Comic Strips Are Front-Page News at The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum

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July 3, 2014 by bbutler1969

If you haven’t been to the newly renovated Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum at the Ohio State University, this summer is the perfect time to see some special examples of comic strip art there.

Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & MuseumIn 1977, this unique academic research library was established with a founding gift of the artwork and papers of Ohio State alumnus Milton Caniff, the creator of the Terry and the Pirates and Steve Canyon comic strips. The library houses the world’s largest collection of comic strip tear sheets and clippings, as well as original art and manuscript materials documenting printed cartoons. Current holdings include 200,000 original cartoons, 45,000 books and 67,000 serials, including comic books. To facilitate research, the library offers searchable databases of digitized cartoon images, biographical files for artists, original cartoon art, images of cartoons that have been digitized to date, and files of cartoons and article clippings that are organized by subject and topic. 

One of the library’s most impressive holdings is the San Francisco Academy of Comic Art Collection. Containing 2.5 million comic strip clippings and newspaper comic strip tear sheets from 1894 to 1996, it is the legacy of the late Bill Blackbeard, who collected discarded bound volumes of newspapers so he could establish a complete run of every comic feature to have appeared in an American newspaper. Ever since the library acquired the collection from Blackbeard in 1998, it has worked to establish a chronological run of each comic feature, either through amassing a group of clippings or by identifying each feature’s location in the collection of Sunday comic sections.

In 2009, the library was named in honor of William Addison (“Billy”) Ireland, a Columbus Dispatch cartoonist best known for “The Passing Show,” his weekly commentary on current events that ran from 1908 until his death in 1935. 

Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & MuseumIn the library’s north lobby, you can see Ireland’s drawing table, a representation of the shamrock he used to sign his work, and A Tribute to Billy Ireland, a 2013 art glass creation by Wayne Cain and Daniel White that documents highlights of Ireland’s career. 

The library’s gallery spaces display a free, permanent exhibit of artwork and artifacts highlighting its collections. Chester Gould’s circa-1921 drawing board and tabaret hint at the working style of the creator of Dick Tracy. A charred area on the right side of the drawing board’s surface is the remnant of Gould’s practice of lighting a kitchen match so that the flame would speed up the drying process of large areas of black ink.

Through August 3, two additional exhibitions are on view in the library’s galleries. Exploring Calvin and Hobbes features original daily and Sunday artwork for the popular comic strip that Bill Watterson created from 1985 to 1995. The exhibition also includes specialty pieces by Watterson from his collection of more than 3,000 originals housed at the library, as well as original art by cartoonists who influenced Watterson, such as Charles Schulz and Gary Trudeau.Calvin and Hobbes original artwork, Billy Ireland Library & Museum

The Irresistible Force Meets the Immovable Object: A Richard Thompson Retrospective includes hand-watercolored Sunday originals and black-and-white dailies from Thompson’s popular comic strip, and Cul de Sac. During its six-year run, Cul de Sac chronicled family life in the suburbs of Washington, D.C.

Cartoon fans should also stop by the Wexner Center to see Eye of the Cartoonist: Daniel Clowes’ Selections from Comics History. In this exhibition, Clowes — the creator of Eightball, a comic book anthology series dating from 1989 to 2004, and the 2010 graphic novel, Wilson — collaborated with the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum to select works by great cartoonists like Chester Gould, Otto Soglow, Winsor McCay and Milton Caniff that he admires or considers influences. The exhibition runs through August 3.

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