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It's a bird! It's a plane! It's Superman!!! Comics and comic books are one of the most pervasive and influential media forms of 20th-century popular culture. A survey of current scholarly indexes demonstrates that researchers in the fields of history, sociology, and literature are discovering that studying comic books provides unique and valuable insights on 20th-century culture. Thus, many research libraries have experienced an increase in requests for information on, and copies of, comic books.
Unfortunately, as with other genres of popular literature such as science fiction, comic books were often considered unworthy of addition to research library collections. The original NYPL Research Libraries policy was to collect representative samples of comic books and microfilm them. Emphasis was not placed on keeping original material.
Reference material on the history and cultural significance of comic books are collected by the General Research Division (GRD) and may be requested from the general stacks. Some titles dealing with comic books as a graphic art form are collected by the Arts, Prints and Photographs Division. In light of the recent increased interest in original comic books and the publication of many new reference titles, GRD has begun expanding collection development in this area. Due to the difficulty of obtaining original comic books circa 1930-1960, emphasis has been placed on reprint collections, microforms, and reference titles. Graphic novels, selected current comics and titles on comic artists, writers, collecting, etc., are presently being added to the collections. This guide represents the current state of comics related material. Users are advised to consult the online catalog for the latest available items.
If you need further assistance, visit our reference desk, or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Using the Catalogs
General instructions for locating materials are given in the Research Guide, How Do I Find a Book?. The following information is specific to the topic at hand.
In the Dictionary Catalog, consult the subject headings
- Comic books, strips, etc. (vol. 152, pp 412-414)
Caricature and comic art (vol. 116, pp. 185-309)
In CATNYP, the online catalog, search:
- Comic books, strips, etc
Caricature and Cartoons
You may also search genres such as Western comic books, Science fiction comics books, etc.
In both catalogs, there will also be individual entries for characters, artists, and cartoonists. For example:
Marvel Comics Group
Superman (Comic Strip)
The tools below help identify or locate characters appearing in comic books and newspapers:
Encyclopedia of American comics, edited by Ron Goulart. New York: Facts on File, 1990. *R-MDY 90-13416. Covers most of the major American comic strips and comics characters. Includes artists, writers, heroes and heroines. Not profusely illustrated. Black & white. Some color. Index.
Gifford, Denis. Encyclopedia of comic characters. Essex, England: Longman, 1987. *R-MDY. Covers 150 years of British comic characters primarily from newspaper comic strips. Each entry includes artist, dates, a brief description and a black & white illustration of the character.
World encyclopedia of cartoons, edited by Maurice Horn. Detroit, Mich.: Gale Research, 1980. MDY+ 81-227. (held in the Prints Division).
World encyclopedia of comics, edited by Maurice Horn. (New York: Chelsea House, 1976. *R-MDY (held at South Hall Desk). Still one of the most comprehensive collections of information on comic art. International in scope up to 1975. Important supplements include a chronology of comic art and a history of newspaper comics syndication. 700 black & white illus. Some color.
Bibliographies & Guides
Official Overstreet comic book price guide. New York: House of Collectibles, 1987- Annual. *R-MDY 88-8316 (held at South Hall Desk) and (S) JFK 88-491. This is the most comprehensive guide to comic books. Although intended for collectors/investors, much valuable information is provided. Each issue includes unique theme essays on comic book history. The main section lists most comic book titles with their collectible value. Some color illustration, mostly black & white.
Gerber, Ernst. The Photo-Journal Guide to Comic Books. Minden, Nev.: Gerber Pub. Co., 1989-1990. 2 vols. (S) JFG 92-153. This work contains over 21,000 color illustrations of the covers of comic books produced during 1935-1965 the Gold and Silver Age of comic book publishing. Essays provide a wealth of information on cataloging, preservation, restoration of comic books, the social and historical impact of comic books and much more.
Gerber, Ernst. The Photo-Journal Guide to Marvel Comics. Minden, Nev.: Gerber Publishing Co., Inc., 1991. 2 vols. JFG 92-152. Similar to the title above, but dedicated strictly to Marvel Comics. 17,000 color illustrations, author, artist and character indexes.
Humor and Cartoon Markets, 1993, edited by Bob Staake and Roseann Shaughnessy. Cincinnati: Writer's Digest, 1993. Pub Cat 91-1779, (held at Information Desk, Room 315). For those seeking to break into the comic book industry there is a chapter on comic book publishers. Provides contact name, address, editorial policy and payment information. Other chapters deal with comic strips and other comic industries.
