The Ohio State University Billy Ireland Library and Museum is an extraordinary treasure and one of the few museums dedicated to comics in the world. Started in 1977, the collection has grown to 300,000 original cartoons, 45,000 books, 2.5 million comic strip clippings and newspaper pages, and more than 5,000 cartoonists’ biographical files, including handwriting samples. The library serves students, researchers and teachers, and the library and museum are free and open to the public.
The library contains irreplaceable collections housed in a tightly-secured, temperature-controlled archive. Visitors to the reading room are highly encouraged to call ahead to request materials two days in advance. The library includes the San Francisco Academy of Comic Art Collection with materials dating back to 1893, the International Museum of Cartoon Art Collection from the former museum founded by Beetle Bailey creator Mort Walker and the Bill Watterson Deposit Collection…YES! THE ENTIRE COLLECTION OF BILL WATTERSON’S CALVIN AND HOBBES IS HOUSED HERE!
The library and museum’s namesake comes from an influential cartoonist who worked for the Columbus Dispatch newspaper. Billy Ireland stayed true to his roots and never left Ohio while helping advance the careers of others, like Milton Caniff who later helped start Ohio State’s comics collection and once graced the cover of Time magazine. In the image above, Ireland editorialized the blight caused by Columbus’ flood of 1913. Sketches that Ireland created to visualize a new downtown riverfront have been used to inform Columbus’ stunning Scioto Mile, demonstrating Ireland’s continued influence and cartoonists’ importance to civic engagement.
Librarian Caitlin McGurk believes in the transformative power of comics and is a strong advocate for the art form’s appreciation. Caitlin teaches classes on English, history, art, women’s studies, theology, psychology and ESL, pairing the needs of Ohio State’s students with cartoon collections. Previously the head librarian of Vermont’s Center for Cartoon Studies, Caitlin is driven to give greater exposure to the art and artists that may otherwise be forgotten or marginalized. She actively partners with her Ohio State colleagues and the community to extend cartooning’s legacy.
The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum is an indispensable resource for understanding the perceptions of popular culture, societies, nationalism and gender spanning over 100 years across multiple contents. At every turn, the library, museum and staff offer a path to exploration and discovery. We highly recommend visiting their current exhibits, exploring their online exhibitions, meeting award-winning speakers and joining them and others for the four-day, comics expo Cartoon Crossroads Columbus.