Houchen Bindery Custom Comic Book Binding Review & Preparation Methodology for Marc Spector: Moon Knight Custom Omnibi Collections

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If you are interested in creating your own custom Marc Spector: Moon Knight omnibi and would like to use my design templates and binding order, follow these links to get the files you’ll need:

Prologue: Pre-Production Collection Process & Methodology

I was first exposed to Houchen Bindery’s custom comic book binding service through comic book writer Cullen Bunn (Venom, The Sixth Gun, Helheim, Magneto). At the time, he had used their custom comic book binding service to create a beautiful Micronauts hardback book.

Upon further exploration into the company’s services and an insightful Comic Book Resources article featuring Houchen Bindery (and another beautiful custom collection of Rom: Space Knight), I began to look at my own comic collection with an eye for similar opportunities. My father is a veteran comic collector (I inherited that behavior from him) and initially, like him, I, too, was wary of essentially taking single comic books, destroying their collector’s value, and Frankensteining them into a single book.

Unlike my father, though, I don’t collect my comics with a mind for future investment. Sure, I like to keep them in the best condition possible (especially the older books) but I do so with the objective of repeatable readability. I love to read and re-read ad infinitum my books (which is part of the reason why I’m going all-digital with new books and my subscriptions). In fact, I’m not really much of a collector to begin with—not in the sense that the comic book culture has given it with acquisition and immediate preservation.

Once I pushed past that part of me I inherited from my father—the stereotypical collector—I then formulated a structure of reasoning: how would I determine which books I’d have custom bound? (Trust me: this is something to consider if you’re thinking about getting custom-bound collections.) I figured that the books I’d choose to have bound would need to fit four criteria:

  1. The single issues must be arranged and bound according to a specific continuity accurate to the stories’ canon—both overarching and individual.
  2. The single issues must not be of significant collector’s value. (I.e. no binding Amazing Fantasy #15, Action Comics #1, The Walking Dead #1 First Printing, or anything else of comparably significant value.)
  3. Most, if not all, of the single issues must not have been previously and officially collected into trade form.
  4. Most, if not all, of the single issues must have the lowest chance of ever being officially collected into trade form.

I then added a fifth and sixth criteria specifically for justifying the creation of the custom-bound collection itself:

  1. The resulting custom-bound collection must be of a specific caliber of quality so as to justify its creation.
  2. The resulting custom-bound collection’s production value must be at the very least modest in relation to collector’s and/or personal value.

With these criteria, I would assure myself that no single issue was needlessly sacrificed and that the production quality of the resulting custom-bound collection would make up for its original collector’s value’s destruction.

I used these criteria to analyze my comic collection and immediately selected the perfect candidate: my complete run of Marvel’s Marc Spector: Moon Knight, a 60-issue series plus a Special Edition issue from the 1990s that had definitely fulfilled criterion #3 and reasonably fulfilled criterion #4. The collector’s value of my collection also fulfilled criterion #2.

I wasn’t content with binding just that series, though. I also threw in Moon Knight: Resurrection War and Moon Knight: High Strangers into the mix since both were direct sequels to the main series. I also added the one-shot Moon Knight: Divided We Fall which—though its place in the character’s historical continuity is not entirely clear—was also published in the same time period.

Those covered all of the Moon Knight series between his formative years (his early cameos, the first Moon Knight series, Moon Knight: Fist of Khonshu,  and his stint in West Coast Avengers, which was completely collected in the series’ second omnibus) and his modern series (beginning with his 2006 series by Charlie Huston and David Finch). None of Moon Knight’s ‘90s series had ever been officially collected into trade form by Marvel and, despite his recent resurgence into popularity, I reasoned that they may never receive such treatment—mainly because these series suffered from the ‘90s stigma of comic book culture and because it isn’t as well known as all of the other series that have been collected.

