Testing the HEX Jim Lee Collectors Backpack at New York Comic Con

It seems I’ve always got some interesting new thing to review here at Batman News, and today, I’ve got another first: a backpack.

That’s right, a backpack.

Now, to some of you, that might sound terribly uninteresting. Maybe you haven’t worn a backpack since grade school, and you can’t conceive of any reason to start wearing one again. But for many of you—especially those of you who attend comic/pop culture conventions—finding the right bag to carry your stuff is a real concern.

Earlier this year, legendary Batman artist Jim Lee partnered with fashion brand HEX to develop two distinct backpacks: one for artists, and one for collectors. They successfully Kickstarted the line, and now they’re available to the general public. HEX sent Batman News a Collectors Backpack a few weeks ago, and so with New York Comic Con on the horizon, I agreed to take it for a spin. Is it different enough from other packs to justify its existence? Does it have enough storage space to pack supplies for a day in the big city? And, most importantly, does it protect comic books and other collectibles? Read on.

How does it look?

The Kickstarter campaign for these bags included limited edition versions featuring Bat-symbol zipper pulls (Nolan Dark Knight style, oddly enough) and some slick blue-line Jim Lee Batman art. The standard edition has neither of these features, so from the outside, it looks like a fairly plain, black backpack. The lining on the inside has the blue-line art, which is nice, but we aren’t often looking at the liner.

Of course, I don’t need my backpack to be stylish, either. I can—and did—put pins and buttons on it to spruce things up, and, really, there’s nothing wrong with a sparse, utilitarian aesthetic on something you use to carry your stuff.

How does it feel?

When I first put the pack on my back, I feared that my back wouldn’t be able to handle a full day with it. The compact design of this thing means that all of the weight you put in it will be concentrated in a smaller area of your back than it would be in a larger pack. But I quickly adjusted to that initial feeling, and after a day walking through neighborhoods, city streets, and the convention, I’m convinced that my back actually fared better than it has at previous shows with a larger bag.

So why is that? One obvious answer is that I probably packed less in a smaller bag. Another might be that I packed fewer bulging items (like balled-up t-shirts), so there wasn’t anything pushing into my back. That second one is certainly true. But on the first, while I may have packed fewer items than I did for Toy Fair back in February, I was definitely carrying more weight. I had a number of comic books—including a hardcover trade—as well as two (neatly-folded!) t-shirts, a fairly heavy power bank, my MacBook Pro, food, water, an umbrella (Batman-themed, of course), and more. I easily had as much or more actual weight in the bag as I did in my normal backpack at Toy Fair.

I’m not a doctor or anything like it, but it seems to me that the difference here is in how close the HEX bag keeps all of that weight to my body, and, in particular, my shoulders. In a conventional pack, there’s more vertical storage space, so a portion of that weight—the heaviest of it, in fact—is quite a bit further down from your shoulders than it is in the HEX bag. My normal pack also has more horizontal depth, and a fair bit of weight gets distributed across that depth. This means that there’s more weight further away from my shoulders, and more strain on my lower back and abdomen to compensate and keep me standing straight. With the HEX keeping everything closer to the shoulders, there’s less strain on those muscles, and thus less fatigue during a long day at a convention.

I have one disappointment, though it is hardly unique to the HEX Collectors bag. I was hoping that, maybe, perhaps, this would be the one bag to feature some crazy airflow/cooling technology that would prevent my back of my shirt from becoming a soaked rag, but alas! Like every other pack I wear, my eager sweat glands won out, and I had to change shirts halfway through the show. Oh well!

How much does it hold?

This is marketed as a bag for comic collectors, and in that regard, the central feature is the layout of the main compartment. There are two sets of three book pockets, and space between them for additional books or items. There’s also a laptop sleeve at the back of the compartment, but you could easily repurpose this for another book or smaller prints.

Since I was covering more than just this backpack at the show, I brought my laptop along. I left my usual zip-up sleeve at home and just put the Mac directly in the backpack’s slot. I loaded up some bagged, boarded comics to get signed, electing to place them in the pockets furthest from the laptop, separating DC, Marvel, and indies into separate pockets. I threw a copy of Pete Tomasi’s The Bridge into one of the pockets close to the laptop.

Between the two sets of book pockets, I placed my folded extra tees. On one side of the compartment, I put my power bank—it’s a big, square-shaped one, and it fit perfectly in that space.

There’s a pocket on the front of the bag near the top, and I used it for absolutely nothing. It seems like it might be ideally suited to a cell phone or a smaller power bank, but I use my phone for pictures constantly, and without a wire escape, there isn’t much value in me putting the bank in there except for storage. And my bank wouldn’t fit, anyway.

The main front compartment has a lot of great options, and I was able to put a pen, protein bars, jerky, candy, Comics Now business cards, wires, and whatever other odds and ends in there.

There are two water bottle pouches on the pack, one on each side. This is a pretty standard featured but this particular bag allows them to double as poster tube holders. There are security straps at the top of the bag above each one, and the pouches have drawstrings so that you can make them smaller for water bottles (or smaller poster tubes) or let them out for standard tubes.

I didn’t bring any tubes. I did pick up a print at the show, but it was a 6×9, and I was able to place it and its protective sleeve inside my copy of The Bridge to keep it safe. I did bring disposable water bottles, however, and here’s where we come to another slight drawback. In a standard backpack, the bottle pouches have elastic at the top, and I’ve never lost a bottle once. But with the HEX bag’s drawstring, it’s possible that you might fail to tighten enough, and you can—as I did—sit down to lunch only to find that your last water bottle got lost somewhere between Art Baltazar and the Korean Barbecue in the Javits food court. Now you have to buy an expensive drink to go with your expensive lunch, and if it weren’t for the fact that said lunch is delightfully named “The Ribeye of the Tiger,” you’d be in a pretty bad mood.

But anyway, all joking aside, it is a real problem, even if it’s a small one. I’m often reaching for a water bottle while I’ve still got the pack on, and if I’ve got the drawstring tight enough to guarantee the bottle is staying put, then I’ve probably got it tight enough to make it difficult for me to get it out when I need it. I can adjust my habits and make sure I sit down and sip water more often, but I wonder if they couldn’t have found a way to go with elastic instead of the drawstring and let me continue doing things the way I always have.

How does it hold up?

Time will tell how well this bag survives the rigors of a convention. At $140, you would hope that it’s made well enough to survive, and as best I can tell, it is. What’s more, the compact design makes it a smaller target for banging into things, and an easier thing to store on public transit. I hope it’s made well enough to survive abuse, but I can already see that it’s made smart enough to help you avoid abuse in the first place, and I think that’s great.

More importantly, the things I brought with me survived the show just fine. My laptop and other gadgetry did fine, but more to the central reason for this thing’s existence, my comics and the print I picked up survived without damage. Not a bent corner on a board or book, not a crease, not a scratch. And if you’ve ever been to New York Comic Con, you can imagine just how much jostling, banging, and smushing must have happened to this bag as I wore it on the show floor.

So what’s the verdict?

$140 is a lot of money for most of us. But I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a bag that is as thoughtfully designed as this one. Those of us that go to multiple conventions and trade shows each year will find real utility in the HEX Jim Lee Collectors Backpack, and I think it’s a better option than any other bag I’ve used. Even if you don’t go to shows, this is still the best way to transport comic books on a trip, and its compact design makes it ideal for a carry-on when flying or taking Amtrak. If you’re serious about comics, and serious about keeping them safe on the road, I haven’t seen a better solution than this one.

DISCLAIMER: HEX provided Batman News with the backpack used for this review.