Book Treatments


Image courtesy of www.comicsbeat.com
An image from the pages of Wonder Woman, with Trina Robbins’ signature in the lower left corner. Photo credit: www.comicsbeat.com

History and background

The term “underground comix” defines a style of small press or self-published comic books produced outside of the mainstream styles. The Underground Comix Collection in Iowa State University Library’s Special Collections includes over 1,500 printed comics, hand-drawn sketches and related materials ranging from 1947 to 1995. Rare Books and Manuscripts Archivist Amy Bishop notes that while many of the pieces in the collection made their way to the university library in the 1970’s and the 1980’s, records indicate that there are some comics in the collection from as recently as 2007.

Photo courtesy of Iowa State Daily
Fight Girl by Trina Robbins, 1972. Underground Comix Collection,
MS 0636, Special Collections, Iowa State University Library.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the artists who worked in this style created comics that discussed controversial topics and mocked conventional society. Their work explored mature themes like drug and alcohol use, sexuality, violence, feminism, anti-abortion and anti-war sentiments, Black Power, and LGBTQ+ issues. In doing so, the artists and the publishing companies did not adhere to the Comics Code Authority (CCA), which was introduced in 1954 and was intended to censor comic book content. At one time, Underground Comix were banned books.

The official logo of the Comics Code Authority (CCA).

As an aside: While doing a little online research, I came across an interesting blog post on this subject. It was published by The Robert E. Kennedy Library of Cal Poly State University on their Special Collections blog. You could take a brief detour and read it: “Understanding Underground Comix: An Introduction to the Moore Collection.

Covers of selections from the Moore Collection of Underground Comix, Special Collections of the Robert E. Kennedy Library, California Polytechnic State University. Photo credit: CPSU

People

Many artists published with Underground Comix instead of a larger company because it gave them the opportunity to present their work with less censorship of the X-rated content. Underground Comix greats included cult figures like Robert Crumb, Gilbert Shelton, Richard Eugene “Grass” Green, Denis Kitchen and Trina Robbins.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons
Robert Crumb and Gilbert Shelton at an event at Lucca Comics & Games in 2014, Tuscany. Photo credit: Creative Commons

You may be surprised to learn that popular TV shows like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Johnny Quest, and Space Ghost drew their first breath as underground comix. In fact, Trina Robbins, a female artist who published with Underground Comix, was the first to draw Wonder Woman. Richard “Grass” Green was the first African American comix creator to participate in the movement.

Photo courtesy of the Jewish News of Northern California.
Trina Robbins, the first woman comic artist to draw Wonder Woman, poses in a book shop next to her creation. Photo credit: The Jewish News of Northern California.

ISU Library Special Collections also holds a related collection of Clay Geerdes photographs (MS 0630). Clay Geerdes took numerous photos of Underground Comix artists and of their work. Geerdes’ photographs have appeared in many publications and were published as a book, “The Underground Comix Family Album“, in 1998.

Left: Gilbert Shelton inks a page for his Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers in Venice, CA, July 1971. Right: Gary Arlington gives a few tips to Armageddon artist Barney Steel in his San Francisco Comic store, 1971. Images from the Clay Geerdes Collection, MS 0630, Special Collections, Iowa State University Library

Conservation treatment

The library’s collection of 3-dimensional artifacts contains a few dozen buttons from the early 1970’s. The buttons feature some of the iconic characters from Underground Comix. Assistant conservator Cynthia Kapteyn and I have recently run into a box of these buttons in the process of doing a comprehensive survey of the library’s artifact collection.

Underground Comix buttons, 1971-1972, Artifact Collection, 2009-R035, Special Collections, Iowa State University Library

Recently we have been seeing lots of Comix at the Preservation lab, both printed issues and artist sketches.

Left: An issue of E.C. Comics Tales from the Crypt, 1953, PN3448 S45 T34x, Special Collections, Iowa State University Library. Right: Crime SuspenStories, 1952, PS648 C7 C74x, Special Collections, Iowa State University Library.

