Collection Spotlight: Washington State University

Continuing our ongoing series highlighting collection of comics and comics-related materials in libraries across the U.S. we turn today to the collection in the Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections (MASC) at Washington State University.

How large is the comics collection at WSU?

Approximately 8300 comic books, 2200 mini comics, and 390 comics. In addition, the underground comix collections also contain several hundred trade publications, catalogs, ‘zines, books, and realia.

When did WSU begin collecting comics? How did it happen?

MASC’s Underground Comics collection originated in the mid-80s, when comics artist and editor Steve Willis worked at WSU Libraries as a cataloger. Willis donated his collection of comics to the Libraries and cataloged them. These cataloged titles make up the first Underground Comics collection, SC 3.1. Willis left WSU in the late 80s, but continues to donate underground comix and related materials to MASC.  These ongoing donations are part of the Comics Art and Culture Collection, SC 3.8, which uniquely includes a wide variety of comics-related materials, with particular emphasis on the Pacific Northwest.

Is there specific categories of comics and graphic novels that this collection specializes in? Can you talk about one or two noteworthy parts of the collection or archival materials?

The majority of our holdings are underground comix, including rare issues of Zap and Weird Comics, as well as a substantial collection of works by women who – though, still often infrequently credited and cited – were responding to and helping to pioneer the underground scene, including titles like Twisted Sisters, Wimmins Comix, Wet Satin, and Tits and Clits. We’re also unique in that we have a large collection of mini comics, which feature less often in archival collections, as well as a wide array of nuclear comics from the mid-20th c.  The latter are interesting because the messaging about nuclear weapons and nuclear war is positive, at times even utopic, a tone that would shift dramatically after the dropping of the atom bombs.  

We are also in the early stages of processing the manuscript collection of the Real Comet Press – a Seattle-based publishing house founded by arts activist, Cathy Hillenbrand.  The Press began as the Comet Tavern and is credited with publishing many of Linda Barry’s earliest works after it made the transition to a publishing house.  Our collection features early art and book mockups of Barry’s as well as correspondence and print drafts from several area writers and photographers.

How does the library typically acquire its comics?

All of MASC’s underground comics content has been donated. MASC does not have a formal underground comics acquisition plan in place at this time.

What are some of the projects scholars have conducted using the collection as a resource? What are some of the courses that have been taught using the collection as a resource?

Nicholas Sammond, a professor at UToronto’s Cinema Studies Institute, has conducted in-depth research on several titles in the Brians collection, especially the underground newspaper The East Village Other.  And Dr. Margaret Galvan, a professor of visual rhetoric at the University of Florida, also conducted research on our underground comix holdings as part of her dissertation work.

Adam Whittier, a student at WSU’s Tri-Cities campus, curated an exhibit on the Steve Willis collections, met Steve Willis, and drew a graphic novel, Born Under a Dark Star: The Lynn Hansen Story, about Willis’s friendship with the late comics collector and reviewer Lynn Hansen, whose underground comics collection MASC also holds.

Several instructors affiliated with WSU’s Digital Technology & Culture program use the Underground Comics collections in their courses every year. These courses cover diverse topics, from font design to metafiction. Faculty from WSU’s English and History departments have also utilized special content from the collections, especially Brians’s nuclear war comics.

How have students at WSU benefited from the collection?

The most common way that students at WSU benefit from the collection is through library instruction. Students enrolled in courses ranging from introductory classes to senior capstones, along with local high school students, have been introduced to these materials, both on their own and as part of a larger context of library and archival collecting.  And some come back to look at materials on their own, or even use the materials for larger projects.

Through these instructional experiences utilizing our comics collection, we’ve had the pleasure of talking with students about topics like: the nature and practice of curation, educomics tackling poverty and the AIDS crisis in the 1980’s, the misogyny and violence of many underground comix and about women’s resistances to it, how different “popular” formats often respond to and are influenced by each other, about social norms and how we determine what is “appropriate”, and many other engaging conversations.  We hope that these interactions with our comics materials make libraries and archives more accessible and interesting sites of research for students from many backgrounds and disciplines and that students feel empowered to push the parameters of what constitutes “academic” research.

