An Overview of Comic Book Restoration
Restoration is the act of adding foreign material to a comic book through certain techniques to return its appearance to an ideal or original state. Restoration has existed in some form or another since the inception of comic books, but it has evolved considerably over the past 50 years.
Before comics developed value in the ‘60s, the purpose of restoration was void of value increase, and the methods were crude, using unsafe materials like tape and glue to repair comics. As soon as the first collectors placed value on comic books, restoration began to proliferate. The hobby was new and older comics were still relatively cheap, so value, age, and grade were not significant factors for candidacy; any comic book was susceptible to restoration. Techniques using markers, pens, glue, tape and trimming were obvious, and usually slight in nature. Restoration had virtually no effect on value.
Once Bill Sarrill pioneered the first professional techniques in the late ‘70s, piece fill and color touch became more refined, and new techniques like water and solvent cleaning led to better results. This kind of restoration was more extensive yet harder to spot and was not widespread because of the time and effort involved. Collectors began to recognize that professional restoration could add value to a comic book, a perception that set in motion the restoration of many key issues.
While professional restoration targeted lower grade books, its proliferation in the ‘80s and ‘90s led to minor work on higher grade comics, sometimes with the intent to deceive. Minor restoration techniques like cover cleaning, slight color touch, and staple and spine repairs were utilized to repair small defects that significantly improved grade. As these techniques evolved in sophistication, the skills of some restorers surpassed the detection abilities of most collectors. Lack of disclosure in many transactions led to a general wariness of restoration throughout the hobby.
CGC’s opening in 2000 dramatically influenced the perception and execution of restoration. The thorough restoration check performed on each book exposed hidden enhancements, which subsequently discouraged the act of restoring higher grade comic books. Today it has become taboo to restore any comic that already qualifies for a universal (unrestored) grade. Only incomplete or poorly restored comics are considered for restoration, resulting in a considerably smaller pool of candidates.
There are 11 basic enhancements that qualify as restoration: color touch, piece fill, tear seals, spine split seals, reinforcement, piece re-attachment, cleaning, staple replacement, re-glossing, glue and trimming.
- COLOR TOUCH – This process replaces missing color or masks defects using materials such as acrylic paint, watercolors, pen, crayons, pastels, markers, or white-out. Color touch is sometimes referred to as inpainting.
- PIECE FILL – This is utilized to replace missing paper on a comic book using materials such as leaf casting, rice paper, donor parts from other comics, or xerox paper. It is sometimes referred to as infilling.
- TEAR SEALS – Seals are accomplished using an adhesive such as wheat paste and rice paper, or any type of glue, including white glue, wood glue, superglue or paste.
- SPINE SPLIT SEALS – These are essentially tear seals but occur along a comic book’s spine. Like tear seals, they also utilize adhesives and/or rice paper.
- REINFORCEMENT – This process is used to support weak areas of a comic book, particularly the spine, staple areas, or a corner or edge. It can involve the use of rice paper or glue.
- PIECE RE-ATTACHMENT – Re-attachment of loose pieces are like tear seals, utilizing rice paper and/or various adhesives. They are usually found on the outer edges of a comic book.
- CLEANING – There are three basic types of cleaning; water, solvent and dry. Dry cleaning is not considered restoration. Solvent cleaning involves soaking a cover or pages in a chemical bath to remove certain kinds of tanning or foreign substance. Water cleaning involves a water bath that may contain chemicals that whiten or deacidify paper, or aids in the removal of stains, tanning and creases.
- STAPLE REPLACEMENT OR CLEANING – This involves replacing one or both original staples of a comic book with new or vintage staples, usually done when the original staples have become rusty or broken. Sometimes the original staples are chemically cleaned to remove rust or discoloration.
- RE-GLOSSING – A process that enhances the gloss of a comic cover using a fixative spray.
- GLUE – This is considered an amateur repair using non-archival glue, utilized to seal tears and splits, reinforce weak areas or re-attach loose pieces or pages.
- TRIMMING – A technique that involves cutting off the edges of a comic book’s cover or pages to remove defects and sharpen edges. Unlike the other restoration techniques, trimming results in an improved appearance through destruction (loss of paper).
In 2016 CGC began recognizing conservation, a sub-category of restoration. While restoration focuses in aesthetic improvement, the goal of conservation is to preserve the structural integrity of the comic while removing all things that are detrimental to its longevity. It includes many of the same enhancements as restoration, such as cleaning, tear seals, spine split seals, reinforcement, piece re-attachment, and staple replacement, but excludes aesthetic enhancements like color touch and piece fill. Because amateur materials and techniques are usually unsightly, irreversible or harmful to a comic book, such as re-glossing, trimming and the use of non-archival glue, only professional applications are considered for a conservation classification.
Techniques such as pressing, dry cleaning, tape removal, or any other process that only removes foreign substance is not considered restoration.
While tape could be considered restoration because it is usually used to repair defects, its prevalence on comic books has led collectors to accept tape as a defect rather than restoration. As such, CGC does not recognize tape as restoration, rather downgrading a comic book accordingly if it is present. Because of the destructive nature of tape, CGC believes that is should never be used on a comic book for any reason.