Friday, January 30, 2009


One of my annual haunts is a visit to the Cartoon Research Library at Ohio State University. Recently renamed the Cartoon Research Library and Museum, it has been guided for its entire existence by its curator, Lucy Shelton Caswell. Caswell is a visionary and pioneer in cartoon research, having taken a collection of boxes and formed a modern, massive, workable archive of cartoon history. The foundation of the library is the Milton Caniff collection, the papers and art of an Ohio State grad and the greatest adventure comic strip artist of all. I had the privilege of interviewing Professor Caswell recently. She told me how it all began: "I know that, in the ‘70s, the Library of Congress had approached Caniff for his papers. I don’t know if he came to Novice Fawcett [OSU President, 1956-72] or if Novice Fawcett got wind of that and talked to Caniff. I don’t know which way it went. But, it is accurate to say that Caniff loved his university very much and truly believed that without the education he got here he would not have achieved the things that he did. So, his sense of gratitude to the university was palpable."

The Caniff collection arrived over a period of several years, and the library itself had humble beginnings. It was decided that the collection fell under the purview of the School of Journalism, which was headed by Caswell: "Somebody had to be responsible to make sure it was all there and all the boxes had my name on it. When funding was made available to work on Caniff, I was offered a six month appointment. I’ve been here ever since. The original collection was housed in the Journalism building. When I started working with it, we were in two classrooms that had been converted, a door cut between them, so that one was a reading room and one was a storage area. At that point, the collection consisted of the materials that had been stored in Dayton at his mother’s home. When she died, all that came here. So, it was mainly ‘Terry & the Pirates’ stuff, because the other materials were in California at his studio in Palm Springs and in New York City in that studio. We got things gradually. When they closed the studio in Palm Springs we got a big shipment and then after Caniff’s death. It wasn’t the final shipment because another batch of stuff had been stored with Willie Tuck, his longtime assistant. So, I had to go up to upstate New York and get that one. So it was really very dispersed and that’s one of the challenges in processing this kind of collection."

Even though the bulk of her collection has been in her hands over twenty years, keeping the catalog accessible at the pace of modern technology has been a challenge: "It’s very difficult if you don’t know that you have everything related to something when you’re trying to get it organized. We are delighted that finally as of this year to have the EAD online searchable finding aid through OhioLINK, which means it’s available worldwide. This is a major accomplishment for us because it’s such a huge collection...The technology is finally making it possible for us to do some things that a few years ago couldn’t have been done. When we started, we were typing cards on manual typewriters. To think that we know have the virtual capability that we have is marvelously exciting."

Check back in a week for Part 2 of my interview with Lucy Caswell!

No comments: