Comic Book Cleaning and Heat Pressing Documentary
Many times I come across good comic book finds that for one reason or another may have some condition issues due to sitting in these budget bins for so long without proper protective measures such as bags or boards, or even environmental factors which may cause the comic books to develop folds, creases, spine rolls, and discoloration from dust and dirt particles. These condition issues could even be the case for more expensive books that which prior owners decidedly refrained from addressing due to either not looking favorably on the idea of heat pressing and cleaning comic books or just cautious reservation as to not incur any more damage to a comic book. With the proper equipment, patience, and experience the many minor but aesthetically value diminishing blemishes a comic book can develop over time can be remedied.
Since the mid-late 1980's, I have collected comic books and I must say the criteria for what constitutes a good condition comic book in the eyes of collectors has become extraordinarily and ever increasingly stringent. Comic books 30+ years ago which in my opinion would fetch a premium are now shunned by most elitist collectors who either only concern themselves with certified high-graded comic books or raw ungraded books with immaculate aesthetic presentation. For most it has become less about the comic book heroes and more about the financial return a book can generate. For collectors like myself who started collecting when they were young and still collect books now for nostalgic purposes, I can still appreciate getting a bargain on a book and maybe making a few bucks in the process. I am creating this documentary not only as a personal log but also as a point of reference for others who want to start the journey of comic book pressing and cleaning. After reading and following me on this path you might be able to take that old box of comic books in the closet or from the local garage sale and turn them into a modest profit. I will start-off by listing the supplies you will need to perform the cleaning and heat pressing of comic books.
Item 1: The Heat Press.
So I looked for a heat press, they all seem to be potentially as good as the next one being this is not an exact science and there is a period of adjustment where the ideal settings need to be found for this type of equipment. I do what any other avid Amazon buyer does and look to the reviews, the TUSY heat press had some positive reviews regarding comic book pressing along with a multitude of reviews of it being a sound traditional heat press so I decided it looked like a good purchase. The TUSY Heat Press is available on Amazon for $185 plus shipping. See the listing below:
Item 2: The comic sauna (Humidifier).
The comic sauna, at first I wasn't sure what to make of this term except that it meant adding moisture to a comic book. I did some research and the only reliable source data I found pertained to restoring old historical documents but there was an abundance of opinion related information on a number of comic book forums relating to this topic. I decided to use the historical document data as a benchmark and take any seemingly intelligent advice I could from the forums. I came up with the below crude but effective apparatus for adding moisture to comics. Below are the materials I used which in total costed me about $10 with the water heating kettle being an additional but optional $28. I chose the water heating kettle for convenience as opposed to boiling water on a stove for each and every time I wanted to use the comic sauna.
Materials for the "Comic Sauna"
1. Transparent (*heat-resistant*) tupperware container: For my particular use case I bought a Sterilite tupperware container with the following inner dimension measurements: 9" width, 13" length, and 5 1/2" deep. The tupperware container should preferably have some sort of moisture seal to optimize the comic sauna's effectiveness (see pics below). ***NOTE***: Make sure your plastic tupperware can resist boiling water temperatures to avoid any danger to yourself or the comic book!
2. *Heat-Resistant* Platform: You will need a platform of some sort to suspend your comic within the sauna. I found a gray plastic container at the local store in which I drilled holes (see pics below) to allow for maximum circulation of the steam within the comic sauna. The platform I purchased had the following dimensions, 6" width, 10" length, and 2 1/2" deep.
***NOTE***: Make sure your plastic platform and tupperware can resist boiling water temperatures to avoid any danger to yourself or the comic book!
3. Water Heating Kettle: This is an optional item but very convenient when having to quickly heat some water for your sauna. Any electric water kettle which can heat 6-8 cups of water to a steam producing temperature will do the trick. The cheap alternative is just heating up some water on the stove to about boiling point to produce steam and condensation within your plastic tupperware. In the previous picture you can see that I purchased distilled water, from reading document restoration sources they make mention of the use of plain tap water but some comic book enthusiasts insist on distilled water. I have yet to try tap water though if you do use it make sure you test first on a comic you don't care for. For now I am going to say distilled water is preferable and not very costly though I will be testing tap water in the near future.
