resembles what we call “Kirby machines”  and the design of the creature appears to be more reminiscent of Kirby’s work than much of the other artwork in the story.  Although not as dynamic as the art in other Kirby publications, the layouts and the action sequences appear different from Heck’s typical work.

But these layouts are sparse enough that to credit Heck only as the inker is an understatement.  His style dominates the art in this story and he must have been responsible for many of the fine details of the issue.  In ToS #39, Kirby designed the Iron Man armor and Heck developed the look of Tony Stark and the supporting cast.  It remains an open question in my mind whether the creation of the Wasp isn’t directly analogous.

Based on what I’ve seen so far, Don Heck is an integral part of the creation of the Wasp and I think he should share credit with Kirby, Lee and Hart.

Footnotes:

[1] I had initially wondered if this name swap was due to some sloppiness in the credits, but it appears that Hart scripted seven stories for Marvel in 1963, two Human Torch stories from Strange Tales (ST) 110 and 111 and the Ant-Man and the Wasp stories in TtA 44 to 48.  All of these are credited to H. E. Huntley except the story in ST #111 which is credited to H. Huntley.  It’s still possible that the the credit for TtA #44 was an error that was then repeated, but that seems far less likely than if it were a single occurrence.

[2] This quote was taken from the Don Heck page at ComicBookDB.com where it is sourced back to Evanier’s “POV Online” column.

[3] Speaking of Credit where it’s due, this post was inspired by a discussion with Jared Aiosa of the Heroes Your Mom Threw Out Comic Shop in Elmira, NY.  The Don Heck angle was self-evident, but Jared pointed me toward a lot of the other things I investigate here.

References:

 

What if Captain America became President?

Cap for President

First Published on Quora, 14 October 2019.

CaptainAmerica250It’s worth pointing out here that this very idea has already been played around with in the comics. In Captain America 250 (October 1980) Steve is approached by the New Populist Party and asked to be their candidate for president. He gives it serious thought and spends most of the issue debating the pros and cons with his friends, Avengers and otherwise. The ending of the issue is bittersweet; Steve, of course, decides not to run for president and the enthusiasm that had been building within the NPP turns to a profound disappointment.

About six months later, Marvel itself answered this question in What If? #26. Of course we don’t really know whether WI#26 tells us what “really” would have happened, but it’s at least as valid as what anybody else would have said. And in some sense, that’s the ultimate answer to the question at hand. It really depends on who gets to write the story.

Cap #250 is a classic. What if #26 is pretty good. Both are worth checking out and are available on Marvel Unlimited.

what-if-26.pngTo give my own opinion, there’s two things I think are worth addressing, how Steve would have governed and how the public would have been likely to respond.

Politically, I think Steve is likely to be a New Dealer. He was born in 1920 and came of age around 1940; FDR was popular and won a fairly lopsided electoral victory that year, although not nearly as lopsided as 1936. I think what we’ve seen from Steve over the years bares this out, from Englehart’s run in the 70’s to his reason for stepping out of the role in “Captain America No More” to his stance in Civil War and beyond (Hydra-Steve not withstanding). In foreign policy I think he would be an excellent diplomat, able to find common ground with other nations and move forward productively. He would certainly be more apt to use military force than Carter, but probably not nearly so apt as either of the Bushes. He would be relentlessly ethical.

But I think that the public’s response to Steve as president would be more indicative of his legacy as Commander-in-Chief than his political positions.

If he had been elected President in 1980 when “Cap for President” first hit the stands, conservative or liberal, I think President Rogers would have been a transformational  figure. Six years out from Watergate and a bit over a year after Carter’s malaise speech, the American Electorate was in flux. “Reagan Democrats” were becoming a thing while there was a candidate for the Republican nomination, John Anderson, who was arguably more liberal than the Democrats’ eventual nominee. If there’s one constant in all the portrayals of Steve Rogers, it’s in his ability to lead and inspire. Cap as president in the early 1980’s would have changed the political landscape for a generation or more.

On the other hand, had Steve been elected in the current political climate, I don’t think any of that would have mattered. Ed Brubaker (I’m pretty sure, I haven’t been able to locate the quote) made a relevant remark about the time Steve “died” in the aftermath of Civil War. He said that it was tricky to write Cap. One side of the political spectrum mainly wanted to see Cap beating up terrorists, while the other side mainly wants to see him giving speeches about rights and fairness. If anything, this aspect of has gotten more extreme over the past 11 years. Steve as president in the 21st Century probably presides over a lackluster presidency with one side of the aisle lauding his accomplishments and the other condemning his inadequacies, justly or unjustly.

And that, I think says much more about the state of politics in America today than it does about Captain America.

References:

Captain America #250 (October 1980)

What If? # 26

Captain America – Wikipedia

 

Man and Machine Man

First Published April 2018

It seemed natural to follow up on Kirby’s 2001: A Space Odyssey by reading his run of issues in Machine Man, #1-9. Indeed, the last three issues of 2001 are closer to being a prolog for this series than they are a coda for thatimg_8535.jpg one.