The printed issues were from the 1950s, published by E.C. Comics. Many of the covers and pages had become torn and creased over time. Chunks of brittle paper have been lost, since these prime examples of ephemera were printed on low quality wood pulp paper and were not made to stand up to time and the relentless deterioration mechanisms of oxidation in cellulose. Mindy Moeller, Senior Conservation Technician, has repaired hundreds of pages using light weight Japanese tissue, pre-coated with a mixture of wheat starch paste and methyl cellulose and activated with a light application of de-ionized water.

Mends and fills made with pre-coated Japanese tissue are visible around the edges of the back cover.
Left: A large fill in a back page was made with Japanese tissue that was pre-coated with a mix of wheat starch paste and methyl cellulose. Right: A detail from an artist sketch, Underground Comix Collection, MS 0636, Special Collections, Iowa State University Library.

One of the oversized boxes within the collection holds a number of drawings by an unknown artist associated with Underground Comix. The sketches were taped together with masking tape. The adhesive from the tape has started to penetrate through the paper, giving the paper a translucent oily quality and causing the sketches to stick together.

Using a micro-spatula, Sonya is lifting the edge of a small “speech bubble” fragment, taped over a previous version.

The artist had gone through a fascinating editing process, while creating their story line. If the artist was dissatisfied with a given cell or a speech bubble, they would rework the image or text on a fragment of paper and tape the new fragment over the segment they did not like. The artist used small loops of masking tape to stick down the fragments, so that the tape would not be visible past the edges of the stuck-on fragment. But over time the adhesive from the tape had leeched into the paper, making the tape underneath show through.

Left: A smaller fragment of paper is attached to the larger sketch with loops of masking tape. Right: Masking tape is lifted and a previous iteration of the sketch is revealed under the small fragment.

Masking tape was removed from the sketches and adhesive residue was reduced as much as possible. Mends of Japanese tissue were used to hold the sketches together in place of tape.

A heated spatula is used to remove fragments of masking tape from the reverse side. A Japanese tissue mend runs along the mid-line of the sketch (note the faint white tint).

The artist’s “edits” were reattached to the sketches using small hidden hinges made from Japanese tissue, using wheat starch paste. The sketches look and function in much the same way as they did before the conservation treatment. But the damaging tape adhesive has been removed, so it will no longer contribute to deterioration of the paper.

Other mentions

In the past, the Underground Comix Collection has been mentioned, exhibited and written about by other people on campus too. The Special Collections and University Archives blog, Cardinal Tales, has featured the Underground Comix Collection in 2015 in a post titled “Not Your Ordinary Comic Books”. The staff at Special Collections has used some rather spooky Underground Comix titles for the library’s Halloween Pop-Up Exhibit.

The Special Collections department featured Underground Comix in their Halloween pop-up exhibit in 2017.

The ISU Daily student newspaper had published the article “Underground Comix Have Rich History” in 2013. Student writer Victoria Emery had interviewed ISU College of Design professor John Cunnally about his scholarship related to the collection.

This is my humble homage to the candid and unapologetic art of Underground Comix artists. The image on the left is part of the cover of “The R. Crumb Handbook”, by R. Crumb and P. Poplaski, 2005.

Student employee Julianna Biedenfeld straining wheat starch paste at the Preservation lab

Student employee Julianna Biedenfeld straining wheat starch paste at the Preservation lab

The repairs we do on books in the Preservation Department is something that many might think seems really complicated or something super scientific. However, the work we put into books up here on the 4th floor isn’t all as complex as it appears to be and can be related to hobbies done outside of the Preservation Lab. Personally, I really enjoy putting together puzzles. In some aspects I can relate this enjoyment to the work I do in Preservation at the library.

