ADVENTURES IN BOOKBINDING AND MAKING BOOKS

I’ve always loved comics and books so it’s not surprising that somewhere along the line I would combine the two. My  home is stuffed with books of every genre and  comics  collections stretching back over fifty years .

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There are bookcases , boxes and shelves that could stock a shop. As a collector of comics, many old issues spend their days locked away in sealed bags with-in boxes. I know that I’ll never sell most of them so I decided to have some of the old UK comics from the 1940’s to the 1960’s bound into hardback volumes and make them easier to access. This may appear something sacrilegious to some collectors who might want to maintain the physical integrity of the original comics[and possibly their re-sale value] , but my feeling is that as I have no intention of selling them and no wish to hide these wonderful artifacts away, why not present them at their best? This does not mean that I needlessly destroyed my original Spider-man and Fantastic Four comics which are valued at hundreds ,if not thousands of pounds each in Overstreet’s Comic Book Price Guide.These were the less expensive UK comics.Most of these would currently sell as single issues at approximately £5.00 – £10.00 sterling each to comic collectors.Grouped together in hardback volumes and attractively presented  in this protected form, it could be argued that their value improves.In fact  half-year bound runs of 26 weekly comics such as 1950’s UK comics regularly sell at auction for prices around £400.00 sterling.HPIM1687

Whether any of these things will eventually have any value in an increasingly digital age is a moot point.There is still a great enthusiasm for comics and comic characters as can be seen by the attendance at blockbuster films of comic characters, but the actual paper product is gradually becoming  an irrelevance in an age where computer games fill the actioneer’s needs.That said , comic shops are filled to the ceiling with expensive comic compilations of comics’ glory days.

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Initially I sourced a book binder because I wanted to see how a finished bound collection would look. We discussed  colours and details such as headbands. These are the little trims seen at the spine edges . We agreed a price and some weeks later I was very pleased at the results. A beautifully made boxed book complete with headbands and gold spine lettering of some of my favourite comic artists. I had bound together  a mixed run of “Beanos” and “Dandys” from the1940’s to the 1960’s containing some of the seminal work of Ken Reid, Dudley Watkins and Leo Baxendale, among others. This was such a success that I thought…”.Why not try this bookbinding myself?”.HPIM1690

That set me off on another adventure ;learning the craft of the bookbinder. It would be time- consuming.There was outlay for materials. Some mistakes were made but that has to be weighed against the satisfaction of actually making a proper hard-backed book and the fact that I was saving a lot of money into the process.If you are a book-lover, it is the perfect hobby.

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.The first book I attempted to make was a challenge in that it was  a compilation of broadsheet newspaper comics dating back to the 1920’s and running to the 1940’s. I had gathered these American broadsheet comics over my years of comic collecting.Most American   cities sported newspapers vying for support from the Democrats or the Republicans or the awkward squad in-between.The comics they carried were usually presented by syndicates throughout the USA and would sometimes be edited to reflect local sensibilities.  These comics were from a time when all-colour full page comics were presented in a glorious large  format unknown in these present times when now paper media is fast declining in the face of the digital formats.Then, beautifully drawn comics were presented in full colour and astonishingly  detailed  renderings carried the story lines  over complete pages. They were read by young and old and treated as a valid popular entertainment and also as a selling point for the paper.Popular cartoonists were cultural figures, some becoming very rich from their work and cartoon strips were avidly followed.Unlike today when comic strips in newspapers have gradually been squeezed to stamp-sized proportions and appear as hastily drawn smudges on the border of illegibility.HPIM1688

The paper was the usual cheap pulp but the presentation was widescreen.   The size alone meant that  the  resulting book was going to be quite a large and heavy tome. This initial project proved to be a learning experience.The paper I chose for endpapers was inadequate and caused problems. It rippled when glued to the backing boards so it had to be re-thought.HPIM1689

Sourcing a good supplier for basic bookbinding materials  eventually led to Hewitt’s who you can find linked  on the sidebar. To begin, I used bookbinder’s boards but found the transport costs prohibitive.These are heavy and unwieldy.I eventually  used hardboard [or masonite as it is sometimes called]. There were a few sheets of compound board from the back of an old wardrobe lying about in my little shed .Traditional bookbinders will always recommend the use of acid -free materials for longevity so some of my choices fly in the face of that as some of the materials may not be so “pure”.   I tend to use what’s readily available and hope for the best.. It’s a personal choice really.  This was the first material I used. This compound board gave sufficient rigidity for the book covers and was relatively inexpensive to buy from a hardware store. PVA glue was a requisite and as the main component  in binders’ paste could be mixed with wallpaper paste 50/50 for gluing the endpapers.These glues, as with paper and boards, can be bought from specialist shops in more refined forms which guarantee future stability, of course. Luckily the Irish linen thread using for sewing the paper signatures, was made locally and it and the backing tapes could be bought at a haberdashery.A good strong linen thread is perfect for this purpose.I discovered that the headbands could either be bought ready-made in  a variety of  stunning colours or could easily be made with scrap material and string.

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Bookbinding would be difficult, but not impossible, without a few basic tools. An awl for pricking sewing holes in the paper is an indispensable tool, as is a bone folder for smoothing creases in paper. Other than that, items such as needles and paste brushes may well be found in the home or easily sourced.Where things get a little more complicated is when  you  need a sewing frame and some kind of book press for holding and  sewing the paper signatures [or comics] together  and compressing them for gluing and adding the spine reinforcement. The spine material is called mull and is a fabric much like the stuff used in bandages .It has an open weave and a slight stiffness like window netting.