Still, I was not content with collecting only Moon Knight-titled books. The character cameoed in many different Marvel books during the ‘90s, and they all were interwoven into the continuity of his main books. I was determined to do what was never done before for this era in Moon Knight’s history: I was going to Frankenstein a definitive continuity among all of these books.

I had previously endeavored to create a complete chronology of comics following Moon Knight’s canon in the mainstream Marvel Universe, which you can find here. This project lists every Moon Knight appearance in mainstream continuity books from his humble origin in Werewolf By Night #32 all the way to current appearances. For this project, I took the entire chunk of appearances coinciding with my choice collection and started to read and review the books I had never read before.

I took notes as to how these other books fit into the continuity of the main Marc Spector: Moon Knight series (the other two miniseries, Resurrection War and High Strangers were published directly after its conclusion, so I didn’t have to account for them). Here is the result of my research and organization. This choice collection doesn’t include several cameo appearances because Moon Knight played a minor role in each (usually just as background fodder or a brief, passing mention).

I then divided the collection into four chunks according to Houchen Bindery’s specifications for binding comics (i.e. spine width limitations; this four-fold division can be seen in the aforementioned spreadsheet). At last, I had my custom collection order planned out and fulfilling criterion #1.

Binding Options & Order Form

Houchen offers many options and accessories for custom-bound comic collections, including different binding styles, page trimming, different cover types, dust jackets, bookmark ribbons, and so forth. You can visit Houchen’s website to learn about all of these options, but I’ll just show you what I chose and explain why I chose them.

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Official Houchen Bindery Comic Book Order Form with options for one of my custom volumes.

As you can see from this order form, I chose the DFAB binding method, a custom graphic cover designed by me, a white ribbon bookmark, white head and tail bands, white end sheets (default), a rounded spine, and no page trimming.

I originally wanted the Smyth sewn binding method for all of my books because it offered better resilience to wear during repeated reading. However, after speaking with Tim Benson at Houchen (he was my contact point throughout the process and provided excellent customer service), he convinced me to go with DFAB, which involves gluing the comics to the interior spine strip. I had to use DFAB anyway for one of my volumes because the Moon Knight: Divided We Fall book was, unlike the rest of my books, originally bound by glue into a flat-back spine, meaning that using a sewing method wouldn’t work.

I wanted to maintain consistency across all four of my volumes in their production, so I decided that if one volume had to be DFAB, then they all should be DFAB. Despite my reservations about using glue instead of sewn thread to bind my books, I’m happy to say that the quality and resilience of the DFAB method was well worth the change.

I had planned at the outset to create custom graphic hardcovers for my volumes. I’m not a fan of the standard cloth covers often used with official Marvel Omnibi, which mostly rely on illustrated dust jackets to offset the bland hardcovers.

Houchen offers graphic cover design services for customers who may not have the experience of cover design or access to the appropriate design software. I just so happened to have years of artistic experience, experience in book design, and the software to create my custom cover designs. Using a combination of Adobe InDesign, Photoshop, and Illustrator, I designed my covers using the West Coast Avengers Omnibus Volume 2 dustjacket design as my template. I wanted my books to reflect the same design quality as official Marvel Omnibi right down to the Marvel logo design on the spines and the text fonts used.

I had to completely recreate the original Marc Specter: Moon Knight logo in Illustrator since there were no high-resolution graphics available on the web. I also decided to commission the front cover art for each volume from deviantARTist Muamal Khairi (@artfullys), who did a fantastic job.

I love having ribbon bookmarks in my books and decided to make mine white to match Moon Knight’s primary color scheme. I also liked the look of the head and tail bands that added a professional appearance to the binding, so I got those in white, too.

I decided to stick with the default white interior end sheets (which are placed at the end of the volume after the comics). Houchen also offers customers to create their own front matter, so I used the opportunity to create front matter that matched what you would find in an official Marvel Omnibus, including an interior cover page with art, credits listing all of the creators and management who were involved in the making of the comics collected, and a complete table of contents.