A slow and steady progress through a puzzle

A slow and steady progress through a puzzle

Most recently, I have been working on a book repair technique called a reback. A reback is done when the spine of the cover is damaged, but the rest of the book is intact. Books that need repairing like this are what I would consider a puzzle that’s put together, but not quite finished. A damaged book needs something more – a few more pieces – to make it look complete. When working on a puzzle, sometimes you take a few pieces out that had already put together to get a closer look and find which pieces match with it.

Books with damaged spines, re-backs in progress and a completed repair

Books with damaged spines, re-backs in progress and a completed repair

A similar approach goes with the books I have been repairing. You take off the damaged bookcloth and replace some of it with new bookcloth. Then you put the final “piece” back on – the title – and the book looks complete. Once all the parts are together the book is finished and can be put back on the shelf to be used. In a similar way, once the pieces of a puzzle are all together, you can see a full image and sit back to enjoy it.

 

During my first week at the library, I came across some 19th century periodicals that needed treatment because they were requested for a class. The magazine is called Demorest’s Family Magazine. The issues that I am dealing with are from 1871 to 1893.

As an occasional reader of Parents magazine in waiting rooms, break rooms and at home, my interest was piqued as to what a family magazine used to look like at the end of the 19th century. Moreover, as I was examining one of the issues, I found a small piece of stationary that had been used as a bookmark. On it was the logo of the Miramar Hotel in Santa Monica. The discolored portion of the stationary on the right hand side had been sticking out of the magazine, thus exposed to wear and tear, UV light and environmental pollution.

Miramar_Stationary_bookmark

Since I had just moved from the LA area the previous week, this seemed like a sign, so I decided to put this item on the Parks Library Preservation blog.

The Miramar Hotel stationary took my mind on a circuitous journey of thinking about the hotel and imagining what it used to look like back in the day. Thanks to Google, I did not have to wonder for long:

The original Miramar, the home of Senator John P. Jones and Mrs. Georgina Jones, 1890

The original Miramar, the home of Senator John P. Jones and Mrs. Georgina Jones, 1890

The Palisades Building, built in 1924, seen here in the 1950s

The Palisades Building, built in 1924, seen here in the 1950s

The present day Fairmont Miramar Hotel

The present day Fairmont Miramar Hotel

Throughout its history, the hotel had been frequented by such celebrities as Greta Garbo and Jean Harlow. Public figures like J.F. Kennedy and Eleanor Roosevelt stayed in the private bungalows. (http://www.fairmont.com/santa-monica/hotelhistory/)

Greta Garbo, Jean Harlow, Eleanor Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy

Garbo, Harlow, Roosevelt and Kennedy

Present day fashionistas of Santa Monica

Present day fashionistas of Santa Monica

 

 

But I very much digress here, which is one of the guilty pleasures of looking at original objects “in the flesh” – so many associations spring to mind. Now imagine if I was an academic scholar and if this flow of information was a stream of original research ideas based on interactions with unique special collections materials! Peer reviewed articles would be flying off the press.

However, at this point let me get back to the objects to be treated: 1871-1893 issues of the Demorest’s Family Magazine…Right away, as I was examining the volumes, I became drawn in by the subject matter and was charmed by the illustrations. How did women conduct themselves in family life back then? What was important? What were the ads for? How did ladies keep themselves looking fresh and pretty? One of the answers must be “hired help”…

Here are some images from the pages of the Demorest’s Family Magazine:

Fancy a walk in the park, dear daughter?

Fancy a walk in the park, dear daughter?

Finally, a way to make your children perfect!

 

Publications like this one were often printed on thin wood pulp paper, which was not made to hold up to the test of time. Unsurprisingly, the paper had become brittle, with numerous large and small tears afflicting the pages and the covers.

In order to make the item ready for viewing by a group of students or for digitization, some stabilization repairs will need to be performed.

Small tears in the fore-edge

Small tears in the fore-edge

These will include reattaching covers and loose pages and mending the more significant tears that could cause further damage upon handling. When making repairs to thin brittle paper, it is especially important to select a mending tissue that is lighter in weight than the page being mended.

