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Comics Librarianship Resource Page

Building a Comic Book Research Collection

On this page are links to online resources that may be of use to those interested in comics scholarship and related fields.

Beginning a Focused Collection

Building a comics collection in an academic library isn't as strange an idea as it may seem to some; the study of comics can be included under cultural studies or as alternative literature. The collection should have a specific purpose and focus to it, though. Acquire material with these precepts in mind:

Generally, the material you will be collecting will be current comics, older comics, reprint books and magazines, books and periodicals about comics, and possibly fanzines. Another possibility is microfiche; a company called Micro-Color International has made available full color reprints of some Golden Age comics in that format.

Take into account the facilities available to house and access the collection, and the budget available to build and maintain it.

Links to academic collections:

Here you can see several examples:

The Comic Art Collection at MSU
Michigan State University has the largest academic collection of comics and comics-related materials in the country. At this site is maintained a list of comics research libraries . Randall W. Scott, the comics librarian at MSU, has written a book, Comics Librarianship: A Handbook, which anyone trying to build an academic comic book collection would find quite valuable. Definitely check out this site.

The Cartoon Research Library at Ohio State University
Claims to be the largest cartoon-related research facility in the U.S. The collection includes the papers of Milton Caniff, the Walt Kelly Collection, and the Will Eisner Collection, among others.

The Special Collections Department at the University of Tulsa has the E. Nelson Bridwell Collection. Bridwell had a long career at DC Comics and was well known in the comics field; the collection includes personal memorabilia, materials relating to his career, and comics dating from 1943 to 1987 that he had some input in creating.

The Library of Congress Comic Book Collection
The LOC has probably the largest collection of comics in the United States. (The Library of Congress is not an academic library, nor does it have a focused collection, but I thought it would be interesting to include anyway.)

Acquiring Comics and Related Materials

Once you have a selection policy in place, you can go about acquiring material for the collection. There are two ways to do this: buying it and having it donated.

Buying Materials

Material to buy: particular older comics to fill in holes in the collection; fanzines; periodicals about comics; reference books about comics. Don't worry too much about acquiring current comics; you never know what's going to come in as a donation sometime later. Fanzines and periodicals may be much more difficult to find later on, as some of them have tiny press runs.

Links to bibliographies of comics reference (history & criticism) books

Some possibilities for what to acquire:

Comic Books: A Research Guide
From the New York Public Library Center for the Humanities, General Research Division, this is a well organized guide to comics research at NYPL. Included is a bibliography of comics reference titles and a listing of the comic books available in microforms.

Comics Scholarship Annotated Bibliographies
A listing of reference works relating to the comics field. There is also a link to a list of articles on comics.

The Comics Reference Bookstore in association with Amazon.com. I have compiled lists of books in five categories: dictionaries and encyclopedias; bibliographies, handbooks, and guides; creators--authors and artists; publishers, titles and characters; and history and criticism.

Good places to go to buy these items are comics shops and comic book conventions; placing ads in comics periodicals can help you find the items you need. You may also place ads in the Usenet newsgroup rec.arts.comics.marketplace; the advantages there are that it's free and it's fast. Online auctions and booksellers are also a possibility.

Comics shops can be found under Books or Comic Books in the Yellow Pages; conventions are usually advertised through comics industry periodicals or through flyers left at comic shops. It's best to find a good comic shop in your area and begin a business relationship. A monthly catalog, Previews, can be perused for items to order through the store. You will need to come to some kind of agreement with the owner about invoicing, payment, and duplicates.

Conventions are excellent for finding odd items, sometimes at bargain prices. There is usually an admission charge, so check if your institution will pay for this.

Classified ads, particularly in the Comics Buyer's Guide (an invaluable industry weekly publication) can be effective in acquiring particular materials or soliciting donations. Their classified ads can be viewed online.

If you have money left over in your budget after buying periodicals and reference books, consider buying a sample of current comics, say, one of everything on the stands every few months.

Donated Material

Try to get on the "comp lists" of various publishers for donated material. You might want to get in contact with a library already on a comp list for tips on doing this. Below is a link to a handy list of publishers to contact, and also to various industry publications.

Comic Book Industry Addresses
From indy Magazine. Includes comics publishers, periodicals, and professionals.

Besides soliciting publishers for complimentary copies, you may use word of mouth in the local community. Tell your contacts at the comics shop about your collection and let it be known that you're looking for donations. Send out a press release to the local media about the special collection. Spread word through staff newsletters, alumni magazines, and Comics Buyer's Guide ads and letters to the editor. Post in Usenet newsgroups dealing with the type of comics you want (i.e. if you want alternative comics post in rec.arts.comics.alternative, etc.)

If you find private collectors willing to donate their collections, you may want to give them a copy of your selection policy. (They may need reassurance that their mint copy of Night Nurse #1 isn't going to end up in the Friends of the Library sale next month). Their donations may be tax deductible, but if they wish to have them appraised, have it done by a third party to avoid a conflict of interest. The donor may wish to consult a published price guide, such as The Official Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide, to see a standard price list for the industry. They will most likely want at least an inventory of their donation. Finally, send the donor a thank-you letter; let him/her know the donation is appreciated!

Below are some links that can help you familiarize yourself with comics culture.

Comics History and Criticism Links

The Comic Page - Your Guide to the History of Comics
A history of American comics.

The Comics Journal
A long-running journal of the industry. This site features online articles, archives, and more.

Index to Comics-Related Information on Theory
Annotations on highly literate comics by Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore.

The Timely Comics Story
A history of Timely Comics, the Golden Age predecessor to Marvel Comics.

Miscellaneous Links

Comic Art in Scholarly Writing: a Citation Guide

Comic Book Net Sites
This is an excellent resource for all kinds of comics-related information. An especially nice site is Comic Book Resources (check out the misc. comic sites).

The Comics Code Authority
Standards of the Comics Code Authority for editorial matter as originally adopted.

View Askew Productions
This is the page for the production company of Kevin Smith, director of Clerks, Mallrats (which brought Stan Lee to the big screen), and Chasing Amy. Smith is also the author of the Jay and Silent Bob and Clerks comics from Oni Press.

Sources primarily drawn upon for this page:
Highsmith, Doug. "Developing a 'Focused' Comic Book Collection in an Academic Library", Popular Culture and Acquisitions, Haworth Press, 1992.
Scott, Randall W. Comics Librarianship: a Handbook, McFarland & Co., Inc. 1990.

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