Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Syndicates: A Massive Cartoon Library Turns 30

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Syndicates: A Massive Cartoon Library Turns 30

Article excerpt

Six months turned into three decades for Lucy Shelton Caswell -- and several dozen boxes turned into what is probably the largest assemblage of cartoon material in the country. That's the brief history of the Ohio State University Cartoon Research Library, which celebrates its 30th birthday this May.

Caswell worked at Ohio State's journalism library before taking time off in 1975, and returned to the university two years later with a new task: Spend six months sorting through the collection Milton Caniff had just donated to his Ohio State alma mater.

Obtaining the material was quite a coup for the university, as Caniff (1907-1988) was the legendary creator of the "Terry and the Pirates" and "Steve Canyon" comic strips. One reason Caniff made the donation to Ohio State rather than to other institutions seeking them was that the Columbus-based school's affordability enabled him to get a higher education. "Milton was the first in his family to go to college," said Caswell. "He felt like he owed something of a debt to Ohio State."

Caniff, who grew up in Dayton, Ohio, donated 15 file cabinets and more than 60 boxes worth of material -- many of which had been stored in his mother's home. The collection, initially housed in two converted classrooms in Ohio State's journalism building, formed the core of the fledgling cartoon library.

Caswell, who read "Steve Canyon" and other comics in The Dallas Morning News while growing up in Texas, soon decided that she liked her new job too much to leave after six months. And through her and others' efforts, new acquisitions began streaming into the library. Early collections included the archives of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists (AAEC) and National Cartoonists Society (NCS), and the papers of two cartooning giants: Walt Kelly ("Pogo") and Will Eisner ("The Spirit").

Caswell, curator of the library and an Ohio State professor, recalled the phone call offering the latter collection. "Will Eisner is moving to Florida, and thinking of throwing away a lot of stuff," said the voice on the other end of the line. "Would you like to have it instead?"

Indeed, until 20 or 30 years ago, many people considered the work of cartoonists to be disposable rather than a major art form.

"Lucy has gone to great lengths to protect and preserve our work," said Dick Locher, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Tribune Media Services editorial cartoonist who also does the "Dick Tracy" comic for TMS. …

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