Magazine article Phi Kappa Phi Forum

The Funnies and More: The Ohio State University Cartoon Research Library*

Magazine article Phi Kappa Phi Forum

The Funnies and More: The Ohio State University Cartoon Research Library*

Article excerpt

Milton Caniff's mother was a packrat. She almost never threw away anything related to her beloved son, and later on his wife shared this proclivity. As a result, the founding collection of The Ohio State University Cartoon Research Library (designated as CGA on OSCAR, the University's online library catalog at is unusually deep and rich. The astonishing range of materials provided a firm foundation for the library's development. Included were Caniff's original artwork from his Boy Scout days to Terry and the Pirates, Male Call, and Steve Canyon, plus his fan mail, research files, business records, and papers related to the founding of the National Cartoonists Society (Caniff was its second president) and of the Newspaper Features Council (which he also assisted in founding). Caniff, known as the "Rembrandt of the Comic Strip" because of his artistic excellence, is one of the most honored and respected cartoonists in history, with awards ranging from two Cartoonist of the Year "Reuben" awards from his peers in the National Cartoonists Society to an Exceptional Service Award from the United States Air Force.


The library opened in 1977 in two converted classrooms in the Journalism Building. In 1990, it moved to its current state-of-the-art facility with secure access and carefully controlled environmental conditions. It is located physically on the University's Columbus campus in the Wexner Center for the Arts complex, which was designed by deconstructivist architect Peter Eisenman. Administratively, it is one of five rare-books/special-collections libraries that are part of the University Libraries system. As a result, it is supported by superb general and fine-arts reference collections, extensive microform holdings, and large subject-area holdings in related fields such as journalism.


CGA's mission is to build a comprehensive research collection of materials that documents American printed-cartoon art (comic strips, editorial cartoons, comic books, graphic novels, sports cartoons, cartoon illustrations, and magazine cartoons) and to organize and provide access to these materials. Animated cartoons are collected only as they relate to the library's printed-cartoon holdings. Beyond this exception, CGA's definition of its collecting mission is broad; it includes all aspects of cartooning, from collections related to comics artists and writers to those related to syndication and publishing of cartoons and licensing of cartoon-related products.

International materials are acquired selectively with the assistance of language- and area-studies bibliographers at Ohio State University Libraries. For example, long runs of major international serials such as Punch, Fliegende Blatter, and L'Assiette au beurre are held. The largest foreign-language collection is of manga, Japanese comics that cover virtually any and all subjects from Buddhism to science fiction. A keyword search of OSCAR using the term "manga collection" results in more than 2,300 titles, some of which have a hundred or more volumes. Most of the manga-cataloging records include English-language plot summaries linked to the title.

Also collected selectively are engravings and other prints that might be described as precursors of what we know today as editorial cartoons and social commentary (or "gag") cartoons. Many examples of these works may be found in the Hale Scrapbook, which includes English work dating from the 1740s to the 1830s [see preceding page].

The library has an active exhibition program to highlight materials from its holdings. The American Comic Book (1985) is believed to be the first exhibit devoted exclusively to this genre, and Women Practitioners of the "Ungentlemanly Art" (1989) was the first exhibition featuring the work of several women editorial cartoonists. Catalogues from other previous exhibits such as Cartoons and Ethnicity (1992) and Peanuts (2000) may be ordered at http://www. …

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