The first issue is a bit jarring. There’s a near complete reset of supporting characters despite coming only seven months after 2001 #10. Visually, the first nine issues are pure Kirby goodness that escape the excessive cheesiness that diminish some of his other writing efforts. In these issues, it seems that the book isn’t intended to exist within the Marvel Universe. That makes sense as it continued from a licensed series which compared the character to the “Marvel Superheroes” in a way that doesn’t seem natural within that universe. The writing is kind of klunky in places. There’s a lot of what Star Trek fans would call “technobabble” as Machine Man demonstrates some new ability or other and Colonel Kragg (a character precisely in the General Ross motif) reminds us that he lost an eye battling the other robots in the X series virtually every single time that he appears. Not a great collection of books, less interesting than the 2001 series it sprang from but still, an enjoyable read.

The series seems to end here, promising a follow-up in Incredible Hulk. But the cancellation became a hiatus and the series was resurrected after a few months. More on that later. Probably.

Edit:
Jim Kosmicki inspired me to look at the timing of this. It turns out this is the very moment Jack left Marvel for the last time to work in animation. His last work for Marvel was Machine Man #9 and Devil Dinosaur #9, both cover-dated December 1978. Devil Dinosaur ended permanently. I don’t know if the Machine Man revival was planned or if he proved popular enough in the Hulk issues to justify restarting the book.

Not Kubrick or Clarke, but Kirby’s Space Odyssey

First published 20 April 2018

Finally finished this run on Saturday and read ‘em today. The first 7 issues are a lot of fun and… trippy.  The first few issues follow the pattern established in the movie.  The monolith encounters a creature in the far past; it then encounters a character in a near-future setting and that character is evolved into a star child.  The star child then moves on to other adventures.  The themes continue, but the narrative loosens as the series progresses.

It’s impresimg_3531sive to me that Kirby was able to draw on the concepts of the Movie and the novel in non-trivial, substantive ways. I’m not generally a fan of Kirby as a writer. The Inhumans run in Amazing Adventures is a great example; it’s hard to overstate how much better those got after Thomas and Adams took over. But Kirby had clearly grown a lot as a writer over the intervening 6-7 years. These were spot on and much better than I’d expected.

Machine Man is introduced in issue 8 and the 2001 stuff fades into the background as the book shifts to a standard superhero narrative. Still good though. Overall, a fun read.

Peter Parker’s Playlist

I just took a stab at answering the following question on Quora, and I thought I would share it here as well.

What would Spider-Man/Peter Parker’s music playlist be?

No definitive playlist, but some thoughts. The only mention I recall of Peter Parker’s music taste is from Marvel Team-Up Annual #4 from 1981.

Purple Man has Peter climb a lamppost to distract him and has him sing. His choice of music? Elvis Costello. Specifically “Oliver’s Army” from Armed Forces.

Extrapolating from this, here’s my guess. Peter probably listens to well regarded artists who are slightly out of the mainstream. Elvis Costello is established. Perhaps also artists like the Velvet Underground, Big Star, Nick Lowe or The Talking Heads.

Popular and mainstream artists might be less likely. Pulling from the same time period, maybe not Madonna, Michael Jackson or U2. These are mostly 1980’s examples since that’s when the comic came out, but you could extend the same thinking to other decades. It feels to me like it would hold true.

The one thing we can say for sure, is that Peter isn’t just listening to the top 40; he’s done some research and I suspect his tastes are fairly eclectic. It wouldn’t surprise me if he listened to some Big Band music if that was what he heard growing up with Aunt May and Uncle Ben.

It would be interesting

to see what other references to music we could find in the comics.

Update: Blaine Savini, a member of Old Guys who Love Old Comics on Facebook, Peter Likes Ella Fpointed  out that we also learn in the Comics the Peter likes Ella Fitzgerald.  This is from Amazing Spider-Man #136, September 1974.

The Album in question is likely Ella in London (4 1/2 Stars, allmusic.com) which is the only 1974 issue listed in her discography on ellafitzgerald.com. It contains songs by George and Ira Gershwin, Duke Ellington and Cole Porter.

Notice that MJ clearly implies that Peter doesn’t listen to much in the way of popular music.  He mentions that he’s a junior in college in this issue, if that means he’s 21, he would have been Spider-Man for about 6 years at this point.  In 1964 we would have been 11.

But,well regarded, check.  Out of the matinstream, check.  Ella Fitzgerald and Elvis Costello: Eclectic, check.

References:

 

 

Not Your Father’s Comic Book Box or Something Clever About Cardboard

First Published 28 January 2018

I got one of BCW’s new comic bins for my “Good Stuff.” Here’s a few impressions.

The bin is just slightly too tall for my shelves (designed for long boxes) and not quite wide enough for comics in mylar sleeves. Neither of those things was unexpected, but a pleasant surprise would have been nice. If BCW markets a magazine-sized bin, I’ll probably pick one up.

The bin wasn’t too hard to assemble, but the on-line video was little help; it was pretty vague and didn’t address the things that weren’t intuitively obvious. I would have preferred printed directions. I noticed there was a certain amount of static electricity present and that attracted dust. The next one gets assembled in the cat-free comic room.

The removable dividers are ideal for keeping your books upright even when the box is not-quite-full.

Once assembled, the bin feels sturdy and looks nice. A set of them would give you good storage that uses space efficiently. It’s not airtight, so I don’t think condensation is likely to be an issue.

A set would likely be cost-prohibitive for a large collection, but I think a few bins for high-end books would be a good investment.