The Ultimate Day at The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum

Last time I met you in this space, we talked about Dean’s and my arrival at and work in The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum (BICL&M), on The Ohio State University campus, during the end of October. Dean read literally hundreds of comic strips dating across more than three decades; I took a deep dive into the archives for more information on Al Capp, Ohio State alum Milton Caniff, and others. Dean located some terrific 1900-1920s era photographs; in addition to examining scores of letters, photos, and magazine articles, I found out that Mort Walker was already a talented lad of thirteen when he sent Caniff a hand-colored illustration of Terry Lee, Pat Ryan, and Connie—and a request for an original strip!—from his boyhood home in Kansas City, Missouri.

As our final day moved from morning to afternoon, it became apparent to me we were indeed going to make it through all the material we had asked to see (no small task, believe me!). So when, around 1:00 PM, multiple-Eisner-nominee and OSU professor Jared Gardner swung by the Lucy Caswell Reading Room for a chat—eventually joined by BICL&M curator Jenny Robb—it was great to be able to kick back and enjoy a pleasant conversation with them without the relentless mental ticking clock tugging me back to my research. Jared teaches both comics and film at Ohio State, and here are two flyers advertising his classes:

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(And no, as Jared told a certain wag who shall go nameless, the “Graphic Medicine” course doesnot entail reading a large selection of Rex Morgan, M.D.!)

Jared’s stature as a comics historian is reflected by the devotion of a bookcase within the Caswell Reading Room to comics collections and books about or related to comics that he recommends. He told us he aims to represent a cross-section of themes and material – and indeed he had everything from a Marvel Captain America trade paperback to collections of foreign material on the shelves—though perhaps I’ll be forgiven for choosing to snap a portion of a shelf with a high percentage of LOAC content…

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We worked and read our way through the lunch hour again. Not a bad way to spend the day!

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By the time we reached the last hour before the reading room closed for the day, I decided to stretch my legs and take my trusty camera with me to get some additional shots of BICL&M’s exceptional new home in Sullivant Hall. When one steps through the main entrance, the Lucy Caswell Reading Room is at right; at left are the library and museum offices, with this large sign above them:

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On the second floor, directly above the reading room, one finds this lecture hall, named after one of the seminal names in 20th Century graphic storytelling:

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Upstairs, around the left corner and down the hall from the Eisner Seminar Room, one finds a comfortable and spacious area that has a small sign denoting it as “Classroom 220,” though we comics folks would prefer to think of it by its formal name:

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Traveling around the right corner from the Eisner Seminar Room brings one to this impressive façade – and the even more impressive space beyond it!

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Believe it or not, Dean and I got to spend time in all three rooms later that evening. The Museum portion of BICL&M was featuring two important shows through the end of November, and were hosting Jeff Smith to speak on the importance of and his friendship with Will Eisner at an after-hours event; Dean and I were invited to attend and (after a quick dinner back at my hotel) we were only too happy to do so.08_EXHIBIT_NOTICES

We first toured both exhibits, absorbing a wonderful dose of Eisner original artwork extending across his entire career (this was the first I’d heard of a military strip he had done called “General Poop”!), as well as a terrific range of political cartoons devoted to civil rights from across the decades. The Museum also has an area devoted to non-themed comics art, featuring originals from Jack Kirby, Jeff Smith, Chester Gould, Jeff MacNelly, Todd McFarlane, Howard Cruse, and dozens of others. The chance to tour the Museum Gallery alone makes BICL&M a must-see for any comics fan traveling to Columbus.

Snacks and drinks were available to event attendees in the Eisner Seminar Room, where I chatted a bit more with Jenny Robb, who introduced me to Jeff Smith. I was a buyer when Bone # 1 was published and years ago I introduced the series to my younger sister, still later to my now-twenty-something niece. My sister has in turn read Bone twice to my four-year-old nephew, so three generations of Canwells have read and enjoyed Mr. Smith’s work.

Shortly after speaking with Jeff, the group of perhaps fifty attendees (including BICL&M curatoremeritus Lucy Caswell and Danny Fingeroth, the latter in town to attend a weekend comics convention) entered the Schulz Lecture Room for the half-hour talk on Eisner, which was accompanied by some delightful photographs and examples of Will’s work. A fifteen-minute question-and-answer session followed, with roughly the same amount of time devoted to post-lecture chitchat. For the first time we met BICL&M associate curator Caitlin McGurk, caught up with Danny Fingeroth, and said our goodbyes to indispensible BICL&M staff members Marilyn Scott and Susan Liberator.

We had a whirlwind visit, but a highly productive one nonetheless! A trip to BICL&M is the perfect reminder of one of our axioms: “The more you know, the more there is to know.” Because of the truth contained in that statement, there’s little doubt we’ll return for another visit to their bigger, better, and even more hallowed halls sometime in the months ahead.

Finally, what’s the sense in talking about The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum without offering you at least a taste of Billy Ireland’s art? Here’s just the smallest sample of the most popular Ohio artist of his day, and the man who was such an influence on the young Milton Caniff…

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