This is a blog post by Lily Tyndall, a Library Technician in the General Collections Conservation Section, originally published in Guardians of Memory: Preserving the National Collection. When she isn’t repairing books, you can probably find her watching a Marvel movie!
Did you know that there are comic books at the Library of Congress? It might seem surprising, but it’s true! The Library has over 140,000 comic issues from over 12,000 titles, making it the largest public collection in the nation. Featuring single issues and bound volumes of comics from Superman to self-published comic books and zines, the Library’s collection works to highlight American popular culture, political issues, publishing trends, and artistic techniques. According to the collecting policy, this vast comic collection “represents the diversity of format and viewpoint of American creators over time” and is incredibly diverse, featuring both American and foreign comics, singular comic stories and series, and a wide range of cool subjects.
When I first began my career at the Library in the Preservation Directorate, I was shocked to find out our collection had so many cool comic titles. As a huge Marvel nerd, I was especially excited when I got the chance to treat these items myself! As a Conservation Technician, I work closely with the Serials Division, which holds the vast comic collections. I conduct complex paper repair treatment and create custom enclosures for single comic book issues and bound volumes of comic books. One of the coolest moments for me was repairing an issue of Captain Marvel, a favorite character of mine, from the 1970s! I love being able to work with comic collections because I can provide an important service to Library patrons assuring the long-term preservation of these valuable cultural materials, all while reading awesome superhero, sci-fi, travel, and historical comic stories.
I handle general collections materials, conducting repairs on damaged items such as repairing torn pages, reattaching covers, even building an entirely new case for a book. So why do I also work with this special collection? Most of the comics that come to me for repair are about to undergo a treatment called deacidification. Because comics are often printed on acidic paper, they can degrade more quickly; the deacidification process helps stabilize the paper and extend the life of the comic. As discussed on the comic book collection webpage, however, some comics in the Library’s collection are too sensitive to directly undergo this treatment, so they are sent to me for stabilization repairs before heading to deacidification.
As a Serials liaison, I can fix a variety of damage to comic books, including tears and holes in the paper, large rips in pages, filling in gaps on pages, reattaching covers, and replacing staples. To conduct a repair, I begin by gathering my materials onto my clean workbench. These include thin Japanese tissue coated with an adhesive, ethanol to activate the adhesive, blotter paper, tweezers, an awl, and weights. Then, I carefully examine the item and identify areas of damage such as small tears around the edges of the pages or large missing areas of pages. The covers are often more damaged than the text block because they are handled the most! Next, I will remove the staples from the comic book if necessary for repair, because sometimes being able to work on individual pages makes the repair process more efficient.
I repair the damage one tear at a time, by placing a small piece of tissue at the tear or hole and brushing it lightly with ethanol, making the adhesive join the paper and tissue. I place blotter over the area and weight it to dry for approximately 60 seconds, then I do the same to the reverse of the area, either wrapping the tissue over the edge of the paper or placing another small piece of tissue at the tear. Then, I repeat this process for any tear or other damage on the comic book. When I fix the covers, I often need to reattach the front and back cover together at the spine using larger pieces of tissue. Finally, I will reassemble the comic book using new staples if necessary. And I’m left with a whole, stabilized comic that can now undergo deacidification and be digitized for patrons to use for research and comic book nerdery!
Beyond being one of the coolest jobs ever, my work with the comic book collection directly supports many of the Library’s goals. These repairs stabilize the comics so they can remain intact during deacidification, strengthening the paper and prolonging their life and access. Comics that are too damaged can’t be served to patrons or digitized, meaning readers wouldn’t have access to these awesome items. Increasing access to collections is one of the Library’s most important goals through its mission statement, since our institution exists to provide information and access for patrons online and in person!
The greatest feeling was being able to see my work directly impact the experience of a researcher recently! This patron visited the Library of Congress for a week to examine a large batch of comics for his own project, but some of the comics he requested were found to be too damaged to serve to him. You can imagine it might be disappointing to show up to the Library and not be able to see everything you had requested! So, I worked with my colleagues in the Newspaper and Current Periodical Reading Room to determine how we could stabilize and repair these comics so they could be served to the researcher. Over the course of one week I repaired nearly 20 comics, closing tears and reattaching the covers (and sometimes repairing large areas of damage along the edges of the covers), allowing the researcher to still view these items. At the end of the day, the Library of Congress prides itself on preserving and presenting its vast collections to the public, and I love being a part of that work! It feels amazing to know that my repair work directly contributes to keeping the Library’s collection safe and stable for patrons.
This was a really a fun article. 140,000 comic book titles. Wow!!! I had no idea. The material on comic repair was really pretty fascinating. I have a question, if you’re willing to answer. Does your collection include “underground” comics? Can I delve into an accounting of what all you have there? I’m super curious.
THANK YOU for this segment and for all you do.