Collection Care blog

23 April 2014

Boom! Pow! Wham! Conservation Unmasked

Our next exhibition; Comics Unmasked, Art and Anarchy in the UK, opening on
May 2nd, will be a surprising one to many. It promises to challenge myths, expectations and stereotypes; and to explore subjects such as politics, violence, gender, sexuality and breaking social conventions.

The relatively good condition of most of the comics from our collection certainly challenged our expectations. For a number of readers, myself included, comics are seen as a relatively modern and populist genre, with striking graphics and minimum text. Conservators often associate anything modern (i.e. 20th century) and mass produced with poor quality paper; similar to the paper used for newspapers that becomes friable and yellows quickly when exposed to light. A few such items, one example shown below, did come to the studio requiring minor edge and tear repairs, but contrary to our expectations the majority of the comics were printed on good quality, often glossy, paper.

A close up of a conservator's hands holding a sample of Japanese repair tissue next to the damaged edge of the paper object being treated. This is to better assess matching qualities of the repair paper to the object to best support and stabilise weak and damaged areas. Such characteristics conservators look for are matching colour, tone, thickness and surface texture.
Matching tissue paper to support the damaged edge.

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Conservation is usually very privileged in getting a preview on the items going into the exhibition, but not this time. Out of over 200 items prepared for display only a handful required conservation work. In the majority of cases the work was limited to flattening of folded pages followed by mounting or supporting a concertina style strip within a book.

Square and rectangular weights in various colours and sizes are placed around the edges on top of a stack of wooden boards.  The weights are small enough to fit in one outstretched hand. The stack of boards has a semi-transparent material sticking out called bondina, as well as a thick opaque paper called blotter.  When objects have wrinkles or creases, they can be lightly humidified and then put in between a sandwich of blotter and bondina.  The blotter will absorb and excess moisture from the humidification of the object, and the bondina acts a release if any adhesives are used for repair before pressing.
Pressing objects between wooden boards

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A close up of an opened book on a white table. The opening is of a black and white early 20th century comic. The left page is originally double the length and vertically folded in half. In this image the left page has been opened up to show the full comic, with a piece of mount board below to support the full length of the page opening.
Comic strip opened up and supported within a volume

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The first items to be prepared for the exhibition were not that recent either, one example being: ‘The Scourge of Monthly Expositor of Imposture and Folly’ from 1813 showing John Bull preparing for General Congress. This item also needed repair to the edges and mounting.

On open book with a concertina page fully extended out and held down with a glass weight in the top left corner. A concertina fold is continuous parallel folding, much like an accordion or a zig-zag pattern.  The image on the page is a comic depicting a ship in crashing waves on the left, in the middle of the comic the is a standing pig character in full colourful clothing in front of a tree, and to the right there is a lagoon with other colourful characters.
Concertina style comic strip before conservation



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With objects from our collection being in ship-shape condition and one third of all objects in this exhibition coming from other institutions, conservation had a lot more work to do on loans. All items loaned had to be condition checked, some in-situ and others in the studio. Most of those worked on in the studio were paper-based, but we also condition checked unusual objects, such as Judge Dredd’s Helmet and Ally Sloper's Ventriloquist Dummy!

A ventriloquist Dummy stands in a brown jacket buttoned up once by his chest, he has a white shirt on underneath, an off-white bowtie and sand coloured trousers. He has a big pink nose, no hair, and his mouth is open and looks. Like he is smiling a bit. He is standing between a bookcase full of books and a chair full of documents. This image would have been taken in the private owners’ home, as conservators sometimes have to condition check items loaned to the British Library prior to exhibition.
Ally Sloper's Ventriloquist Dummy

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Sadly, we didn’t get any visits from Superman, Spiderman or Catwoman in the studio; but we did get to meet a ‘super heroine’ when the new poster advertising the exhibition was unveiled in the St Pancras Entrance Hall in mid-March!

The Comics Unmasked exhibition will be the UK’s largest exhibition tracing the history of the British mainstream and underground comics. It is a must for all lovers of comics, while for others it will be a trip down memory lane re-visiting well known comic characters, and meeting those we heard about but never met!

Graphic image of a female superhero leaning against a brick wall at the beginning of an alleyway littered with trash and worn posters on the walls. Her face looks unimpressed, with bruised knees, and holding up a flask in her left hand, while her right arm rests across her abdomen, supporting her left arm. In the background there appears and old and knocked out super hero slumped up against a dark doorway leading off of the alleyway.
The exhibition poster showing a female posing after vanquishing a generic super hero

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Iwona Jurkiewicz

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