A selection of Demorest's Magazine issues from different years

A selection of Demorest’s Magazine issues

This way the mend will not be too bulky and will not cause the paper on either side of it to break. Another consideration is the level of moisture that can be introduced to paper that does not have a great deal of absorbency and strength due to being coated and/or heavily processed.

A selection of volumes from different years

A selection of volumes from different years

The mending of these pages would require a low level of moisture in the repair adhesive. And of course, protective housing enclosures will do a world of good for these limp and fragile ephemeral objects. I look forward to sharing more about the treatment of the magazines as I move forward through the steps of the process. Please stay tuned, dear readers!

PeelAndStick-01

“Peel and stick” are very bad words in the world of books.  We know these as adhesive labels or sheets to correct errors made by editors and publishers.  I haven’t seen one in a while, but this time I found two old sheets as replacement pages in the book Turbidite-Hosted Gold Deposits, GAC Special paper 32, 1986.  This book came to me after a recent mini-water disaster of roughly 1,000 books here in the Parks Library.  The book survived the water disaster very well; however, its old adhesive pages had not.

PeelAndStick-02

There were two “replacement pages” in large sheets that had been inserted as corrective pages for errata, and over time the adhesive had stained other pages, come apart in some areas, and also was very sticky in other areas.  The old “Fasson Crack’n Peel Plus” was failing in several areas.

PeelAndStick-03

To remedy this, I will remove the two adhesive sheets, photocopy the pages onto acid free paper, and tip them in.  I cannot remove the yellow stains on the other pages but can scrape and clean away any remaining sticky residue.  The peel and stick correction seems to be a good idea but in reality is not.

InterestingBook-00

I recently made a box for an old book titled The Medical and Agricultural Register, For the Years 1806 and 1807.  I like the comment on the title page “designed for the use of families.”  This book was very interesting, not only in its content, but also in what has happened to the book physically over time.

InterestingBook-01

I see that the price of 35 cents had been handwritten in ink inside both the front and back covers.

InterestingBook-02

Inside there was some moisture damage, foxing, and staining from the oily printing ink, yet the paper quality is in great shape and has a nice “feel” to it.

InterestingBook-03

This book is still in relatively good condition considering it is over 200 years old, and I can handle it without it crumbling in my hands. This is where I get a little misty-eyed thinking of how cool this book really is.  Books were made better back then with good materials and strong paper, not like the cheap books that are constructed today, which are pricey and will fall apart easily after a little use and abuse.

InterestingBook-04

What I find most interesting about this book is the information and topics it contains.  “To prevent the fatal Effects of drinking cold Water, or cold Liquors of any kind in warm Weather,”  “Case of Lock-Jaw Successfully treated with Brandy and Opium,” and “To prevent the fatal Effects of Lightning.”  Under the lightning section, it reads:

“When a person is struck by lightning, strip the body and throw buckets full of cold water over it for ten or fifteen minutes; let continued frictions and inflations of the lungs be also practiced:  let gentle shocks of electricity be made to pass through the chest, when a skillful person can be procured to apply it; and apply blisters to the breast.”

The books also contains planting and meteorological tables, cider and pickling recipes, more interesting medical treatments and advice, and the “Bill of Mortality for 1806, in 20 Towns.”  Just a wealth of information in 1806 and 1807 for a very interesting time, but it makes me happy to be alive in 2015.

 

Tux-1

When you see the work “tux” you may think of an expensive, fancy dress suit for a gentleman.  What I think of is a protective, thin box made out of 20 point tan board used to protect a fragile or uniquely structured book.

Tux-2

 

Recently we received a donation of several very old, unique books that need protective enclosures and will be housed in the Cage area.  Tux boxing is usually used on thin books where we cannot make a phase box but also a few of these books are thicker in depth and I still chose to do tux boxing because of space limitations in the Cage.  Using thinner, 20 point boards means more room on the shelves instead of making a phase box or CMI box.  Not all of these tux boxes are heading to the Cage.  One is going to the Library’s Storage Building, which also has space limitations, and another is going to the General Collection shelves and just needs a protective wrapping around it.  Other times I’ve had to make tux boxes for books that have unique or decorative covers that need protection from the books it will sit next to on the shelves. The tux wrap keeps them from rubbing together and getting damaged.

