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Send Us Your Shelf Porn!

When I came up with the idea of Shelf Porn a year ago, one of the things I hoped is someone would go into detail about how to make their own shelves -- offer a how-to tour of sorts for the handy comics collector so they could perhaps follow suit. Now, thanks to my co-worker and friend Bill Peschel, that day has come to pass (alright, I asked him but still).

Bill is a blogger of note in his own right, and has a book that will be coming in November from Penguin Perigee, entitled "Writers Gone Wild: The Feuds, Frolics and Follies of Literature's Great Adventurers, Drunkards, Lovers, Iconoclasts, and Misanthropes," which he describes as "a collection of dirty stories about famous writers." Keep an eye out for it in the fall.

A quick message to those of you who have sent pictures over the holidays. First of all, thank you for taking the time to answer my pleas and send me your pics. My apologies for not getting back to you, but you should be hearing back from me individually later this week.

And now, let me turn it over to Bill, as he puts on his Bob Villa outfit ...

Thanks you, Chris and Robot 6 for your invitation. This is not going to be so much about the what of my collection, which is small for reasons explained below, as how to organize and display it, using a variety of bookcases and shelves built for this purpose. So think of this as the “New Yankee Workshop” episode of Shelf Porn.

The heyday of my comics collecting was during the ‘80s. I was young, single and working, and weekly I’d show up in the Baltimore comic shop, where I bought a lot of independents (Love and Rockets, Cerebus, Eddie Campbell), comics that would become iconic later (Watchmen and Dark Knight), reprints of classic newspaper strips (Prince Valiant, Terry and the Pirates, The Spirit), a 10-year run of Heavy Metal magazine, and fringe books such as Weirdo, Beanworld, and Fantagraphic’s Honk! and Centrifugal Bumblepuppy.

For various personal reasons - marriage, divorce, remarriage, kids, moving - I had to sell off much of that collection. But in the last year, while researching and writing “Writers Gone Wild,” I’ve been getting back into comics, reading and reviewing them, and, as part of that process, I have been trying to bring order out of chaos to my library.

Or, in other words, moving from this (taken midway through dismantling of the wall-mounted shelves):

To this:

In the finished basement and my office, there are 16 tall cases and 5 half-height cases. In this shot below, the half-height cases mask the couch without subdividing the space into a warren of little rooms. The cases to the left mask a pillar.

Looking from the TV set to the office, you can see, beyond my son playing “Super Smash Bros.,” near the curtain, two bookcases housing paperbacks. The shallow depths of these cases were ideal for the passage to the office.

Most of the cases are 24 inches wide. This width was set by the repurposed 4-foot-long melamine boards I had used for nearly a decade, and a desire to over-engineer. The last thing I wanted was saggy shelves.

These cases were built with 3/4-inch plywood sides, stained with a Minwax water-based wood stain’s Lemongrass tint (mixed at Lowe’s), and coated with Mixwax’s Water-based Polycrilic. This is washable with water and less toxic than oil-based polyurethanes, but lays on so thin that three coats leave a paper-thin gleam instead of a creamy layer.

The stain allows the grain of the plywood to pop in a way that’s pleasing to my eye. The front edge, revealing the multiple layers, showed some holes, and they were plugged with woodfill and sanded. The curve at the top was cut with a circular saw and sanded. Here’s a close-up showing the detail work:

Each melamine shelf is secured by two Phillips-head screws and supported by dadoes cut into the plywood sides using a table saw.

(The table saw I bought for this task would not accommodate blades wide enough for the dado to be cut in one pass. I made do, but my less-than-optimal skill in woodworking resulted in a lot of sloppy, uneven cuts.)

The back panels are 1/4-inch plywood, stained and polycriliced, and secured with panel nails.

Once the plan was designed, the work began assembly-line fashion. The cutting was done outdoors on sawhorses. Shirt by Norm Abram of Burbank, California:

The painting and polying was done before assembly:

Inhaling too much paint and poly at one time could cause unusual side effects:

One side project was redoing the office closets, which consisted of one long, deep passage.

I set and braced up a plywood wall to divide the space into two and cut L-shaped shelves, two for each level, supported by braces nailed into the studs.

The shelves meet in the middle, and their front edges are supported by a notched vertical board covered by pretty decorative molding. This allows the shelves to be removed.

I didn’t keep track of the cost of materials, but my best estimate for three cases breaks down like this: 9 4-foot shelves cut in half ($75); a plywood sheet for the sides ($25); 2 plywood sheets for the back ($30); stain/poly ($25); screws and nails ($7) - $162 or $54 a case. By comparison, Ikea’s Billy bookcase is wider (31 inches versus 24 inches), costs $60 and is made of chipboard. So, for about the same price, I got a smaller, stronger case in the color I want and the shelves spaced the way I need them.

Finally, here’s a look at the contents of my comic book case.

Since the children have access, this one contain the classic and more current newspaper reprints (Lil Abner, Terry & the Pirates / Steve Canyon, Krazy Kat, Doonesbury, Far Side, Baby Blues, Prince Valiant, Dilbert and Foxtrot), plus Dr. Seuss, Tintin, Beanworld and Girl Genius. For Shelf Porn, I threw in a some bits from the adult side (“Pim & Francie” is NOT family friendly unless it’s the Adams Family), and my autographed Cerebus statue. When I handed it to Dave Sim for signing, he muttered that he never received the royalties for it, but signed it anyway.

(Note, remember what I said earlier about saggy shelves? In my haste to get the job done, I forgot to secure the shelves in back with black panel nails. This is what happens when you don’t follow your blueprints. I’d fire the carpenter if he didn’t work so cheap.)

So as the kids grow older and I find the time from newspaper work, blogging and writing more books in the “Gone Wild” series - are there enough anecdotes for a “Cartoonists Gone Wild,” I wonder? - I plan to continue reassembling my collection and buying new goodies to read. And when I need more cases to house them, I’ll have the plans ready.

All I’ll need is a wormhole to store them in.

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