CORRECTION: The PSU collection is NOT, as the headline for this post originally claimed, “The Country’s First University Comic Book Archive,” but one of many great academic comic book libraries, as PSU Librarian Helen Spalding explained in our interview with her. In a rush out of the office, The Beat’s humble intern neglected to change the headline, which has resulted in many varieties of confusion. Apologies all around.

dark horse poster.jpg

In an partnership formally unveiled last week, Dark Horse Comics entire catalogue is now being shelved at Portland State University. Available for check-out from the PSU library’s general circulating collection will be one copy of everything Dark Horse has ever published: comic book, graphic novel, manga, hardcover and foreign edition, you name it. A second copy of each will be stored in the library’s special collection.

While it’s become increasingly common for libraries to stock graphic novels, the PSU arrangement goes far beyond that in a number of ways. They’re not just shelving books with a spine, but also the floppy “pamphlet” comic books, which have long been archived only in fans’ long-boxes and retailers’ back issue bins. At Portland State, each issue will be given an acid-proof cover and a call number, as well as an extensive catalog listing that will include credits for everyone involved, including letterer and colorist.

The library’s Dark Horse collection will include everything they’ve produced, from books in 24 different languages to Aliens stickers and Hellboy lunch-boxes. The Beat spoke with Portland State University Librarian Helen Spalding, who explained that even a Buffy marquee statue can be useful to academics. “The key rings, action figures, mugs and tee-shirts are all rich research material for examining marketing, gender roles, and many other topics,” she said.

The idea for the collection was sparked a few years back when Spalding saw DHC Publisher and PSU alumnus Mike Richardson speak at a university luncheon. “They’re an important Portland institution, and the University is really engaged with the community and the alumni,” Spalding said, “so it just made a lot of sense that we work together on this important collection to our mutual benefit.

“It’s so important to Mike Richardson that people get to read this stuff just like any other literature that we’re allowed to check out, so he’s provided a copy for us to check out, which is great.”

The library has already shelved 3,000 of an expected 6,000 volumes in their Dark Horse collection, which will continue to grow as the publisher releases new material. This positions PSU as a leading academic archive of comics in North America, and Spalding hopes it will attract other collections as well. Although they likely won’t be seeking the complete corpus of any other publisher, she said that the confluence of independent publishers in Portland make them a good place to start.

Related: The Oregonian interviews Richardson; Portland Monthly looks at the collection; PSU’s alumni mag says “Pow! Zowie! Comics in the Library”.

Posted by Aaron Humphrey


  1. Robert, you took the words out of my mouth. WSU’s underground comic archive was the best thing about attending school there, followed closely by the now-deceased Grover Krantz, a professor who was a Bigfoot expert.

  2. (Sorry if this is duplicated, the first post contained HTTPs which may have caused its rejection.)

    Iowa State has a collection of underground comics (and industrial films, which contain some interesting animation).

    Michigan State sets the standard, which Ohio State is rapidly surpassing.

    Virginina Commonwealth recently acquired the Eisner Award archive, and is currated by Dr. M. Thomas Inge.

    Your tax dollars help the Library of Congress maintain an excellent illustration collection, to which the artwork of Amazing Fantasy #15 was donated. (LOC is at the forefront of weblibraries, digitizing a significant portion of their collections. Check out the Coca-Cola ads!)

    (And if you are in DC, stop by the National Archives, where the “Seduction of the Innocent” records and comics are stored.)

    Google [“special collections” library “comic book”] and you’ll discover how many exist. Almost every major city has some sort of collection, usually from a local editorial cartoonist, comicstrip creator, or collector.

    It’s not really an archive… this is a special collection, similar to others which concentrate on a specific publishing house. It becomes an archive when one-of-a-kind items are donated, such as business records, old website HTML, advertising, press clippings, and original art. In other words, stuff that requires conservation, not just storage.

    That’s not to say this shouldn’t be applauded. I hope the Dark Horse archives will be donated as well, even if certain records are sealed. I also hope they’ll add other libraries to their comp list, so that future scholarship will be facilitated.

  3. As Casey points out, Michigan State University has been archiving comics and graphic novels for decades, as have other places. And in addition to WSU, Bowling Green in Ohio has a huge popular culture collection that contains comics as well. My university (U. of Michigan) also archives comics, with a particular emphasis on small press and mini-comics.

    It’s great that Portland’s doing this, but if it were an actual competition to be first, they wouldn’t even get a bronze medal… :)

  4. Oops, the Beat’s wonderful intern posted this, and save for an unfortunate word choice in the title he did a fine job. Anyway, I’ve fixed the headline. As you were.

  5. I don’t know if this has changed in the last 10 years, but MSU and BGSU are both closed stacks. Having done plenty of research at both places, that’s the one disadvantage of those two places. It’s cool if this new one will have the ability to actually check stuff out.

  6. In addition to the ones mentioned above, UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke both have obtained comics collections for their libraries in recent years.

  7. Bowling Green started their Popular Culture Library in 1968 and it has books, comic and pulps. I wish I know who started it because in 1968 only die-hard fans saw any artistic value in this stuff and we were few in number and regarded as people on the fringe, like science fiction fans in the 1940s. — James Van Hise