Tux-3

These are nice little boxes that are easy and quick to make in just a few minutes, and provide great protection for fragile and unique books.  Think of it as a way of “dressing up” a book!

It’s my final week at ISU Library, and I’m feeling nostalgic. Looking back on my five and a half years in the Conservation Lab, there are a few treatments that stand out as particularly memorable.

The 2010 flood hit during my first summer in Ames, and strongly impacted the next 18 months in the lab, as we salvaged and treated thousands of flood-soaked documents, architectural drawings, blueprints, and photographs for Facilities, Planning & Management.

2010Flood-Melissa

In 2011, this ISU football manual from the 1930s landed on my bench. I enjoyed the challenge of trying to preserve the original structure of the 3-ring binder, while also giving the acidic and insect-damaged pages some support. You can read about the treatment in my original post.

FootballManual-04

In 2012, I worked on another football-related conservation treatment, the housing for the last letter written by Jack Trice. He wrote the letter on hotel stationery in 1923, on the eve of his first major college football game, during which he sustained fatal injuries. The double-sided letter is suspended in a Mylar window in this portfolio, so both sides can be read.

The last letter written by Jack Trice in 1923, on the eve of the college football game in which he was fatally injured.

The last letter written by Jack Trice in 1923, on the eve of the college football game in which he was fatally injured.

The original letter is housed in ISU Library Special Collections, but we also created a facsimile which I bound into a custom enclosure decked out in Cyclone colors for Coach Rhoads to take with him on recruiting trips.

JackTriceRepro-02

Facsimile of the last letter written by Jack Trice.

In 2013, I thoroughly enjoyed working on a display rehousing for unclassified botanical specimens in the Sarah Underwood Papers.

Underwood-03

In 2014, a new acquisition came to the lab with a curling, brittle paper label. I ended up resewing the textblock and rebacking the spine. This project was a particular pleasure because the sewing structure was a bit of a mystery to unravel, quite literally.

The Practical Planter (1799)

The Practical Planter (1799)

It turned out the volume had been sewn five-on, five-on, seven-on, seven-on, five-on on four support cords. This method would have saved time and money for the bookseller, and was in keeping with the humble paper retail binding. I resewed following the original pattern.

13289155224_d9a02d6645_z

And finally, just this month, I finished a full leather rebinding of a 1579 Italian imprint of Garcia de Orta’s Aromatum et simplicium aliquot… The book came to us bound in a typical eighteenth-century English style tightback binding covered in acid-sprinkled calfskin leather. Although the binding style was anachronistic with respect to the textblock, it told a story of the volume’s provenance, so I was hesitant to remove it. However, the volume had been oversewn and had some tears and sloppy hide glue repairs that made the book virtually unusable. I disbound the volume, removed the hide glue accretions, and mended and guarded the damaged pages. Then I rebound it in a manner sympathetic to the imprint’s sixteenth-century Italian origins by resewing on alum-tawed thongs with made endpapers of Italian handmade marbled paper. I sewed on silk endbands, and laced on boards built up from layers of paperboard. I covered the volume in edge-pared goatskin leather, working around the bands to give the appearance of a tightback, but in fact allowing a hollow on the spine when the book opens. According to Bernard Middleton, spine labels were not used before 1600 in Europe, although titles were sometime blind-tooled directly on the spine. However, most spines were left blank, and this is what I chose for this volume, since it would be housed in a cloth-covered clamshell box along with its previous case (which was given a foam insert for support).

Previous binding on left; rebound volume on right.

Previous binding (with foam insert)  on left; rebound volume on right.

Benchwork has been only one part of the enriching professional activities I have enjoyed during my tenure as ISU Library’s Conservator, but it has been a fascinating and deeply rewarding part of my work.

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