For comics lovers young and old, Ohio State museum will be a draw
COLUMBUS, OHIO | There is a place where Snoopy frolics carefree with the scandalous Yellow Kid, where Pogo the possum philosophizes alongside Calvin and Hobbes. It’s a place where Beetle Bailey loafs with Garfield the cat, while Krazy Kat takes another brick to the noggin, and brooding heroes battle dark forces on the pages of fat graphic novels.
That doesn’t even begin to describe everything that’s going on behind the walls of the new Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum on the Ohio State University campus, opening to the public Saturday.
“This is the stuff that makes me drool,” says Jim Borgman, the Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist who now draws the “Zits” newspaper comic strip. “I enjoy art of all kinds, but it’s as if cartoons were segregated for many years and not allowed into such hallowed halls. And this is kind of a moment of setting things right, I think, giving cartooning its due when it has been in the wings all these years.”
Jeremy, the kid from “Zits”? He’s in there, too, since Mr. Borgman, a Cincinnati native, donated most of his art and papers to the museum.
The whole thing started with Milton Caniff, the influential comic artist whose beloved “Terry and the Pirates” and “Steve Canyon” adventure strips
lived in the nation’s funny papers for a half-century.
Caniff graduated from Ohio State and loved the place so much that he wanted his original art and other papers to be kept here forever. He handed it all over to the university in 1977. Along with library curator Lucy Shelton, he then began urging his cartoonist friends to do the same. Two classrooms in the journalism building soon began to fill with the new comics archive.
“Prior to that, most universities ignored that type of popular culture,” says current curator Jenny Robb, noting that for many years original comic strips were just thrown out with the trash and animation celluloid sheets — known as “cels” — were routinely wiped clean and reused.
Today, the museum collection includes more than 300,000 original strips from everybody who’s anybody in the newspaper comics world, plus 45,000 books, 29,000 comic books and 2,400 boxes of manuscript material, fan mail and other personal papers from artists. The university says it’s the largest collection of cartoon art and artifacts in the world.
The museum has originals from everyone from Richard Outcault — whose “Yellow Kid” in a 19th century comic strip spawned the term “yellow journalism” — to Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”), classic “Pogo” story lines from Walt Kelly, Garry Trudeau’s “Doonesbury,” Chester Gould’s “Dick Tracy,” early “Blondie” strips from Chic Young and the entire collection of Jeff Smith, an Ohio State graduate who created the hugely popular “Bone” series of comic books.
It all has been moved to a new 30,000-square-foot home in a high-profile corridor of the sprawling Columbus campus, into a space renamed for Ireland, the former editorial cartoonist for The Columbus Dispatch who was one of the pioneers of the art form. His family donated a big chunk of money for the project.
The new place has also got what’s been missing at the museum’s two previous campus locations: a large gallery space for permanent and rotating exhibitions of comics and cartoon art that will finally give it the air of a proper museum.
Jeremy Stone frames a Billy Ireland comic strip from Dec. 11, 1921, called “The Pass» ing Show” for display at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum at Ohio State.