By Richard Varr
“Calling all cars, calling all cars!”
You’ll surely remember that line if you’re a comic strips buff or watched the old “Dick Tracy” cartoons on TV years ago. What about the round-faced caricatures of Charlie Brown, Lucy and Linus, and of course their canine companion Snoopy in the comic strip “Peanuts?” Batman and Superman also come to mind, as do the many other superheroes in comic books that have filled the shelves of corner candy stores and hobby shops for decades.
These are just a few of the characters that jump back to life in the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum at Ohio State University in Columbus. “Getting to see original ‘Peanuts’ artwork, original ‘Calvin and Hobbes” artwork, and discovering new titles that people have never heard of before is always exciting,” says Caitlin McGurk, the museum’s Associate Curator for Outreach and Assistant Professor. “And if you’re into political cartoons, we always have some of them on display.”
Founded in 1977, the museum is actually a research library as well housing both original and printed American cartoon art, with some international pieces. “This is the largest collection of comics and cartoon art in the world,” notes McGurk. And yes, the collection is incredible, with editorial cartoons, comic strips, comic books, graphic novels, magazine cartoons and sports cartoons. Breaking it down, she adds, holdings include 350,000 original art cartoons, 30,000 comic books, 75,000 graphic novels, over 6,000 boxes of manuscript materials, and 2.5 million comic strip clippings and newspaper pages.
Named after an early 20th century cartoonist for the Columbus Dispatch, the museum has one room as a permanent collection and two others which rotate artworks and comic strip clippings from its archives. Walking into the main gallery, I first notice the drawing table belonging to the comic artist Chester Gould, the creator of “Dick Tracy.” “This is where every ‘Dick Tracy’ comic strip was ever drawn,” says McGurk.
There are also original art and clippings of “Calvin and Hobbes,” the six-year old with his stuffed tiger by artist Bill Watterson; the “Beetle Bailey” military series by Mort Walker, whose entire collection was acquired by the museum; and others including “Gasoline Alley,” “Shoe,” “Spiderman,” “Pogo” and of course, “Peanuts” by Charles Schulz. Older historic artworks include 19th century Harper’s Weekly magazine covers and 18th century British prints, to name just a few.
“The fact that the museum has been here for more than 40 years means we were one of the first institutions in the world to actually start collecting this kind of material which has historically been stigmatized as not real artwork and not real literature,” McGurk emphasizes, “meaning it was not taken seriously and not worth preserving. This is a very important place, thus saving this whole part of cultural history that was kind of overlooked and disregarded.”
For more information: https://cartoons.osu.edu/