I added to the front matter:

  • Special thanks to my family who helped fund the volumes’ creation as a Christmas and Birthday gift.
  • A dedication page for each volume that dedicated the books to my family and the “Moon Knight Luminaries”—my personal list of influential creators who worked on Moon Knight books.
  • A disclaimer about the unofficial nature of the volumes’ creation.
  • A standardized recap of Moon Knight’s history leading up to the books contained within the custom collections.
  • Reading notes that inform the reader of which parts of certain books to ignore since a few books contain other stories that have no relevance to Moon Knight.

I chose for the book to have a rounded spine because a flat spine might have decreased the binding’s resilience to wear. I also generally like rounded spines over flat spines. Finally, I chose to not have my comic books’ pages trimmed to a uniform length. Trimming provides a smoother, more professional look and feel to the interior pages. However, I was not willing to sacrifice even a bit of the outer lying artwork on the pages; I wanted the original pages to be as untouched as possible.

Another fantastic option Houchen offers is gatefold cover display. Basically, if a comic has a gatefold cover or a cover whose artwork extends to the back cover page, Houchen will refold the cover so that when you open your book, you can fold out the entire cover to display the full artwork. I definitely chose this option, especially for the Infinity War and Infinity Crusade books.

I decided that I wanted to really make my custom volumes extra special and valuable by turning them into a box collection. At the time when I began the entire project, Houchen had offered custom slipcases as accessories for a price. I chose to go with this option because the slipcase would also guard the books against dust and weathering. Just like I did for the volumes’ covers, I created a custom graphic overlay for the slipcase—this time opting for more classic and official comic art over commissioned art.

Bill Sienkiewicz—famed comic artist and the Jack Kirby or Steve Ditko of Moon Knight artwork—was my primary inspiration for the slipcase art, so I used two of his classic Moon Knight sketchbook artworks and a rare piece he had drawn for the letters page of a Moon Knight issue. I also used a custom graphic I had originally designed for the custom front matter of the volumes which can be seen on the top and bottom of the slipcase.

Houchen discontinued the slipcase accessory option following my order for business reasons. My slipcase was actually affected by this business reason, but I’ll leave the explanation of that for my final review.

Besides these standard services and options, Houchen allows customers to write down notes specifying particular treatments for their books. I highly recommend creating a list or spreadsheet of the comics and their binding/reading order for Houchen just in case there is a mishap and the order in which you submitted your books becomes disrupted. You can attach your binding order spreadsheet to the official order form for clarification.

Three of my books were specially formatted by Marvel so that two stories were printed facing upright and reading from left-to-right, front-to-back while two other stories were printed facing upside down and reading in the opposite direction. I included special binding instructions for these books so that they were bound facing the right side up for the Moon Knight stories.

I also had two books that had trading cards stapled to the spine along with the pages. I wanted to have these cards separated from the books and returned with the completed volumes, so I made note of them and Houchen delivered.

Shipping

In this section, I’ll teach you how I safely prepared and shipped my books to Houchen.

Now, Houchen has a set of guidelines for preparing your books for shipping and binding. Yes, you will have to pay for shipping your books to and from Houchen, so take that cost into mind. Their guidelines state that you can ship your books individually bagged and boarded, but know that you’ll incur an extra cost for Houchen to remove the books from their bags and boards and you won’t get the bags and boards back.

I realize that shipping the books without being individually bagged and boarded is blasphemy to the comic collector, but I’ll remind and urge you to again do away with this mode of thinking. You are sending your books to be cannibalized anyway.

That doesn’t mean you can’t take steps to ensure that your books won’t get damaged during shipping. The best way to do protect your books without individually bagging and boarding is actually quite simple. First, find a safe place where you can package your books. Then get the following supplies:

  • Polypropylene Magazine-sized Bags (they look like larger comic book bags).
  • Rigid Cardboard Sheets cut to a size that leaves 1” to 1.5” of space around each side of the largest comic book you’ll be shipping.
  • Scotch Packaging Tape (or something similar).
  • A shipping box large enough to store your stack(s) of books (sans individual bags and boards) with the cardboard sheets and some packing material (paper, bubble wrap, or Styrofoam peanuts).

