Back Issues

I’ve been volunteering at Cloud City Comics & Toys since February 2012.

I help organize their boxes of back-issue comics, putting them in alphabetic and numeric order. I keep general tabs on the 60+ boxes of old comics in the front of the store, which are generally in order but can become slowly disorganized through their constant use by customers.

outside boxes

My main priority, however, is organizing the boxes in the store room in the back, where Cloud City puts the comics they buy from other collectors, and which eventually end up for sale online. Since they are constantly buying collections, this is an endless task! The comics in these back-room boxes are often completely random, so they must be organized from scratch.  Here’s a small sample:


Originally, I just organized these boxes individually.  I am now engaged in a new “Uber Organization,” which is slowly creating an inter-box order, with the first box starting with the A comics and moving along to the last box ending with all the Z comics.  There are scores of boxes to be organized and interpolated.

A standard comics long box holds about 200-300 comics. I can organize one to three individual boxes an hour, depending on how well they’re organized in the first place.  With the new Uber-Organization, I can do about one box every two hours.

I work on Back Issues depending on need.  Originally I worked there about two hours a week.  After I finished organizing all the boxes in the front and back, I took a break for a few months until there was more organizing to do.  I am now back to working on the Uber-Organization every week.

A lot of my work is about systems organization, and often I deal with very complex systems, as seen in my paleontology projects (some of which can be seen on this site), tree projects, or In Medias Res. Back Issues, on the other hand, intentionally deals with a very straightforward kind of organization (alphabetic and numeric), but also one that has a direct, positive, real-world impact on the store in which I volunteer: putting the comics in order improves the customer experience in the front of the store, and allows Cloud City to more easily put their back-room comics up for sale online.  Since a lot of my work also involves me trying to help people for free (although I do get a discount on my comics, so not entirely free in this case!), this “helpful volunteerism” is also an important aspect of the work.

I want to thank Jeff Watkins, the owner of Cloud City, for generously allowing me to work with the store on this project.

Satellite Store/Comics Lending Library

I’ve done two projects where I am trying to spread an appreciation of comics to everyday people. They were both inspired by my work organizing the back issues at Cloud City Comics.

For the fist project, Satellite Store, I borrowed a box of comics from Cloud City, with their permission.  The comics were all random old, unpriced back issues that had not yet been sorted into Cloud City’s various sales sites.  We took out all the really rare and expensive ones, but there were still plenty of pretty good issues in there.  I put them in a gallery exhibition and put them up for sale for 3 comics for a dollar–much cheaper than they would be in a store.  The goal was to see if standard gallery viewers would check out some comics if they were sold for rock-bottom prices. I sold 39 comics over the length of the show, making $13.  I split the money evenly with Cloud City.

Here’s the box of comics:

back issues

And the money! People were on the honor system to pay up, and everyone did.


For the next version, I created a Comic Lending Library in the lounge area in my department’s building, where students often relax between classes.

Here, the comics were not for sale, but were available for everyone to read.  In this case, I bought the box from Cloud City when they had a sale of complete boxes that were sealed so you wouldn’t know what was inside.  Once again, they were random old comics with some very cool issues inside.  I left the box in the lounge, with instructions that people could read anything they wanted inside. They were also allowed to take them out and keep them, but if they did, they would have to put a new comic own their own in, to replace it.  All the comics in the box are listed on the side.  As old ones are taken out, they are crossed off, and as new ones are put in, they are added to the list.


This is partly an experiment in trust and the upkeep of the commons.  If something is free, will people take care of it?  I check it every semester: in the first semester, 29 comics were taken out with no replacements.  This was something of a failure, although not unexpected.  I was honestly happy that no one stole the entire box, as it would have been easy to do so.  On the positive side, people had clearly gone through and read lots of the comics, and in that sense it was quite a success.  In the two semesters since then, only 7 comics total have been taken, which I think is because the rules of the library have become better known and respected.  I have occasionally replenished the box with new comics as others are taken out.  It continues to be used, and the comics read, quite often.