What are the available options for accessing the collection? Are there any efforts being made to digitize the collection?

Currently, online finding aids are the primary means of access to MASC’s Underground Comics collections. MASC is not planning to digitize any of these collections in the near future. However, Elizabeth Biggs, a senior at WSU Pullman, is working on a project to spotlight and digitize a selection of underground works by women creators.

Are there any current or upcoming events that you’d like to advertise?

Upcoming events aren’t yet finalized, but we’re exploring the possibility of hosting a speaker series and exhibition utilizing our underground comix collections.  We’re also interested in an exhibition that would showcase the many press-focused collections in our holdings, including the Real Comet Press Manuscript Collection.  Both of these would take place in the 2020/2021 academic year.

Washington State University Libraries
Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections (MASC)
Kathryn Manis & Greg Matthews
Address: MASC, P.O. Box 5610, Pullman, WA  99164-5610

Collection Spotlight: University of Michigan

Continuing our series on library collections in comics, today we focus on the University of Michigan. We were recently able to speak to the Video Game Archivist and Reference Librarian David Carter.

How large is the comic collection at UM?

Hard to say—somewhere around 20,000 catalog entries (which includes secondary sources as well). Each entry will be for one or more volumes.

When did UM begin collecting comics? How did it happen?

There have always been comics in the library’s collection, but the creation of a distinct, purposeful comics collection began in late 2004, at the urging of the Dean of the Art School on the occasion of the hiring of Phoebe Gloeckner onto their faculty.

Are there specific categories of comics and graphic novels that this collection specializes in? Can you talk about one or two noteworthy parts of the collection or archival materials?

I will call your attention to our collection statement for comics & graphic novels at

“While the comics collection at the U-M Library will strive to be representative of all facets of comics and graphic narratives, it will focus special attention to the following areas:

  • Works that are primarily the product of an individual creator
  • Works that are by, for, and/or about populations that are historically underrepresented in the comics art form (e.g., women, LGBTQ populations, ethnic and religious minorities)
  • Works that are highly regarded in the field (e.g., highly reviewed, winners of major industry awards, etc.)
  • Works of historical significance
  • Works by local/Michigan creators
  • Mini-comics
  • Secondary materials, such as academic studies, reference works, serial publications, historical works, and biographies of cartoonists

The above list should not be taken to be exhaustive, nor is it intended to preclude the acquisition of additional works beyond those enumerated.”

In particular, we have a sizable collection of minicomics (over 1400 items), as well as a robust and growing collection of non-English language comics.

How does the library typically acquire its comics?

Most new comics are purchased from a local comics store (shout out to the great folks at Vault of Midnight!) We also purchase from overseas vendors, online stores, and at comics festivals. Donations also play a significant role, particularly in acquiring older material.

What are some of the projects scholars have conducted using the collection as a resource? What are some of the courses that have been taught using the collection as a resource?

Here are a couple of recent examples of curricular support:

Students in “History 195: The Writing of History—Gender and Nationalism” read classic Captain America stories to learn how masculinity and nationalism were portrayed to young readers during World War 2.

Students in “American Culture 311: American Culture and the Humanities—Heroes and Superheroes in U.S. Popular Culture” read comics featuring super-heroes from classics like Superman to modern heroes like Ms. Marvel.

How have students at UM benefited from the collection?

Most students are amazed to learn that the U-M Library has such an extensive comics collection (as well as a librarian charged with supporting that collection). We are able to not only support classes that use comics, but also individual research papers and projects; e.g. last year I assisted a student who wanted to write a paper about the use of Captain America as a national symbol pre- and post-9/11. 

What are the available options for accessing the collection? Are there any efforts being made to digitize the collection?