Item 3: Cleaning Materials.
1. Hi-Polymer Eraser: This eraser will allow you to clean and achieve a bright effect on white areas of the front and back covers of the comic book. It should only be used on white sections as you could potentially strip the ink off any areas with color.
2. Absorene Dry Eraser: This dry rubber sponge is good for lifting dirt and grime and also makes it easier for the Absorene Cleaning Putty to pick up anything left behind. This sponge should be used gently as excessive use can rub out ink from the cover.
3. Absorene Paper & Book Cleaner: Use this putty-like cleaner to remove general dirt and grime from the comic book cover and pages. Caution must be taken not to rip any pages when using this cleaner.
Now that we have everything we need its time to start looking for some inconsequential comic books to test on. I have purchased quite a few lots in recent history so there are some comic books I can readily use. I strongly urge anyone who is just beginning to clean and press books to first test on cheaper books you are willing to trash if the cleaning and heat press process go awry, and believe me that the chance of ruining a comic book is very possible if you are careless. Before heat pressing a book you will most likely want to ask yourself two things:
Does the book require any cleaning? Depending on the age of the book or how it was stored it could need some cleaning attention.
Does it need some time in the comic sauna?
These are questions that you need to ask yourself but as a word of advice I would make sure any books you plan on placing in a heat press have any cleaning issues addressed before moving forward. If you heat press a dirty comic book you may bake or lock in any dirt or grime making it difficult or impossible to remove it in the future. The comic sauna is also an optional step which I feel is geared more for older books with extensive and non-color breaking creases or wrinkles from environmental damage. This is not to say that you couldn't place a new comic book in the comic sauna but I feel it is usually not necessary unless it's in really bad shape. With comic book cleaning and heat pressing practice makes perfect and experience through trial and error is your ultimate guide. I will first go over some basic cleaning steps which you may or may not feel necessary depending on the particular comic book in-hand.
Basic Cleaning Steps
Step 1: First, let's see if there are any white areas on the front and back cover of the comic book we can clean and brighten up. As you can see below, there is a small dirt mark on the right-hand side of the ToyBiz emblem, it is also a bit dirty around the edges. Let's see if the Hi-Polymer Eraser can clean and brighten this up a bit.
When using the eraser apply gentle single direction strokes to avoid grinding the comic book surface and noticeably stripping any gloss. After a few gentle strokes you can see the difference in the overall brightness due to the absence of dirt.
Step 2: Next we take the Absorene Dry Eraser which should be used with care as it has the potential to be abrasive if you are not gentle. Use the eraser to loosen and remove any dirt and grime from the comic book before giving it a cleaning Absorene putty. I recommend cutting a smaller more manageable piece of the eraser from the larger block before proceeding. Like the hi-polymer eraser, apply gentle single direction strokes to avoid grinding the comic book surface and noticeably stripping any gloss, the sponge can be very sticky so be sure not to apply too much pressure and rip the cover of the comic book.
Step 3: Last is the Absorene Paper & Book Cleaner, which is a nice and safe way to lift off any remaining dirt from the comic book pages. If you have steady hands and are practiced in working with the putty. Just take a pinball-sized wad of it and work it into a roll-able form as shown in the below picture.
Place the wad of putty on the comic book and gently roll it across the page taking caution as to not rip the comic book. It is recommended to always roll in a single outward direction towards or parallel to an open end of a page. Small back and forth motions can be used if done carefully in an isolated spot in an effort to remove a stubborn mark or stain but be extremely careful not to rip or crease the comic book page.
Now that the book is clean let's move on to the comic sauna.
Comic sauna steps:
Step 1: You will heat up some water so it can produce steam and humidity. I used my water kettle to heat up some water then proceed to fill up my comic sauna just below or at the holes that were drilled on the platform, the more steam the better.
Step 2: Place the comic book on the platform in the sauna. I recommend placing a backboard into the staple page of the comic book to avoid having to do it while the book is humidified prior to placing it in the heat press. I also recommend placing the comic book directly on the platform without an additional backboard for maximum humidification.
