The Cartoon Research Library at Ohio State University

By Spencer, David R. | Journalism History, Spring 2005 | Go to article overview

The Cartoon Research Library at Ohio State University


Spencer, David R., Journalism History


This is the sixth in what is a series of articles on archival collections of interest to mass communication historians. Readers of Journalism History are invited to suggest collections that they would like to see appear in future articles, and the editors would welcome volunteers to write such articles.

Saturday was always a special day in our house when I was growing up because that was when the big, fat weekend edition of the Toronto Daily Star arrived on our doorstep. Not only did the newspaper feature subjects such as food preparation, travel tips, the week's news in review, and crime and punishment talcs, but the highlight of it all was The Star Weekly, a rotogravure publication that had hidden in its mysterious pages the weekend color comics. There were laughs, there were sobs, there was love accepted and love rejected, and best of all, there was adventure. Superman fought evil at every turn. Beetle Bailey somehow could not buckle under to authority, and Terry and the Pirates made the world safe for all kinds of clean living, salt-of-the-earth honest folks.

In 1977, Terry and his friends, the creation of Ohio-born Milton Caniff, entered the Ohio State University journalism school. The Milton Caniff Collection, along with the Jon Whitcomb Collection, became the backbone of what would become the Cartoon Research Library at OSU, which is now housed in its own facility at 27 West 17th Avenue Mall in Columbus. In its own words, the Cartoon Research Library's

primary mission is to develop a comprehensive research collection of materials documenting American printed cartoon art (editorial cartoons, comic strips, comic books, graphic novels, sports cartoons, and magazine cartoons) and to provide access to these collections. The library does not collect materials about animation.

A detailed examination of the library's holdings and its associated activities were contained in the valuable reference collection, "Editorial Cartooning and Caricature," which was compiled by Paul Somers for Greenwood Press in 1998. Unfortunately, his work is now seven years old, and a lot has taken place in the collection at OSU since that time. However, although many new additions have arrived in Columbus, Somers' perspective still serves as a valuable starting point for scholars interested in the role of comic art in western culture. He carefully documented the major collections in the archive, which serves to whet the appetite to explore what lies in the stacks in the Cartoon Research Library.

It is not this article's purpose, nor is there the time or space, to realistically document all of which happens to be there. To give one example, when a researcher punches in a search on the Richard Samuel West Collection through the university's library computer system (OSCAR), a list of 1,113 items appear. And this is only one of many named collections in the archive. Others include the papers of Caniff, the Walt Kelly Collection, the Robert Roy Metz Collection, the Woody German Collection of Winsor McCay cartoons, and the Will Eisner Collection.

For an example of how many entries exist in this library, here are some of the items which appear under the West citation. Canadians such as the late Duncan Macpherson and the currently active Terry Mosher (Aislin) appear in the listing. Names familiar to American audiences are there, too, such as Carry Trudeau, creator of Doonesbury, Kelly and Pogo, Herbert Block of Herblock fame, and Thomas Nast of Harper's Weekly. The times and ages are all covered, from the first dusty artistic commentary on some authority figure's wrong doings to the more contemporary, biting satire found in modern-day political cartoons.

Since Somers did his first survey of the holdings at Ohio State, there has been phenomenal growth in the size of the many collections. He noted the facility reported that in 1994 it contained 14,000 books, 1,000 serial titles, over 202,500 original cartoons, and more than 1,900 linear feet of manuscript material.

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