Restoring Bib and Bub Newspaper Comic Strips
by the late Margaret Hamilton AM and Gaye McDermott
At the May 2022 Children’s Book Council of Australia conference dinner, Margaret Hamilton presented a priceless gift to the National Centre for Australian Children’s Literature Inc. This is the story of that gift: two May Gibbs’ comic strips published in 1941.
Margaret Hamilton comments (May 2022)
The two framed Bib and Bub comic strips have been part of my family forever. In fact, when I looked at the dates printed on them, I realised that they have been around for my whole life – 81 years! I was born on 23 June 1941, so the one dated 2 March 1941 actually predates my birth by three months. On 29 June 1941, the date in the other one, I was six days old. I have no idea where they came from and certainly the strips themselves are not relevant to our family. My father was away overseas during the Second World War, and I would not meet him until his return when I was eighteen months old. My mother was busy looking after me and cleaning the house for several tenants. Neither of them would have been responsible. So, I am enormously pleased the little comic strips were framed, so well preserved and will now be part of the collection at NCACL for future generations to enjoy. Margaret Hamilton AM
The Centre sought advice
After accepting these treasures, the Centre sought advice from the University of Canberra’s Graduate Certificate in Heritage Materials Conservation program about possible restoration and ensuring the longevity of these comic strips. Lecturers in the program, Dr Alison Wain and Ian Batterham, agreed to supervise Gaye McDermott, a student in their program, to undertake this work.
Gaye McDermott comments
May Gibbs was born in 1877 and died in 1969. She is best known as an author of children’s books, the most famous being Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, first published in 1920 and continuously in print. She was also probably one of the first political cartoonists in Australia. Comic strips became popular in the 1920s and Bib and Bub was published in the Sunday News from 1924 to 1967, making it one of the longest running comics in Australia. One of the reasons Gibbs was so popular was her use of Australian motifs in her illustrations. This made her different from other children’s book illustrators at the time. Her representations of nature and bush characters showed a respect for and interest in the natural world that was uncommon then. The bush played an important part in Australia’s search for identity.
May Gibbs’ stories have been translated into various other media, including Snugglepot and Cuddlepie the Musical, premiering in 1992, as well as a ballet. In 2015 the high fashion label Romance was Born collaborated with May Gibbs’ estate to produce a range featuring her characters and motifs. Her house, Nutcote, in Neutral Bay, Sydney has been preserved as a museum. May Gibbs still has currency today and her work deserves to be conserved and preserved.
The first steps involved pH testing to measure pH levels in the paper. As expected, readings were in the range for old newspaper, between 4 and 5, indicating a high acidic presence. The aim is to deacidify with an alkaline solution to slow down the process of acid hydrolysis, restoring to a pH neutral range of between 7 and 8.
But before fully immersing the comics in a solution of Calcium Hydroxide and water, a test for water solubility is important. Fortunately, the inks in newsprint are oil based and so won’t wash out.
The deacification of the comics has been successfully completed and the repairing of small tears with Japanese paper and starch paste means these two gems have now been carefully restored. The Centre has created a container to safely house these for posterity.
The Centre has a large collection (185 items) of books and other items by and about May Gibbs. These include a Hebrew edition of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie and items such as artwork, needlepoint, baby quilt, postcards, bookmarks, plates, cups, quilt, apron, garden gloves, diaries, calendars, friezes, colouring books, postcards, stickers and other items. We invite visitors to visit this collection and from time to time, we exhibit these for the lovers of all things May Gibbs. The papers of May Gibbs are held in the State Library of NSW. The harbourside home of May Gibbs is Nutcote, a museum located in Sydney’s Neutral Bay, is open for visitors.
Posted by: NCACL | Published: 03 Feb 2023