Step 3: Once the comic book is in the comic sauna seal and secure the lid for a number of minutes. From the testing I have done so far, positive results have been achieved by keeping the comic book in the sauna between about 10 minutes. Depending on the severity of the comic book condition issues, I find that leaving the book in the sauna longer facilitates the heat press process. I have yet to try leaving a comic book in the sauna longer than 15 minutes, so far 10 minutes has seen positive results for books with severe wrinkles and non-color breaking creases.
Step 4: Once the book is ready to be taken out of the comic sauna, carefully remove the lid from the tupperware container to prevent any condensation from dripping onto the comic book. I recommend slowly tilting the lid to the left or right of the long side of the container so any water runoff slides safely away from the comic book. If you do decide to just lift the cover directly off of the container keep your hands steady and avoid any sudden movements to prevent water from dripping on the comic book.
Now that your comic book has been humidified it's time to place it in the heat press.
Comic Heat Press steps
Step 1: The first step is to heat up the press to the desired temperature. I have been testing with temperatures between 140 to 175 degrees Fahrenheit (make sure your heat press is set to Fahrenheit). I recommend starting with 170 degrees Fahrenheit for copper to bronze age comic books. For modern age books published around or after the late 1990's or 2000, I recommend 140 to145 degrees to reduce the chances of the pages sticking. The issue with books after the late 1990's and 2000 is the introduction of glossy comic book pages and after performing a few tests I have observed the pages sticking together after heat pressing with higher temperatures. If higher temperatures are used the pages will need to be carefully peeled apart. Page sticking has not been an issue with older comic books that do not have glossy interior pages. Once your heat press is heated up to the desired temperature move on to Step 2. Remember to use caution while working with the heat press as it will be very hot.
Step 2: The heat press is now ready for the comic book. I recommend placing one or more magazine size backboards on the press for added stability followed by laying a piece of baking parchment paper that can withstand high-oven temperatures. The parchment paper will provide a non-stick surface for the comic book to rest on. As mentioned in the comic sauna section, I recommend placing a regular size comic backboard in the center staple page of the comic book for a nice even heat press.
Step 3: Before lowering the heat press plate add another piece of the baking parchment paper so the front and back covers of the comic book are insulated by the parchment paper followed by another magazine size backboard. Ensure the paper and backboards are aligned from top to bottom.
Step 4: Lower the heat press plate so it locks securely in place. The automatic timer should start and begin to countdown. Depending on the comic book and condition, I recommend a heat press of no less than 20 minutes and a maximum of 30 minutes. The heat press I have has a maximum timer of 999 seconds which is about 16 and 1/2 minutes. Once the timer runs out I usually just note the actual time and revisit the heat press after 5 minutes or so before powering it down.
Step 5: Once the heat press phase is done you can power off the heat press for cooldown. Leave the comic book clamped in the heat press while it cools down for a minimum of 30 minutes but preferably an hour or so. You may leave the comic in the press to cooldown longer, hours in some cases, depending on the comic book need case.
Step 6: Once the cooldown process is complete you can remove the comic book gently from the press. Remember to use caution removing the comic book as the heat press could still be hot. I recommend carefully sliding a backboard under the comic book, kind of like a spatula, and remove it from the heat press bed so it can be moved to a safe place for further examination and to be bagged and boarded.
You have successfully heat pressed your comic book, well done. Depending on the severity of the comic book condition issues and the results achieved after the first press you may want to flip the comic book and repeat the heat press steps again. For extremely severe condition cases you may also want to repeat the comic sauna process before the additional heat press. Below I have posted some before and after results using the steps and settings I have provided so far. I will be periodically updating this page as I clean and heat press more comic books, specifically newer books and the issue with the sticking pages. I feel that with the steps and settings I provided you can achieve good consistent results. Remember that not all heat presses are created equally and you may need to tweak the settings depending on your equipment and comic book use case. If you have any questions don't hesitate to reach out to me via the forums and I will be happy to open a dialogue. Thanks for reading this and check out the Ragingeek Store for great comic books and toys. Appreciate you stopping by and come again.