Special-Collections


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.

[originally posted July, 2017]

Video_Preservation_Rack_1

A Common Video Preservation Scenario: A researcher requests a copy of a show held in your special collections. It’s a university production from the 1970s, a unique recording on ¾” tape. This tape is an “at-risk” item, because the inherent vulnerabilities of magnetic based media. What do you do? Do you send it out to a vendor, or do you digitize the tape in-house? Where possible, it’s best to digitize at-risk items in-house. It’s faster, it’s more economical over the long-term, and you can maintain your own quality-control standards.

AV preservationists have spent un-countable hours of our lives discussing the best capture format for analog video preservation. But actually… how you send the signal from the deck to the computer’s capture card is the most important aspect of digitizing analog video. You can capture 10-bit 4:2:2 anything, but the quality of what you’re capturing is linked to the signal you’re sending. So with this fact in mind, this post will describe the necessary equipment and guide you through the basic setup required for digitizing your at-risk analog video in-house.

One of the biggest issues that defines magnetic media as “at-risk” is obsolescence. It’s quite difficult to find and maintain the device needed for analog video playback. Prepare to spend some time digging around online or contacting potential dealers to find a functioning playback device. A good place to start looking for old, obsolete AV equipment is the on-campus video production house. They might have old gear hanging around! Or a local television station may have gear to donate to your archives. Be creative. You need well-maintained, industry-grade equipment with as much related documentation as possible. Those dog-eared operational and service manuals are invaluable for maintaining the functionality of old gear.

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RG-59/U 75 Ohms Broadcast BNC Video Cable

Using correct cables and cabling may be the single most important aspect to setting up a video preservation rack. Know your source signal (composite, component, or Y/C ) and send it out using only the highest-grade shielded cable. Remember: Shielding reduces electrical noise and…its impact on signals and…lowers electromagnetic radiation. Shielding prevents cross-talk between cables… Shielding not only protects cable but… machinery and people as well. [1] http://www.wireandcabletips.com/importance-shielding-cabling/

PRO-TIPS: Cables, Cabling, and Termination
• ALWAYS use broadcast-quality RG59 BNC 75ohm cables for video
• ALWAYS prefer XLR (balanced audio) cables to RCA (unbalanced audio) cables
• ALWAYS terminate open loops with 75ohm terminators at end of signal loops*

*But be careful! Improper termination can affect the video signal. A double termination can cut the video signal in half, while a lack of termination will overload the video signal. This might be where you need professional help.

75ohms_1

75ohm Terminator

CONGRATULATIONS!! You have managed to acquire a professional-grade BVU U-matic deck that supports machine control input. Now you are able to control the deck from a computer via a RS-422 cable, not missing any information at the beginning of the tape. This is good. This is why the RS-422 cable is included on the equipment list.

RS-422 - 2

RS-422 cable for Remote Control

Now what about the capture card and computer? I like the AJA KONA LHi capture card and AJA KONA KLHi-Box. Together, these will allow for seamless capture of composite, component, and Y/C (for analog signals) and SDI or HDMI (for digital signals). The KONA LHi works well with Premiere CS6, but it also has its own software that captures SD analog video as 10-bit 4:2:2 uncompressed v210. The Kona LHi is also able to capture closed captioning and timecode information. All of these are required metadata for video preservation. The preservation master could have up to five streams of data per file: a video stream, two audio streams, timecode, and closed captioning CEA-608. With newer computers, you’ll have to place the AJA Kona Li capture card in a thunderbolt expansion case and send the digital video signal from the expansion case to computer‘s thunderbolt in.

Now. It’s very important to place a Time Base Corrector between the deck and the capture card. You also need waveform and vector scope connected post-TBC, so you can monitor and adjust the video signal, using the scopes as your measurement tools. For example, if color bars are in front of the program, you can adjust the luma, chroma, black (set up), and hue (NTSC only) levels to get the best possible signal from the tape. Also, I recommend having all equipment ‘genlocked’ to the same reference to ensure picture stability. For SD composite video, it’s called blackburst – a composite signal of black with no picture data. With all pieces of equipment timed and in-sync, or locked to master sync, you increase the stability of your capture.