Most of the comics collection is part of the library’s circulating collection, on the shelves for users to browse and check out. Some items (e.g. the minicomics collection) are in local storage and available to view on request.

The research guide at is a good place to start exploring the collection.

(It is not part of any current digitization effort.)

Are there any upcoming events that you’d like to advertise?

Every June we work with the Ann Arbor District Library to put on A2 Inkubate, the pre-conference (for librarians, cartoonists, and educators) to the Ann Arbor Comic Arts Festival:

University of Michigan Libraries Information:
Address and Contact Info: 913 S. University Ave; Ann Arbor, MI 48109

Collection Spotlight: Michigan State University Libraries

Today we are continuing our spotlight on collections of comics in University libraries that are commonly used for research in comics studies. This time we are focusing on the collections at Michigan State University with the Head of Special Collections, Leslie Van Veen McRoberts.

How large is the comic collection at MSU?

350,000 volumes | 300,000 American works, 50,000 international works.

Additionally, the collection features over 1,000 books of collected newspaper comic strips, and several thousand books and periodicals about comics.

When did MSU begin collecting comics? How did it happen?

The collection at Michigan State began with English professor Russel B. Nye, who in the mid-1960s pioneered Popular Culture Theory. Nye was one of the founders of the Popular Culture Association, which blurred traditional ways of thinking, providing value to mass media such as comic books, television, and music.

Nye’s original donation to the MSU Libraries Special Collections of approximately 8,000 comics in 1969 began what is now the most comprehensive collection of comic books in the world.

Is there specific categories of comics and graphic novels that this collection specializes in?

Our collection is vast in content and context, but our growth is centered around North American produced comics; however, recently we have branched outward to international comics. Specifically, we acquire bound or hand-produced first-run comics, but that is not to say we would not acquire multiple editions of a specific comic. The small idiosyncratic parts of each book make them unique. Our collection is comprehensive, and tells the story of comics and comic art, from Archie and Jug Head to Batman and beyond.

Can you talk about one or two noteworthy parts of the collection or archival materials?

Honestly, it is hard to select one or two pieces, traditionally I lean to the original Randolph Töpffer comics from the 1840s, but what I think are some of the most unique items in our collection are the student contributions. MSU Associate Professor, Ryan Claydor, teaches Comic Art Studio courses which provides students with an avenue to not only fulfill their own creative forces but provides guidance on how to navigate the publishing world; the course is a mix of art and literature. Because of these students, we now have unique hand colored, hand silkscreened, embossed one of a kind comic art items that have become the cornerstone of future comic authors and artists.

How does the library typically acquire its comics?

The MSU Libraries Special Collections Comic Art collection is acquired through a variety of means. Each year we purchase several comics for our collection, but we also have long-standing relationships with publishers and book dealers who are keenly aware as to what and why we collect. Comics are also acquired through the generosity of donors and estate gifts from patrons who have known and loved our collection so much so that they want to add their own books to the shelves as a part of their legacy.

What are some of the projects scholars have conducted using the collection as a resource?

Annually, we see a variety of scholars who seek many different types of comics; one scholar that comes to mind is a Ph. D candidate who has a specific research focus on the production of comic books, their collective history, and how long-term comic books have developed and transformed over the course of the 20th century.

What are some of the courses that have been taught using the collection as a resource?

Courses at MSU vary between semester; currently, we have an English professor who is utilizing a vast scope of black comics as a research component of his English 342 course, Studies in Popular Literature. Students in this course have utilized a selection of comics to write a research paper on their choice of topic/character around the scope of Black Comics and Afrofuturism. Some of the titles and their creators utilized by this course include Ajala: a series of adventures by Robert Garrett and N. Steven Harris, Matty’s Rocket by Tim Fielder, and Jaycen Wise by Uraeus. In addition to a research paper, students created a zine around a specific character with a comparison to four other characters to explore theme, character and setting in comics. Students had the opportunity to share their zines with the public at a November showcase held at the MSU Museum.

