It may be hip for Downtown workers to spend part of their Thursday afternoon at Columbus Commons’ Food Truck Food Court, but I’d much rather hop on a COTA bus and take a field trip. That’s what I did last week, when I met fellow librarians in the Central Ohio chapters of Special Libraries Association and the Association for Information Science and Technology for a tour of the newly renovated Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum at the Ohio State University.
In 1977, this unique academic research library was established with a founding gift of the artwork and papers of Ohio State alumnus Milton Caniff, the creator of the Terry and the Pirates and Steve Canyon comic strips. Located at the northwest corner of North High Street and 15th Avenue in Sullivant Hall, the library houses the world’s largest collection of comic strip tear sheets and clippings, as well as original art and manuscript materials documenting printed cartoons. Current holdings include 200,000 original cartoons, 45,000 books and 67,000 serials, including comic books. To facilitate research, the library offers searchable databases of digitized cartoon images, biographical files for artists, original cartoon art, images of cartoons that have been digitized to date, and files of cartoons and article clippings that are organized by subject and topic. Although items in the collection do not circulate, they can be requested by appointment for study in the library’s reading room.
In 2009, the library was named in honor of William Addison (“Billy”) Ireland, a Columbus Dispatch cartoonist best known for “The Passing Show,” his weekly commentary on current events that ran from 1908 until his death in 1935.
In the library’s north lobby, you can see Ireland’s drawing table, a representation of the shamrock he used to sign his work, and A Tribute to Billy Ireland, a 2013 art glass creation by Wayne Cain and Daniel White that documents highlights of Ireland’s career. To learn more about this talented cartoonist, read Billy Ireland, a book by former curator Lucy Shelton Caswell, and watch this WOSU Public Media video in which she shares examples of his original work.
Special librarians love to pore over special collections, so Caitlin McGurk, the library’s outreach coordinator, took us on a behind-the-scenes tour of its closed stacks. After we saw an original Charlie Brown drawing by Charles Schulz and an animation cel of Lumiere from Beauty and the Beast, Caitlin told us about the San Francisco Academy of Comic Art Collection. Containing 2.5 million comic strip clippings and newspaper comic strip tear sheets from 1894 to 1996, it is the largest collection of its kind in the world. It is the legacy of the late Bill Blackbeard, who collected discarded bound volumes of newspapers so he could establish a complete run of every comic feature to have appeared in an American newspaper.
Blackbeard’s efforts to keep these rare sections intact are documented in Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper, Nicholson Baker’s book about the fate of thousands of books and newspapers that were replaced and often destroyed during microfilming projects during the 1980s and 1990s.
Ever since the library acquired the collection from Blackbeard in 1998, it has worked to establish a chronological run of each comic feature, either through amassing a group of clippings or by identifying each feature’s location in the collection of Sunday comic sections. Click here to see the finding aid for the collection.
To understand how important it was to Blackbeard that the brilliant colors of newspaper comics would not be lost to history, we looked at examples of Richard Outcault’s Hogan’s Alley, one of the first American newspaper comics. From 1895 to 1898, the strip provided a social commentary on the life that immigrant children led in the tenements of New York City. Its lead character, Mickey Dugan, wore an oversized yellow nightshirt, earning him the nickname of the Yellow Kid. The advertising billboard-style messages that Outcault conveyed on the shirt became one of the first examples of the word balloon in comic strips. This detail of an April 4, 1897 Hogan’s Alley comic is one of only four original pages of the comic that are known to exist.
The library’s gallery spaces display a free, permanent exhibit of artwork and artifacts highlighting its collections. Chester Gould’s circa-1921 drawing board and tabaret hint at the working style of the creator of Dick Tracy. A charred area on the right side of the drawing board’s surface is the remnant of Gould’s practice of lighting a kitchen match so that the flame would speed up the drying process of large areas of black ink.
Other treasures on display are Aesop Up to Date, a drawing that Milton Caniff made in 1925 to persuade Billy Ireland to hire him for a cartooning job at the Columbus Dispatch….
…and Fourth of July in the Jungle, Winsor McCay’s original, hand-colored drawing for his first comic strip, A Tale of the Jungle Imps by Felix Fiddle, in 1903.
Through August 3, two special, no-cost exhibitions are on view in the library’s galleries.
Exploring Calvin and Hobbes features original daily and Sunday artwork for the popular comic strip that Bill Watterson created from 1985 to 1995. Even if you weren’t a regular reader of Calvin and Hobbes, you’ll develop an appreciation for the engaging characters, thoughtful writing and creative layouts that Watterson employed in relaying the adventures of six-year-old Calvin and his best friend, a plush toy tiger named Hobbes. The exhibition also includes specialty pieces by Watterson from his collection of more than 3,000 originals housed at the library, as well as original art by cartoonists who influenced Watterson, such as Charles Schulz and Garry Trudeau.
The Irresistible Force Meets the Immovable Object: A Richard Thompson Retrospective includes hand-watercolored Sunday originals and black-and-white dailies from Thompson’s popular comic strip, and Cul de Sac. During its six-year run, Cul de Sac chronicled family life in the suburbs of Washington, D.C.
To discover more of Thompson’s work, see The Complete Cul de Sac and The Art of Richard Thompson, both upcoming releases from Andrews McMeel. Click here for interviews that the exhibits’ curators, Jenny Robb and Caitlin McGurk, conducted with Watterson and Thompson.
Next, we walked across the plaza to the Fine Arts Library, located on the lower level of the Wexner Center for the Arts. Designed by architects Peter Eisenman of New York and the late Richard Trott of Columbus, the Wexner Center has become a Columbus landmark since its opening in 1989.
I’ve wondered about the Wexner Center’s attention-getting geometric façade, white painted metal scaffold, and the brick turrets recalling the former armory that stood on the site, but I never considered how the building’s sharp angles and slanting walls impacted maximizing space and utility in a library until Sarah Falls, the Fine Arts Library’s head, showed us around.
As a project for a special-topic course on art and the archive, four students and founding members of the Page Collective created Where We Left Off, an exhibition exploring book-marking in library collections that is on view until August 1. Dozens of books from the Fine Arts Library’s collection are on display, opened to pages where the students found bookmarks that range from receipts to personal photographs.
Seeing some of the library’s most colorful collections offered a welcome visual contrast to the space’s grey tones. For example, as we admired Papillons and Les Fleurs et Leurs Applications Décoratives — two design folios of illustrations and patterns by Eugene Alain Seguy, a French designer who worked in the Art Deco and Art Nouveau styles at the beginning of the 20th century — Sarah told us about pochoir, the printing technique Seguy used that employs a series of stencils to create dense, vivid color.
Cartoon fans should also stop by the Wexner Center to see Eye of the Cartoonist: Daniel Clowes’ Selections from Comics History. In this exhibition, Clowes — the creator of Eightball, a comic book anthology series dating from 1989 to 2004, and the 2010 graphic novel, Wilson — collaborated with the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum to select works by great cartoonists like Chester Gould, Otto Soglow, Winsor McCay and Milton Caniff that he admires or considers influences. The exhibition runs through August 3.