Scott, Randall W. Comic books and strips; an information sourcebook. Phoenix, Ariz.: Oryx Press, 1988. 3-MDY 89-3095. Bibliography of monographs published on the subject of comic books 1970-1987. Core collection lists the 100 most important titles. This is the only basic reference bibliography on the subject.
Scott, Randall W. Comics librarianship; a handbook. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Company, Inc,1990. Currently the only monograph on this subject. Includes chapters on acquisition, collection development, and preservation of a comic book collection. Chapter 6 is a list of 230 topics that can be chosen for student research projects.
History And Criticism
The emphasis here is on American comic books. In the catalogs, see the geographical subdivisions of the subject heading Comic books for material on foreign comics.
Barker, Martin. A haunt of fears. London: Pluto Press, 1984. JFD 85-68. Traces the influence of Wertham's Seduction of the Innocent on the British comics industry. Not illustrated.
Crawford, Hubert H. Crawford's encyclopedia of comic books. Middle Village, N.Y.: Jonathan David Publisher's, Inc., 1978. 3 MDY 79-24. Attempts to cover the rise and fall of the comic book industry from the 1930s through the 1950s" Each chapter deals with a different publishing house and follows the development of its major characters through other media such as movies and television. The author includes many pertinent comments on popular culture, and discussion of themes common to comic books and classical literature. Also provides a chronological summary of the development of comic book literature 1860-1978. Index. Some color illustration; mostly black and white.
Benton, Mike. Science fiction comics: the illustrated history. Dallas: Taylor Publishing, 1992. JFE 92-2754. One of a new series The Taylor History of Comics. Each volume follows the development of various genres including horror, superheroes, etc. All include several chapters on history and development of the theme followed by a guide and checklist, bibliography and index. Consult CATNYP by author or series title for future volumes. Full color illustrations.
The Comic-book book, edited by Don Thompson and Dick Lupoff. New Rochelle, N.Y.: Arlington House, 1973. JFE 85-1975. A collection of 13 essays on comic books, comic strip characters, and the sociological impact of comic books. Covers the period 1940-1970. Illustrated in black and white.
Estren, Mark. A history of underground comics. Berkeley,CA: Ronin Publishing, 1993. JFF 93-2342. A very detailed, heavily illustrated history of underground (noncomformist, sometimes politically oriented, often sexually explicit) comics. Coverage includes artists, publishers, distributors, and much more. Indexed by subject, artist, publication. Bibliography. Illustrations in b&w and color.
The Funnies: an American Idiom, edited by David Manning White and Robert H. Abell. London:Collier-Macmillan. 1963. 3-MDY. Deals mainly with comic strips. Included here for the excellent bibliography (pp.293-304) of over 200 books, newspaper and journal articles, and theses dealing with the "comics controversy."
Gifford, Denis. American comic strip collections, 1884-1939. Boston: G.K. Hall, 1990. *R-MDY 91-2273. Not a narrative history but a chronologically arranged bibliography which traces the development of the early newspaper comic strip collections into comic book form. Entries include bibliographic and physical description, contents, authors, artists, first editorials and more. Includes title index, author/artist index.Good for early obscure titles. No illustrations.
Goulart, Ron. Ron Goulart's Great history of comic books. Chicago: Contemporary Books, 1986. JFF 87-136. Goulart, a major authority in the field, presents a history of comics 1890 to the 1980s. Illustrated mostly in black & white. Some color. Index.
Histoire mondiale de la bande dessinee, edited by Pierre Horay. Paris: P. Horay, 1989. JFG 91-873. Text in French but coverage is worldwide. Profusely illustrated in color and black and white. Gives a good overall pictorial survey of comics around the world.
Kurtzman, Harvey. From aargh! to zap!; Harvey Kurtzman's visual history of the comics. New York:Prentice Hall Press,1991. 3-MDY+ 92-7282. Kurzman has been reading, writing and drawing comic books for over 50 years. Here he treats comic books as an art form and presents his own personal opinions on comics and their artists. Profusely illustrated in color and black & white.
The New Comics Anthology, edited by Bob Callahan. New York: Macmillan, 1991. JFF 91-2120. Celebrates the best of avant-garde and post-modern graphic literature known as the "New Comics Movement." Includes samples of the work of over eighty current comic artists. Illustrations in color and black & white.
