The Threat to the “noble American art form”
In a 1993 speech at the Diamond Comics Seminar, the American writer Harlan Ellison referred to comic books as the “noble American born art form”. (1) From their inception in the 1930’s this comic book “art form” has now spread throughout the world, igniting interest among the world’s young about western culture. Sadly these comic treasures have reached a point where the original comic books that were printed between the 1930’s and the 1960’s are rapidly deteriorating. The acidic pulp paper they were printed on will, inevitably, cause this part of American heritage and culture to self-destruct.
In 1989 the comic book historian Ernest Gerber wrote, "The worst enemy to comic books is ignorance and procrastination. First we refuse to face established facts; then when the collector finds out about them, he figures that there is no rush to store the comics properly, and eventually he'll get to it. Friends, the clock keeps ticking and cannot be reversed… lives of perishable pulps can be easily extended for many generations - if you want them to be." (2)
Until now there's been nothing that can stop the damage time will do to comic books. Slabbing (encasing comics in plastic holders) is currently the best method we have of protecting comic books. But even slabbed comics have trapped oxygen that continues to interact with the acidic paper these comics were printed on. In a few hundred years the contents of those plastic shells will be little more than dust.
The Purpose of the Q-Collection Project
The Q-Collection Comic Book Preservation Project was created to rescue and preserve key (3) comic books published from the 1930's to the 1960's. This preservation project was developed, and the comic books assembled, in the small town of Quincy Massachusetts. As a result this “Quincy” collection is now referred to as the Q-Collection.
The Q-Collection Project garnered so much local interest that the Office of the Mayor of Quincy provided a copy of the Shield of the City of Quincy to be used as a symbol of this preservation project.
The Genesis of the Q-Collection Project
In the Spring of 2001 I purchased a rare 1939 New York World's Fair Comic in poor condition. This was the first comic in this condition I had owned. I sent this treasure to Matt Nelson, a professional restoration specialist. Matt found that the comic was brittle and no restoration was possible. Mr. Nelson returned the comic saying that all I could do with this treasure was be "to stick the comic in a drawer and forget about it".
I was appalled. This rarity could not even be read since it had turned brittle with age.
It was clear that due to the poor quality acid-based pulp paper that these comics were printed on this seemed to be the ultimate destiny of all early comic books. In the future no one would be able to read an original. Time was destroying this part of our heritage in the same way that the Royal Library of Alexandriawas destroyed when Julius Caesar accidentally set it on fire - along with three centuries of collected parchments and artwork. (4)
It was then that Matt Nelson and I began exchanging e-mails about what could be done with rare comics in poor condition. The Q-Collection Comic Book Preservation Project is a direct result of that debate.
We quickly realized that the world’s rapidly changing technologies could well mean that electronic scans of this part of our culture and heritage will be lost forever. It seems probable that preserved originals are more likely to survive than digitalized scans.
Laminating deteriorating documents is an old idea that proved unsuccessful in the past due to the use of cellulose acetate as a lamination material. (5) However, everything has changed with the introduction of heat-treated UV-resistant long-life Mylar laminating pouches. Using this preservation material in specially designed box binders provides a possible lifespan of these comic books of up to 10,000 years.
The Design of Our Comic Book Time Capsules
I set to work designing a wooden binder that closes up like a box and will keep light and polluted air away from the laminated comic books. The 3-ring binders open flat to allow the comics to be read and then close up tight to protect our comic book time capsules contents.
I chose rare woods that will help preserve the contents of the binders. The museum-quality binders are to be made of desert-grown ironwood (to support the weight of the laminated contents), 1,200 year-old Alaskan cedar wood (for protection from insects) and 50,000 year-old iridescent Kauri wood (for beauty).
The Contents of the Wooden Binders
There are two to three related comic books in each binder along with information pages on each comic. Each binder will also contain a variety of comic book-related bonuses produced between the 1930’s and the 1960’s. These bonuses include original comic book covers, comic trading cards, gum card wrappers, comic book greeting cards, comic book membership cards, comic book-related ads and publicity photos.
The Progress & Future of the Q-Collection Project
This comic book preservation project (& rescue mission) has evolved from one comic book collector and one comic book restoration specialist in 2001 to include an Advisory Committee comprised of 21 comic book professionals and advanced collectors residing in 15 countries. The project has it’s own home page, Facebook page and Twitter page.
The 200+ comic books in the Q-Collection are among the most important, most valuable and rarest key comics in existence. Promotional items for the project have included Q-Collection booklets, Q-Collection calendars, Q-Collection coffee mugs and Q-Collection mini-binders. We have even had requests for Q-Collection T-shirts and sweatshirts. Added to all the rest I am working on a requested Q-Collection Reference Book.
