Sunday, February 12, 2006

 

Storing Comic Strips Part II - Another Enemy of Newsprint


In addition to minding the 'big three' factors discussed yesterday, there is one more thing you can do to help your newspaper keep its youthful complexion. Newsprint that is kept away from circulating air seems to age far slower. The less exposure to air the better. If you look at an old bound volume of newspapers, or just an old book printed on cheap pulp paper, you'll find that the outer page edges are much browner than the page bodies. The difference seems to be that the middles of the pages weren't exposed to air. In a tightly closed book, everything except the page edges gets no air circulation - apparently this is an environment hostile to the agents of paper deterioration.

So to give your newspapers an even longer life you can eliminate, or at least limit, the amount of air circulation to which they are exposed. The basic way to do this is simplicity itself - just stack your newspaper tearsheets in a pile. This protects them almost as if they were bound like a book.

You can very easily go one better than the 'book' method of storage, which still leaves the outer edges exposed to air, by tightly bagging your newspapers to eliminate the air circulation all but completely. But once we consider bagging our newspapers, we hit the $64,000 question - which materials are suitable for bagging newsprint? If the bagging material reacts chemically with the newspaper, we could be causing much more harm to our precious cargo than we are trying to avoid in the first place.

Archivists tell us that the ideal material for bagging newsprint is Mylar. We are told that it is totally chemically inert and thus cannot react with the contents. I don't doubt that they are right. There's just one little problem - the stuff costs an arm and a leg. I suppose if you are trying to protect some rare and valuable 1890s Yellow Kid pages that it is reasonable to shell out the big bucks for Mylar. But 99.9% of newspaper comics are simply not worth that kind of investment. They're scarce, yes, valuable ... not so much.

Instead I use good old reliable polyethylene plastic bags. They cost mere pennies per bag and come in a practically infinite variety of sizes. Now I've read the reports (mostly from companies selling Mylar ... hmmm) that claim the plastic 'outgasses' nasty chemicals that will supposedly destroy my precious collection, but I can only tell you what I have learned from personal experience. I have plenty of newspapers that I placed in polyethylene bags as long as thirty years ago, and to my eyes the paper inside has not aged one bit in that period.

I will admit that I have seen old polyethylene bags that have not aged gracefully - some have a tendency to get a bit cloudy or yellow, and I've even found a few that have gotten slightly tacky to the touch (but on the outside only). When I find one of these I just remove the newspaper, toss the bag and substitute a new one. I've never seen the bag yet that has actually done any visible damage to its contents.

Before we go on, a few words on other storage methods. First of all, please don't paste or tape your comic strips into albums. The glue that comes in contact with the newspaper will usually turn it brown. Besides, if and when you decide to sell your comic strips you'll find that most collectors won't buy strips that have tape or glue on them. Same goes for laminating - most collectors want nothing to do with laminated newspapers, and rightly so. Lamination is irreversible, and the process, which involves high heat, is terribly damaging to newsprint. Not only that, but studies have shown that lamination does pretty much nothing to protect newsprint - it continues to age unabated inside that plastic shell.

It's also probably not a good idea to put your comic strips in those photo albums with the sticky clear plastic overlays. While I don't have any personal long-term experience with the effects of this storage method on newsprint, I have seen photos in such albums that have been damaged through a reaction between the photographic emulsion and the plastic overlay. If those albums can hurt photos, they can probably hurt newsprint too.

It is also a bad idea to store unbagged comic strips in cardboard boxes. Most cardboard is highly acidic, so much so that it can chemically burn paper that touches it. Cardboard is fine if the the strips are bagged, or if the cardboard is lined with some more innocuous material.

Tomorrow: Part 3 - Bagging Daily Comics

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