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Wednesday, December 12, 2018

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A snapshot of the wealth of comics housed in SDSU's collection.

There's a Comic for That

SDSU's Comic Arts Collection celebrates the diverse world of comics in both an artistic and academic sense.
By Hallie Jacobs

There’s more to the comic arts world than pop art and Batman.

Go beyond the traditional scope of the genre and you will find a provocative world rich with diverse tales of unlikely heroes and avant-garde artistic expression.

The San Diego State University Comic Arts Collection is one of the fastest growing academic comic collections on the west coast and is an invaluable resource for academics and the comic-obsessed alike.

Housed within SDSU’s Special Collections and University Archives, more than 20,000 comics make up the colorful archive, with titles ranging from beloved protagonists to underground, counterculture beats. The archive dates back to the 1930s, chronicling history from pre-World War II to contemporary feminist manifestos.

“Comics explore what it means to be human,” said Pamela Jackson, an information literacy librarian. “They tackle every subject and they really reflect societal and political views of the time, so when you trace the history of comics, you really get a feel for what was happening at the time.”

Unconventional wisdom

When people think of comics, dynamic tales of superheroes and damsels in distress often come to mind.

Contrary to popular belief, the comic world does not exist merely to entertain. A burgeoning realm of academia uses comic arts to explore historical and sociological perspectives of pop culture.

One of the goals of the Comic Arts Collection is to serve as a haven for academics interested in integrating comics into curricula, and to increase the awareness of the value of comics and science fiction scholarship.

SDSU’s Comic Arts Collection spans decades worth of rich tales of the human experiences, narrating the darker sides of the human existence in an atypical way. It’s not always superheroes and save-the-day stories. Some of the darker pieces housed within the collection include tales of 9/11, abortion and autobiographical accounts depicting depression and angst.

A comic loving community

The Comic Arts Collection is thriving thanks to the donations of individuals devoted to the genre.

Although vintage and rare comics can carry a hefty price tag, the comic community prides sharing the love of the art over hoarding valuable pieces.

“We benefit from a tangibly-shared philosophy of comics readership,” said Anna Culbertson, a Special Collections and University Archives librarian. “Most comic readers are more interested in sharing the experience with other readers.”

A safe space

To accommodate the extensive collection, the Comic Arts Committee is hoping to create a space within the library to house the collection.

“We want to make our collection more accessible,” Jackson said. “We want to alphabetize and organize our collection and encourage students and professors to use what we have. We also want to create more opportunities for undergraduate research.”

A general need for more cataloging support in the library coupled with the need for more useful ways to describe these highly visual materials prompted the librarians to think outside the box. Culbertson and Jackson have turned to collector software that, with the help of much-needed support staff, provides an amazing publicly-browsable database.

To donate to the Comic Arts Committee, visit the Comic Arts Fund website.