My preference for signal monitoring is viewing the signal directly off the deck, as well as post capture card. This helps pinpoint where any problems might occur in the signal. For example, if there is visible signal error on the monitor connected at the end of the chain (post capture), but the video looks good coming straight out of the deck, you can focus your troubleshooting on the cables, settings, and equipment either at or after the TBC point. It’s also important to have a cathode ray tube (CRT) monitor in order to view the video signal as it was originally intended. AND it’s best to have a CRT with blue-only, underscan, and H-V delay features. ‘Blue only’ allows you to calibrate your reference monitor with color bars and monitor your VTR noise. ‘Underscan’ allows you to see every scan line in the video signal, and ‘H-V delay’ allows you to check vertical and horizontal sync. These features will help you get the best signal out of your deck and troubleshoot any signal errors.

This brings me to the last piece of gear to install in your AV Rack: a test pattern generator. A test generator helps you check proper signal flow by sending a test pattern, like color bars, through the signal path. You can also use the color bar test pattern to set display levels – like brightness – and contrast to ensure your monitor is properly calibrated.

Colorbars - 2

Video Preservation Rack

YOUR EQUIPMENT LIST
• Professional rack*
• Professional-grade decks for each format (U-maticSP, BetaSp, VHS, SVHS, Digibeta, etc.)
• RG59 BNC 75 Ohm cables
• 75 Ohm BNC terminations
• XLR cables
• RS-422 cable
• Time Base Corrector/Proc Amp
• Test generator
• Sync generator
•  ADC Patch bay
• AJA Kona capture card
• AJA Breakout box and cable
• Sonnet Echo Express SE I Thunderbolt 3 to full-height/half-length PCIe card
• Waveform and vector scope monitors
• CRT monitor**
• Computer***
• Calibrated computer monitors
* sturdy, does not wobble, and allows decks to be pulled out easily and safely
** preferably one that has underscan, blue-only, and H/V delay
*** preferably with a high-speed processor, minimum 16GB memory and 1TB storage

Well, I hope this was helpful for anyone wanting to build an AV preservation rack for their special collections. In the next issue of AV Club, I’ll be discussing best practice for embedding technical metadata into files for future digital preservation conservators. Cheers!

My two short months as the 2017 Lennox intern in the preservation lab have quickly come to an end! Even though it feels like I just started yesterday, I have had the opportunity to participate in so many projects in the lab which allowed me to stretch myself and exercise skills in many different areas. Here are a couple of the highlights:

One of my treatment projects was working on two WWI photographs with major losses.

For reference I used Victoria Binder’s article in Topics in Photographic Preservation entitled ‘Digital Fills for Photographs with Glossy Surfaces’

Ex-servicemen working on engines, before and after treatmentThese two silver gelatin photographs showing ISU’s part in post-war rehabilitation of WWI veterans were selected as part of a group of objects which will be shown in an upcoming exhibit by Special Collections/University Archives. Since the photographs will be on display, the large losses to the image area were determined to be distracting for the overall interpretation. I used Adobe Photoshop and a digital image of the photograph to create a fill for each loss that matched the surrounding image area.

Beekeeping, before and after treatment

Each fill was then printed out on glossy photo paper, which gave it a shiny finish that matched the original photograph nearly perfectly, a feature that is very difficult to reproduce manually with traditional materials. Another great feature of creating fills this way is that the color and exposure can be manipulated quickly and easily to match the original photograph exactly, cutting out a lengthy inpainting and color-matching process. One thing to be careful of while making digital fills, which was discussed at length with the curator beforehand, is that the recreation of lost information can easily go too far, verging on suggesting imagery that may not have existed. Therefore, the fills are very nondescript, focusing on light-dark contrast and overall texture instead of completion of objects or figures.

Another great blog post, “Digital Fills to the Rescue” by Rachel Pennimen, can be found on Duke University Libraries blog Preservation Underground.

Throughout my time here Sonya was working on updating the library-wide disaster response and recovery plan. These plans are a crucial part of the institutional planning, and can help significantly reduce response time and overall damage to the collections in the case of an emergency such as a flood or fire. I helped with the updating process by making sure vendor contact information was current, filling in missing sections, and sifting through extant and potential format options to pull useful information and organization ideas and put them together into a streamlined, yet thorough, plan.

Sonya and archivist Laura Sullivan recording information about priority collections in the stacks

One step toward a helpful disaster plan is identifying collection priorities, both in terms of value and sensitivity. To this end, Sonya and I did walkthroughs of Special Collections stacks with the curators to pick out certain items or collections that were especially important to the University. Knowing this information and the inherent sensitivity of the materials in the stacks can help pinpoint objects that should be salvaged first in the event of an emergency. This project taught me a lot about how disaster plans are actually built and are meant to function within a large institution like ISU Library.