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If you are good with your hands ,you could try making these two items rather than  spending a lot of money buying them from specialist firms at extraordinary prices. There are a few ideas and designs on the internet so it’s worthwhile having a look on YouTube for ideas.I made my own from scraps of wood and a few bolts and screws that were lying about in my shed.I never throw out anything which I think may someday be useful!

This is my home-made book press.

This is my home-made book press.

The book press with the book block showing the attached mull.

The book press with the book block showing the attached mull.

The other material needed is a covering for the boards. In theory, any cloth, paper or flexible material can, and is  used to cover books.Leather is still used,as are various animal hides. More usual these days , book cloth is the  material of choice. This is what you see on most hardback books on  library shelves.The material comes in a variety of finishes, styles and  prices.You can buy sheets to suit any budget or you can have a go with any fabric  that delivers aesthetic appeal. Bear in mind that  each fabric will behave differently during the gluing process.I opted for a good mid-priced  book cloth initially.There were fewer hazards to worry about with this tried and trusted material.This book cloth was like a light canvas and came in a variety of colours.

THE BOOKBINDING PROCESS

A book is  a collection of either single pages or folded pages called signatures.

In the case of binding comics, the grouped  “signatures” are already extant . They are usually stapled together already . I’ve found that with some UK  comics from the 1960’s,rust can badly deteriorate the metal  in the staples and gradually begin to stain   the adjoining paper at the comic’s  edge. In some cases the staples are long -ago rusted into dust, leaving only a rusty stain. A lot depends on storage conditions and the original quality of the metal. Some of the staples may remain really strong and bright even after fifty- plus years.In binding the comics together, it is best to remove the staples completely as a preliminary measure.This will prevent further damage within the binding.

There are a variety of  bookbinding methods. I’ve arrived at mine through trial and error.Basically, it works for me . The comics are first prepared and made as flat as possible with any fold-overs or torn pages attended to. If mending paper cuts or tears is required , archival tape is the best option It will not degrade the surrounding paper or leave glue residue stains. A choice as to whether the comic is worth binding can be made.If it is really tatty, why bother at all.

As comics generally have a white margin around the panel artwork, it is usually the best option to utilise as much of this  paper margin as the “foundation” of your bind.In practice this requires stitching through holes as near the artwork as possible. This gives a strong bind but sometimes [usually centre pages] some  artwork will be lost in the centre gutter if the artwork is a double-page spread. It will fall into the crease. Some of Frank Bellamy’s superb centre spreads in Eagle comic come into this category . An alternative is to sew through holes made in the spine edge. A choice has to be made here.When sewing is finished, mull is usually applied with more glue and it, coupled with the tapes, hold the cover boards in place when glued to appropriate endpapers [more on this later] .Sometimes I  further strengthen the spine by glueing in several layers of paper or card.At this point the “book block” is virtually complete and almost ready for the final stage …cover boards.

 Because I planned to make several books , early on I devised a device to measure the spacing of the sewing holes throughout a series of different projects. I came up with a length of L angled timber moulding which neatly fits over the edge of the edge of the sewing frame bed .  I measured  sewing holes into this and punched them with the awl.This meant that I could place this template over each comic edge on the edge of the bed of my sewing frame and be assured that each subsequent hole would correspond  in placement to the next comic  sewn to it. I then punched holes in each edge of every comic. An alternative for  sewing the very edges together would be a V shaped wooden trough , devised to place the pages in.  The holes could then be punched into the centre crease. Old comics are made from wood pulp paper though so I find it’s best to allow more material in the edge- bind, because the paper is inherently fragile and prone to tearing between sewing holes otherwise .I have heard of some very organised binders using a very fine drill to punch through a stack of paper all at once.

Sewing is done using a strong Irish linen thread.Waxing the thread with beeswax makes it even stronger and easier to handle.Using it in waxed lengths, no longer than about four feet long, spares a lot of heartbreaking tangles.It’s worth checking online for the correct sewing method and knot -tying techniques and adapting them to suit yourself. Luckily I could   initially use beeswax from my own honeybees , but small blocks of wax can be bought quite reasonably and last a long time.When the sewing is finished , mull is measured and cut to cover the spine while also overlapping the front and back of the proposed cover by about half an inch. This is firmly glued in place and left to dry.

After this the edges of the block can be tidied up and headbands and endpapers attached. Comics, like newspapers can sometimes have that serrated edge.I like to have as smooth a finish as possible so the edges are trimmed.Initially I thought this would be a straight forward process in that the edges could be trimmed with a very sharp craft or utility knife.I didn’t want to buy a paper guillotine. I soon discovered that wood pulp paper did not respond too well to this method. Edges were being torn too easily.The best method I came up with was to use some sandpaper .I reasoned that what I was dealing with was essentially a block of wood, which is what a stack of papers really are.The trick is to compress them sufficiently to enable sanding them smooth. The best method for me was to clamp them in a cheap little workmate device for DIY. It could equally work by clamping the book block between two short pieces of planking.Just leaving enough of the book edge for sanding.The three edges are then carefully sanded until smooth.Don’t get carried away though, or you’ll sand right into the printed material!

Headbands  are now fitted. They are the little decorative cuffs at the top and bottom of the spine on most well made hardback books. they can be bought in lengths or hand- made. I’ve used both kinds. Endpapers are a personal choice and   anything from a sturdy cartridge paper to an expensive handmade paper can be used.They are  folded into two-pagers the same size as the book block and neatly glued  to the front and back spine edge.The first and last pages are what will then be glued to the cover boards inside the book.They literally hold the book together when glued into the boards with the mull and tapes.

2 Responses to ADVENTURES IN BOOKBINDING AND MAKING BOOKS

  1. Nice work – that looks like an excellent collection you’ve got there!🙂

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