Thursday, December 20, 2007


Using comics and graphic novels in the classroom is a movement that is gaining momentum. As more groups such as The American Library Association, the mainstream media, and of course, The Graphic Classroom bring light to this form of literacy, the acceptance of the movement increases. This also means that more and more teachers, who were previously unfamiliar with comics, join the fray.

Once a teacher decides to use comics and graphic novels in the classroom, then the teacher must also find ways to access and store those comics. It can take time to build up a classroom comic library and not all school libraries stock comics, although more and more are doing it. Assuming that a teacher is building a good number of comics for the classroom, how does that teacher store and protect those comics safely?

Graphic novels are safer than comics because of their size and thickness. Graphic novels can be stored right on the bookshelf like any other paperback. Comics are a different story. Comics are more prone to damage and so care must be taken to protect them. It can be an expensive endeavor for a teacher to collect and purchase his own comics for use in the classroom and there is no need to increase that expense by experimenting with different comic book products. I have outlined here my recommendations on how best to protect your comics in the classroom.

Bags and Boards
The most popular and economical way to preserve comics is to bag and board them. The bags are clear, polypropylene sleeves with a flap into which the comic is placed. The flap is then pulled over the top and sealed. Because comics are flexible, the standard is to “board the comics”, which means sliding an archival safe white board into the bad behind the comic. This gives stability to the comic and protects it from being bent or damaged.

There are different sizes and types of bags. Most of the comics that I have collected are Current (Modern) Age comics. I do not recommend using older comics –Silver or Golden Age – in my classroom because of their age and cost. Comics from the 1980’s to present are considered part of the Modern Age and will make up the bulk of what most teachers offer.

The typical sizes for bags are as follows:
Current Age bags can tend to be a bit tight fitting requiring a fine touch to get the comic inside the bag safely. The problem is that children are not delicate, so this is not the best solution. BCW Supplies, a wholesale and retail comic book supplier, offers a Current Age Thick bag, which is designed for modern comics, but it is slightly larger (7 x 10 1/2) than the traditional Current sized bag. The comics slide easily into and out of the bag with no problems, yet the comic does not have too much room to move around. The Current Thick bag still uses the normal Current size board, which is available anywhere.

Not all retail comic stores will carry BCW brand named supplies and those that do may not offer the Current Thick bags. However, BCW also offers a retail site where individuals can order directly from the manufacturer. Because none of my comic book shops in the area carry my bags, I order directly from BCW. An appropriate substitute would be to use Silver Age bags and boards. They are easier to find as all comic shops will carry this size bag and board, but I find they have a bit too much room.

Traditional Bags versus Re-sealable Bags
The typical way of sealing a comic inside a bag is to tape the flap shut. The problem with this is that when you try to remove the tape to read the comic, it can tear the bag. The tape also stays on the flap, which increases the likelihood of snagging the comic on the tape as you remove it from the bag. Kids are going to do this and it will ruin your comics. I recommend using re-sealable (also referred to as flip-and-stick) bags. These bags have a strip of adhesive on the bag and do not require tape. I have experimented with different re-sealable bags. Some have the adhesive on the flap and others place the adhesive on the back of the bag. A bag with the adhesive on the flap is worthless in the classroom as kids are bound to get the comic stuck to it. Again, I recommend BCW’s Re-sealable bags because the adhesive is on the back of the bag. These are what I use.

Comics that are bagged and boarded need to be shelved or stored in some way. The comic book industry makes cardboard and plastic boxes specifically designed to hold comics. These can be purchased at almost any comic book shop. These boxes come with lids and are available in long and short sizes. Long comic boxes can be hard to manage and move, so I recommend purchasing the short boxes. They will save your back and are easier to place in small spaces.

Plastic dividers are also available. I use these with my comics to make them easier to locate in the box. These are plastic rectangles with tabs on the top. These are used to divide the comics by titles in the box. You can affix labels to the tabs showing the titles. This way children can find the comics they are looking for easily. Most comic shops will either stock these or be able to order them for you. Just ask. Brand names do not matter.

I recommend making the bulk of your comics easily available to students. We want to encourage students to read and easy access means more reading after an assignment is finished early. However, there may be comics or graphic novels that a teacher feels need to checked out or limited for some reason. The title may be expensive, controversial, or very special. Certainly a teacher can limit accessibility to these comics or graphic novels by putting them behind the desk or in a special box. However, a teacher needs to take care that the children are aware of the titles and the rules or norms that determine how or when a student can get access to these special titles. I do recommend that if a comic is very special – very precious – to you for any reason, then that comic stays home. If you want to display a very special comic that is not to be read, then there are acrylic comic book displays that do protect the investment from little hands.

Comics Versus Trade Paperbacks
Should a teacher keep comics, graphic novels, or both in the classroom? There is no right answer, but The Graphic Classroom recommends that a variety of materials be available to students. This includes stocking both comics and graphic novels in many styles, genres, and reading levels.

It is true, that many publishers will collect several issues of your favorite comic book series and publish it as a trade paperback. Typically, purchasing comics in a trade paperback format is cheaper and will last longer than an individual comic. It is a good way to stock a classroom or school library with comics. It is entirely possible for a teacher or librarian to only offer trade paperbacks and there is really nothing wrong with that. However, there is something nostalgic about reading a story from individual comics. Teaching children to respect and care for something is a good lesson and comics can help them do that. They can learn how to care for and protect individual comics.

Reading Levels
Comics tend to have a high level of interest with students. Some titles have Lexile or AR levels available. However, I caution teachers about limiting student access to comics based on reading levels. Because of the high interest, students may be interested in challenging material. I recommend allowing students to self-direct their use of comics and give them to opportunity to explore what they are interested in and can read. Because of the pictures, students may be able to read higher-level books than typical. I recommend giving students unfettered access to the classroom collection.

My Recommendations – An Overview
  1. Always bag and board your comics. Period.
  2. Use BCW’s Current Re-Sealable Bags –Thick (7 x 10 1/2).
  3. Use any brand acid-free Current sized board.
  4. Store comics in short comic boxes with lids.
  5. Use dividers between titles.
  6. Keep comics easily accessible to students.
  7. Stock both individual comics and graphic novels.
  8. Stock a variety of titles, styles, genres and reading levels.
  9. Do not restrict titles based on reading levels.

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