The Comic Art Collection in the Michigan State University (MSU) Libraries has grown constantly since the 1970s to become North America's premier research destination for the study of the comic book. Currently the collection holds 180,000 American comic books, plus 40,000 foreign comic books and 20,000 volumes of history, criticism, and related material. A steady stream of local students and visiting researchers uses the collection, and the collection regularly supplies material for museum exhibits. Interlibrary loan requests are received regularly, and are filled using scans whenever appropriate in legal and preservation terms.
In 1970, according to the Michigan State University Libraries' newsletter the University Library (January 1971), the Rhode Island School of Design requested the loan, for exhibit, of our first edition of Rodolphe Töpffer's L'Histoire de Monsieur Crépin (1837). This note is the first formal mention in our records of what was to become the Comic Art Collection, and is auspicious in two ways. Töpffer's stories in narrative art are consistently argued to be the very first comic books. A complete set of first or very early editions of Töpffer, donated by a faculty member in the 1960s, was an appropriate beginning for a collection defined not around newspaper comics or magazine cartoons, but around pictorial narratives intended for separate publication, in other words, comic books. The 1971 evocation of Töpffer is also important in that it declared from the beginning that our collection was international, and retrospective.
The contemporary "popular culture" aspect of the collection began when Russel B. Nye, a professor of English at MSU, was finishing his book The Unembarrassed Muse (1970). Nye's intent was to inaugurate academic discussion of the "arts of commercial entertainment," and the book was indeed widely read. In the course of this writing, he discovered that academic libraries could not support his chapter on the comics. Nye was a persuasive man. He talked two of his students into donating their comic book collections to the MSU Library, and he talked the library into accepting them, all 6,000 of them. The American comic books are still the central part of the collection, which is now the largest in any library in the world. The collection does not begin and end with Superman, though superheroes are the salient American genre. Romances, westerns, funny animals, science fiction, detectives, and every other imaginable genre of comic book sit on our shelves. We have moved beyond popular culture to document comics as a literary form, so every kind of anti-generic underground, new wave, and alternative comic is present from all over the world. We collect modern graphic novels globally, and we continue to accumulate mass-produced North American, European, and Latin American comic books retrospectively.
Cataloging and indexing of the Comic Art Collection are high-priority activities, and there is no backlog of uncataloged material. Catalog records for all titles appear in WorldCat and in the local online catalog, and indexing of serials and other multi-part items, including indexing of most critical books and journals, can be found in the Reading Room Index on our Web site.
Collection Profile and Overview: Randall W. Scott
Illustrations: Louis Villafranca