Once you have these supplies, it’s time to prepare your books. Follow these instructions:

  1. Organize your books into single stacks. Each stack will represent one (1) custom-bound collection (a.k.a. “volume”) and the number of books in each stack is determined by the size limit of the volume’s spine width.
    NOTE: Houchen recommends making custom volumes with spines no larger than 3” in width. I found that the ideal number of books for a large volume is around 30 individual, standard-sized comic books. To make sure you’re within the spine width limit, stack your books without bags and boards, press them together at their spines, and measure the width of the stack.
  2. Remove your books from their bags and boards if you haven’t already done so and double-check their organization. You must send your books in the order in which they will be bound and displayed.
  3. Square up your book stacks as neatly as possible.
  4. Place the completed order form for the volume you are creating on top of the book stack.
  5. Take one magazine bag and carefully squeeze and slip your stack into it. If you have a large stack of books, be extra cautious not to damage them when putting them into the bag. Fold over the bag’s flap and either seal it with a small piece of tape (if you can) or hold it in place.
  6. Take a second magazine bag and again carefully squeeze and slip your bagged stack into it with the open side of the first bag going into the second bag first. This will create a great protective seal for your books. Use small pieces of tape to bind the two bags together at the second bag’s opening.
  7. Place your stack squarely into the middle of one cardboard sheet and place another cardboard sheet on top of the stack to create a sandwich.
  8. Use enough tape to hold the two pieces of cardboard together and to secure the inner stack.
  9. Use a sharpie or marker on the outer-facing sides of each cardboard sheet to clearly indicate which volume is which if you are shipping multiple stacks to create multiple volumes.
  10. Place your packaged volumes into the shipping box and secure them with packing material.
  11. Create your shipping label, seal your box, and ship. UPS or FedEx recommended.

Review

Now we can get to the actual review! I began the entire custom binding project in November of 2015, shipped my books in December, and received the final products in April of 2016. The service totaled at $179 excluding three shipping and handling costs (I’ll explain this in a moment), which was well worth the results. Overall, I am a very happy customer and I believe that the sacrifice I made with my previously fine- and near-mint-graded books resulted in high-quality collector’s items (barring some personalization with the special thanks, dedications, and commissioned cover art).

As I explained before, Houchen discontinued their slipcase accessory option after my order. This was due to quality concerns on their end which actually manifested in my slipcase. Sometime during return shipment, the slipcase—which was packaged with the custom volumes contained within—had been torn along one edge between its boards, compromising its integrity. Luckily my books weren’t damaged in the process, but I was disheartened by the damage nonetheless.

I contacted Houchen about the issue and they apologized for the damage and offered to create a new, stronger slipcase using services from another company. There was some concern on Houchen’s end about not being able to exactly recreate the slipcase with my custom graphic design—specifically that the bottom image couldn’t be mounted.

I returned my books in the damaged slipcase (while footing the cost of shipping, hence ultimately paying three shipping costs) with the request that the damaged slipcase be returned to me since I could still salvage it for some other use. Three months later, I received my books, my old slipcase, and the new slipcase—this time with no damage and with the entire graphic design replaced. (They managed to fit the bottom image after all!)

Despite that hiccup, I had one of the best first-time customer experiences with Houchen Bindery that I’ve ever had . Fantastic customer service, communication, accommodation, and end products. I happily recommend this service to any brave comic collector interested in getting custom-bound books made and I will definitely be a return customer for my next project. (I’m thinking maybe a follow-up to these custom Moon Knight books collecting the few cameos he had between High Strangers and the 2006 series and maybe some collections of ‘90s Venom comics.)