How have students at MSU benefited from the collection?

All students and scholars benefit from this collection because of its comprehensive holdings. Students not only use the collection for class but may request and come to our reading room to read and enjoy the latest comic that they otherwise may not have access to. Students are welcome to request comics to be purchased for additions to our collection and we do acquire what they suggest. Everyone who is curious about comics benefits from the comic art collection.

What are the available options for accessing the collection? Are there any efforts being made to digitize the collection?

Currently the collection may be accessed through the MSU Libraries public access catalog. Each of the individual comics are cataloged by item, this includes any additional copies of the comic. Along with the catalog, our bibliographer has created an additional index of all the comics housed in MSU Special Collections, that page can be accessed using this link”

Currently, there are no plans to digitize the collection. Unfortunately, copyright limitations do not allow us to digitize the collection, or portions thereof. Should scholars find themselves needing portions of comics, they are able to request scans of original comics through inter library loan.

Are there any upcoming events that you’d like to advertise?

Since 2008, the MSU Libraries has hosted the MSU Comics Forum, a two-day event that discusses everything comics. Free and open to the public, the Forum features panel sessions of artists and authors as well as tours of the MSU Comics collection. The upcoming event will be held on February 21 and 22, 2020, and will feature graphic novelist Emil Ferris, as well as comics author and San Francisco State University professor, Nico Sousanis. For more information, visit:

[You can also read the GSC’s interview with MSU Comics Forum co-organizer Zack Kruse here!]

For the Summer of 2020, MSU Libraries Special Collections is offering travel research grants, which of course includes scholars of comics. All are welcome to apply. Applications are due January 30, 2020. For more information, visit:

MSU Special Collections Information:
Address: 366 West Circle Drive, East Lansing, Michigan 48824 USA

Collection Spotlight: The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum at The Ohio State University

Beginning today, the GSC Blog will be home to spotlights on comics collections in libraries around the world. We hope to create a repository cataloging the various collections that would be useful to comics scholars across the spectrum, but especially for graduate students. If you know of a library collection that we should be in contact with, please reach out to us at

We start this series with a look into the massive collection at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum at The Ohio State University. We spoke with Associate Curator and Assistant Professor Caitlin McGurk about the collection there!

How large is the comic collection at OSU? The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum (BICLM) houses the world’s largest collection of materials related to cartoons and comics, including original art, books, magazines, journals, comic books, archival materials, and newspaper comic strip pages and clippings. Our current holdings are:

Original art: 300,000
Comic strip clippings and tearsheets: 2.5 million
Books + Serial titles: 105,000
Comic Books + Mini Comics: 50,000
Archive boxes and archival material: 8,000

When did OSU begin collecting comics? How did it happen?

The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum was established in 1977 in two converted classrooms in the Journalism Building with the founding gift of artwork and papers of alumnus Milton Caniff. Its collections of original art and manuscripts have been built primarily through gifts-in-kind. The library has had several former names over the past 40+ years: Milton Caniff Reading Room, (1977); Library for Communication and Graphic Arts; Cartoon, Graphic, and Photographic Arts Research Library; Cartoon Research Library; Cartoon Library and Museum; and finally in September 2009 we became the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum. Caniff (Terry and the Pirates, Steve Canyon) had donated in multiple installments his entire collection to OSU: 696 cubic feet of original art, correspondence, research files, photographs, memorabilia, merchandise, realia, awards, audio/visual material and scrapbooks. Although there was no structure for collecting such materials from cartoonists, and few (if any) institutions in America were, Caniff was a proud OSU graduate and felt compelled to leave his legacy material with his beloved Alma mater. Lucy Caswell had worked in the journalism library and was hired to catalog the Caniff collection.  Caswell recognized how precious these materials were and saw that they were under-appreciated in academic institutions and museums at large.   She set out to establish an appropriate home for the collecting and preservation of cartoon art, and nearly 40 years later this altruistic goal has grown into the largest collection of cartoons and comics in the world.