To date we’ve had discussions about the donation of the Q-Collection with the director of the US Library of Congress, the director of England’s Victoria & Albert Museum and the architects of the soon-to-be-built Comic & Animation Pavilion in China. No decision has yet been made on the Q-Collection’s final destination.
(1) Diamond Comics Dialogue magazine, Kilimanjaro Corporation, 1993, http://harlanellison.com/text/
(2) The Photo-Journal Guide to Comic Books: Volume One, Gerber Publishing Company, Inc., page A-13
(3) Key comic books include the first issue of a series, the first appearance of an important new character within a series, the revising of an existing character for a new comic book age, or the origin issue of an important character.
(4) For three centuries the known world’s collected knowledge was gathered in the Royal Library of Alexandria (Egypt). That collected knowledge was lost when a fire that destroyed the Royal Library. That fire was accidently set by Julius Caesar. “Library of Alexandria” Wikipedia
(5) Guidelines for the Care of Works on Paper with Cellulose Acetate Lamination, Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institute, Marit Muson (editor), funded by the Getty Grant Program
Q-Collection Advisory Committee Supporting Statements
TRINA ROBBINS (California, USA): "The preservation of comic books of major historical importance is an excellent and necessary project, and I'm happy to be of any help. Trina Robbins"
HUGO YONZON (Philippines): "These boxed comics are like windows to the culture of a nation. The storytelling, the balloons, the actions, the design of characters, and all those elements speak much not just about comics only but about the world immediately outside of it. That is why the Q-Project is a milestone endeavor. Consider its rich collection as evidences of a civilization like those found in the diggings of ancient temples. People of tomorrow can learn much from the treasures of the Q-Project."
ANTONIUS "TONI" MASDIONO (Indonesia): "Comics have come a long way, maybe from the beginning of our modern culture. It has also evolved over many, many centuries to find its contemporary styles, and is still evolving today. This project is a stepping stone in comic evolution."
PROFESSOR FUSAMI OGI (Japan): "In the last decade, in a global sense, comics scholarship has developed incredibly. Comics studies no longer holds a minor position and Comics is no longer trash culture. Comics which have been created are a crucial part of our culture and should be preserved forever. It is a great pleasure for me to advise in Q-Collection Comic Book Preservation Project from outside the US."
STEVE YOUNIS (Australia): "Far from the 'funny pages' they were once considered, comic books are a viable and important medium for both art and storytelling. They can be an important tool for reading in early childhood, and the efforts of the Q-Collection is a must for future generations to understand the history and value held within their pages."
DOCTOR MICHAEL HILL (Australia): "In a world in which comic books have been treated for far too long as consumables and ephemera the Q-Collection Comic Book Preservation Project represents a significant plan to preserve key items of these as popular culture artifacts. This project also provides physical protection against the transitory status of comic books by means of coating, wrapping and encasement in protective materials that will ensure defense against their decay. The selection and acquisition of these rare comic books that have become classics of popular culture, their preservation treatment, deposit and safekeeping and subsequent availability for reading and research by future generations has my support and deserves backing by business benefactors, patrons of popular culture and by an appropriate public collection institution."
IGOR PRASSEL (Slovenia): "It was about time that a serious historical preservation project in the field of comic art - I see it as a Cinematheque for comic books - got started. Even if the main objective of the project is to preserve comic books from the 1930's to 1960's for the Smithsonian Institute reading collection, I hope it will not deal only with American comic books, but with time will spread into an international collection."
DEZ SKINN (England, UK): "It is a frightening fact that the ever-dwindling number of key moments in the uniquely US creation of comic books are being hoarded away as future investments or permanently "slabbed" in sealed sleeves of Barex, a highly gas-impermeable plastic polymer. No other medium which had such an impact on the entire entertainment media and had such a profound inspiration on several generations of filmmakers, writers and artists would be treated in this cavalier fashion. At a time when no others seem to care, thanks to the efforts of Q-Collectables alone, researchers and historians will be able to read these key issues and appreciate the roots of a phenomenon for many, many years to come. This is a worthy goal which should embraced by all.".
RICHARD WILLIAMS (Wales, UK): "I believe that the Q-Project is of the utmost importance in preserving key comic books for individuals to read for generations to come. Imagine being given the opportunity to hold and read rare comics from American history that usually reside in the clutches of wealthy collectors and investors? It’s wonderful to finally be able to read and enjoy these historic key comic books without the need for white gloves or a pair of tweezers."