My time at ISU was  busy! But I am so happy with all that I learned and accomplished over these two months, and know I will put that experience to good use in my upcoming projects!

One of the items that was used for the current Special Collections and University Archives ISU Pammel Court exhibit (designed by the History 481x class) is this little book. For the exhibit they wanted to show both the cover and one of the interior pages displayed as one piece.

jw1

 

With a quick sketch I came up with this:

jw2

 

I then had to think about how to hold the book up so it didn’t slide off the display wedge.

jw3

 

And then I had to figure out the dimensions….hmmmm…..

I drew out the 45 degree template and put the spine of the book along the diagonal. I went up about ¾ of the way and dropped a line down to the base. That gave me the measurements for the angled front piece, the back and the base.

jw4

 

I extended the base measurement out to make the lip that holds the book.

jw5

 

Then transferred all those measurements to a scrap piece of scrap board. Base, front, back, base with extension, face for book stop wedge, the piece the book will rest against, and the inner base to tape down.

jw6

 

I took those measurements and laid them out on the mat board and scored the lines about ¾ of the way through on what will be the bottom side of the base and added a piece of double stick tape to hold the book stop and inner base to the larger base.

jw7

 

And removed the little bit that wasn’t needed.

jw8

 

Double stick tape was used to hold the lip and the bottom pieces of the book support together after the book stop had already been folded and taped down.

jw9

 

This is what the final piece looked like from the side…

jw10

and from the front with a copy of the selected page.

jw11

 

 

About a month ago, the Preservation Lab hosted a group of students taking an upper level class in Public History. In this course the students use archival materials as primary sources for the research they are conducting, drawing from the Library’s Special Collections and Archives. Spending time in the Preservation Lab gives them a behind the scenes look at what it takes to stabilize  original materials so that they can be viewed in the reading room.

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As part of a practical  introduction to preservation, I demonstrated some hands-on conservation techniques that are often used to repair archival documents. Working on a discarded photoreproduction of Marston Hall, I removed some tape with a heated spatula and mended tears using wheat starch paste and Japanese tissue.

An interesting inter-disciplinary discussion happened around a group of WWII propaganda posters that were in the lab for conservation treatment. The posters were approximately 2 feet by 3 feet. They were staple-bound into a pad that was attached to a foldable easel made of cardboard.

rs16_3_57_bt_r   rs16_3_57_bt_v

The instructor and the students talked about the use of this object as a presentation tool, a 1940’s PowerPoint presentation of sorts. The speaker could take the easel-pad  along with them to give encouraging talks to the public about wartime efforts at home. As you can see from the photos above, the top poster had gotten torn and became detached from the pad.  If I were to take this object out of its historical context and to consider only its physical characteristics, I would want to take it apart, repair it and store all the components separately. The posters would go into one folder, while the easel and the staple binding would go into a different folder. Stored in this way, the posters would be safe and easy for scholars to handle  without the assistance of an archivist or a conservator.

img_1083

However, the research value of this presentation pad lies in its format, which tells the story of its use as a WWII propaganda tool. So, my approach will be to disassemble the structure, repair the components and then to reassemble the binding using thread loops in place of the damaging rusty staples. The binding will be recreated, but slightly altered  to provide more stability and longevity to the object, ensuring the preservation of both its physical self and its contextual meaning.

This class discussion brought home to me the point that historians and conservators have an important conversation to carry out. In order to adequately preserve historic collections, we need to share our distinct areas of knowledge with each other, enriching each other’s understanding of primary source materials.

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!

The first agricultural engineering department in the world was started at Iowa State in 1905.  It’s now called the Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering.  Jay Brownlee Davidson was a professor at Iowa State and is considered to be the “Father of Agricultural Engineering.”  Our archives has a lot of material from J.B. Davidson and we’ve digitized some of it to be available online in our Digital Collections:  http://www.add.lib.iastate.edu/preserv/cdm/agengineering.html

ag eng

Digital photographs were taken of entire scrapbooks that J.B. Davidson created from his trips to China and Europe.  In addition to the many photographs included in the scrapbooks, we also scanned many photographs from the early days of agricultural engineering at Iowa State.  We also have a link to our Digital Repository which has J.B. Davidson’s “Introducing Agricultural Engineering in China” from 1949.  With the variety of materials included in our Digital Collections we’ve tried to give people a look at some of the more visually interesting items in our collections and the Digital Repository includes the more scholarly works. This start could lead a curious researcher to find much more by visiting our archives.

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