Are there specific categories of comics and graphic novels that this collection specializes in? Can you talk about one or two noteworthy parts of the collection or archival materials?

We strive to represent collections by women cartoonists and industry professionals, an area that I feel we always getting stronger in. In recent years we also created this Guide To Multicultural Resources highlighting the work in our collection by artists who are African American, Latino American, and Asian American. We hope to add a section for Indigenous cartoonists as well. I would say the most popular collections we have here overall would be the Calvin & Hobbes collection of original art (nearly every single original page from the comics), the Will Eisner Collection which includes vast manuscript materials, and the San Francisco Academy of Comic Art Collection. That last collection was amassed by a man named Bill Blackbeard and contains millions of comic strip clippings that libraries across the United States were discarding and replacing with microfilm. In many instances, the pieces in that collection are the only examples of the work in existence.

How does the library typically acquire its comics?

Our collection is almost entirely donation-based, and has largely come to us from artists, family members of artists, or collectors. Our Collection Donation Review Committee meets to make decisions about any individual item or collection we are offered. We consider the research value of the work as well as the costs of preserving, storing, and making it available. In general, our purchasing funds are used for published materials, often bought in support of classes or exhibitions. Original cartoon art is purchased very selectively. The vast majority of our holdings of original cartoon art has been acquired as gifts-in-kind, and this is expected to continue.

What are some of the projects scholars have conducted using the collection as a resource? What are some of the courses that have been taught using the collection as a resource?

Our collection is used by scholars from a vast variety of disciplines, including folks who travel to the Billy Ireland from out of the country for months at a time to conduct research. Examples of research conducted at the Billy Ireland can occasionally be seen featured on our blog, including a post from Dr. Daniel Worden about his research into the oil industry and it’s overlap with comics, or this interview with Professor Nhora Serano about her research into comics and immigration. BICLM’s holdings have inspired and contributed to countless books, articles, exhibitions and more.

BICLM curators work with up to 60 classes per year, both from Ohio State as well as outside – since we are a land grant institution, part of our mission is to serve the public, so we welcome classes regularly from other universities, public schools, etc. Since there is no cartooning or comics department at Ohio State, we do not have a strict tie to a specific department to work with. For this reason, we do our best to connect with any and all departments, and regularly serve students from Jewish Studies, History, Art, Art Education, English, ESL, Early Childhood Education, Political Science, Pop Culture Studies, History, Psychology, Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies… you name it! We pride ourselves in connecting with a wide reach of disciplines who want to come learn about their subject matter through the lens of comics and cartoon art.

How have students at OSU benefited from the collection?

Students at Ohio State benefit from BICLM’s free exhibits, access to our collection for their own research (or fun!), and our regular free programming for which we bring in artists from around the world. We often host open house events for students highlighting aspects of our collection such as manga or LGBTQ comics, and we also employ Ohio State students.

What are the available options for accessing the collection? Are there any efforts being made to digitize the collection?

Anyone can access our collections in our Lucy Shelton Caswell Reading Room during open hours (9am-5pm Mon-Fri), or selections from our collection in our current exhibits (open 1-5pm, Tues-Sun). Our website offers a wide variety of resources, including a robust digital image database with tens-of-thousands of images, our many collection-specific finding-aids, our Guide to Multicultural Resources, databases dedicated to books and art, and more. Since our collection has over 3 million pieces in it, we are not able to digitize every piece, but records for all items can be found across our databases.

Are there any current or upcoming events that you’d like to advertise?

We are working on programming for 2020 that will celebrate our exhibit “Ladies First: A Century of Women’s Innovations in Comics and Cartoon Art” including a major symposium on Women, Gender, and Bande Dessinée on February 28th and 29th, 2020 for which we will have many international scholars presenting on their work.

The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum Contact Information:
Address: 1813 N. High St., Columbus OH 43210
Phone: 614-292-0538

We hope you take the time to check out the collection at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum online and in person!