Crumbling Paper: A Brief Overview of Some of the Problems With Comics Preservation

My friend Donn Ha, made the following comment on today’s Katzenjammer post, which I thought was important to elaborate on:

The Katzenjammer Kids count as crumbling paper? I’d always ass-u-me-d their stuff was pretty well preserved and accessible.

Here is the response, which I felt was worth putting up more prominently here.

Thanks for commenting, Donn.

ALL old comics are disappearing… the vast majority (including most of the Katzenjammers) have not been reprinted in any form. Of the ones that have been reprinted, few have in their entirety, and generally the reprints are at a much smaller size than the original published size.

Besides the fact that newspapers and comic books were considered disposable media, newsprint crumbles with age.

Most libraries have gotten rid of their huge books of newspapers, considering microfiche a replacement. The books take a huge amount of space and shit crumbling paper everywhere, so they provide serious preservation challenges. Microfiche isn’t at all adequate; the initial images on microfiche are very low resolution (totally inadequate for preserving comics, and frequently inadequate for even preserving text), and microfiche deteriorates even faster than newsprint.

Very few books preserve the art at its original size (which is a logistical nightmare), and any reduction in size results in a loss of information.

It’s really a grim situation, unfortunately.

We are in a golden age of comics reprints, but we’re still barely scratching the surface of what needs to be preserved. Attempting digital preservation on a massive scale is the only hope for most comics… I hope someone with the resources realizes this sooner or later.

Beyond the comics, most of the newspaper news of the last century is getting lost (which is probably the best document you can find on historical daily life and attitudes)… you would think some folks would be concerned about that.

Comics preservation is an ongoing battle… no preservation is permanent. Fantagraphics has had trouble finding some dates of Peanuts strips for their reprint series, for Pete’s sake! Digital preservation (at high enough resolution for printing) is the best hope for long-term preservation of the comics.

2 thoughts on “Crumbling Paper: A Brief Overview of Some of the Problems With Comics Preservation

  1. I just imagined someone (King Features) would’ve already archived the Katzenjammer stuff! Once again my ignorance is exposed.

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