Comic Book Collection
The largest publicly available collection of comic books in the United States is housed in the Serial and Government Publications Division. The collection includes U.S. and foreign comic books--over 6,000 titles in all, totaling more than 120,000 issues. Primarily composed of the original print books, the collection includes color microfiche of selected early comic book titles (such as Superman, More Fun, and Action Comics) and special reprints. The collection is most comprehensive from the mid-1940s on, with scattered issues from numerous titles dating back to the 1930s. For many of the earliest modern comic books (those which began publishing in the 1930s) the collection contains holdings beginning with the early 1940s but lacks many first issues.
The Library acquires current comic books published and distributed in the United States almost exclusively through copyright deposit, but also acquires a small collection of foreign titles as well. Titles are added to the collection on the basis of quality of text and graphic depiction; significance of the artist, writer, or publisher; originality of story or main character; the title's popularity as reflected in circulation statistics or media attention; representation of new ideas or social trends; or availability through copyright. More recently acquisition efforts have broadened to include some experimental, self-published comic books since past experience has demonstrated the need to collect the initial efforts of new artists. Also, selected historical issues are acquired through purchase and gift. The Comics and Cartoons Collection Policy Statement guides the division’s acquisition efforts.
Most of the collection is composed of single issues of titles, but includes a small collection whose issues have been bound that date back to the 1940s and 1950s. Primarily an English-language collection, the comic book collection includes some translated reissues of Japanese manga (e.g., Akira), a limited number of Spanish language titles published in the United States and Mexico, and a small number of German and French comic books (primarily from the 1960s and 1970s). Included are also adaptations of popular foreign comic books such as Gunsmith Cat as well as translations of popular American comic books into foreign languages (i.e., Edgar Rice Burrough’s Tarzan). A sub collection of Underground Comic Books “recommended for mature readers” published in the 1970s and 1980s contains primarily single issue representations for each title. The division also acquires relevant electronic resources as they become available, such as the Alexander Street Press database, Underground and Independent Comics, Comix, and Graphic Novels.
In August, 2011, the Library signed an agreement with the Small Press Expo (SPX), allowing the Library to acquire independent comics and cartoon art forms that are not available through copyright deposit. As a result, the Serial Division receives the Ignatz Award nominees in the various print categories, as well as other selected comics. The first acquisitions from this agreement arrived shortly after the 2011 SPX festival held in September for processing by the division. Preservation The fragile nature of the collection requires special handling and conservation treatment. Since fall, 2002, the Serial & Government Publications Division has participated in the Library’s Mass Deacidification Program which is intended to save endangered (“at risk”) paper-based material. The collection has received mass deacidification treatment, a treatment which neutralizes the acid content of comic books to prevent further deterioration and extends the life of the paper.
Accessing the Collection
In part because of their fragility, comic books are available to researchers for use under special conditions only. Generally, access is limited to serious collectors examining specific titles and those doing research of a specific nature, leading toward a publicly available work (a publication, a dissertation, a radio, film, or television production, or a public performance). The collection has been used by researchers as varied as film scriptwriters, popular culture historians, avid collectors, and graphic artists.
The majority of the collection is cataloged in the Library’s online catalog, with summary holding records for most titles owned. The comic book collection also includes a collection of comic book fiche which is not fully cataloged, but is listed separately. Completing a special Comic Book Request form is required for use of the collection.
--revised April, 2013