Schodt, Frederik. Manga! Manga!; the world of Japanese comics. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1983. 3-MDY 84-1061. A history of the Japanese comic book industry. Bibliography and index. Illustrations in black & white.
Smithsonian book of comic-book comics, edited by Michael Barrier and Martin Williams. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1981. 3-MDY 82-1699. A collection of sample comic book stories published before 1954. Each selection is preceded by a brief essay. Printed in full color and in a manner which closely resembles the original comic book paper. Emphasis is on humorous comic books but includes the first Superman and Batman stories.
Those were the terrible, shocking, sensational, appalling, forbidden...but simply wonderful HORROR COMICS of the 1950's, edited by Ron Barlow and Bob Stewart. New York: Nostalgia Press, 1971. 3-MDY+ 75-1796. Full color reprints of 25 stories from the controversial EC line of comic books. Includes some commentary and a artist profiles.
Waiter, Stanley and Bissette, Stephen. Comic book rebels: conversations with the creators of the new comics. New York: Donald Fine, 1992. JFE 93-10824. Authors interview twenty artists, creators, and others, including Dave Sim, Richard Corben, and Will Eisner, about what they call the "third great Comics Revolution" in the 1990's. Excellent bibliography, source material. Black and white illustrations.
The Comic Book Controversy
During the 1940s and 1950's there was serious debate over the moral influence of comic books. It was fueled by the publication of Frederic Wertham's Seduction of the Innocent (New York:Rinehart, 1954) in which Wertham blamed the rise of juvenile delinquency on the "bad influence" of comic books. The library will make every effort to borrow the title through interlibrary loan.
The resulting heated public debate can be covered by searching the standard periodical indexes under the subject Comics (Books, strips, etc.) for the many articles on the topic published during the 1950's. See also :
American Civil Liberties Union. Censorship of comic books: a statement. New York: American Civil Liberties Union, 1955. *XMB 2063 fiche #CL-139. Contains a concise summary of opposing opinions drawn from a variety of sources.
"The Wertham Crusade", chapter 18 of Ron Goulart's Great history of comic books (New York: Contemporary Books, Inc, 1986) (JFF 87-136) A good synopsis of the controversy.
In addition, see the Dictionary Catalog (vol. 152, p. 414) under the subject heading Comic Books-Moral and Religious Aspects for titles dealing with this topic.
The major result of this controversy was the publication of the Code of the Comics Magazine Association of America, Inc. The text of this code may be found in the World encyclopedia of comics edited by Maurice Horn, pp. 749-751 *R-MDY 77-1898 (held at the desk in the South Hall of the Rose Main Reading Room).
Cartoonist profiles 1969- Fairfield, Conn.: Cartoonist Profiles, Inc. 3-MDA (current in Room 108). Profiles and interviews of a wide range of cartoon artists.
Contemporary Graphic Artists vol. 1- Detroit, Mich.: Gale Research, 1986- 3-MDA+ 87-1938. "A comprehensive biographical, bibliographical and critical guide...[to the] lives and accomplishments of noteworthy graphic artists." The only ongoing series that includes comic strip and comic book artists. Each entry has photo or self portrait of the artist, biographical info and samples of art. Cumulative artist index, occupation index, and subject index.
Goulart, Ron. The great comic book artists. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1986. 3-MDY 86-3042. Brief general biographies of sixty golden-age 1950s and 1960s comic book artists. Discusses their artistic style and their contribution to the history of comic books. Each entry includes a one-page sample (black & white) of their art.
NYPL does not have a significant collection of titles in this area. Search the catalogs under a title or the subject heading Comic books, strips, etc.-Periodicals. However, those researching the history of comic books will find that comics have long been a topic of discussion in many newspapers and journals. The recent interest in comic books has given rise to articles in a multitude of periodicals ranging from Advertising Age to Variety. Our large collection of general interest and scholarly periodicals will yield much valuable information.
At this time there are no commercially available, comprehensive, ongoing resources which index the stories, authors or characters in comic books. Some of the titles in the Bibliographies & Guides section provide selective indexing.
For articles about comic books, search general indexes such as The Readers' Guide to Periodical Literature under the subject Comics (Books, Strips, etc.).
The subject Comic Books may also be searched in the following databases:
- National Newspapers
MLA Bibliography (where the subject heading is Comic Book)
Comic Books In Microformats
The General Research Division is actively acquiring color microfiche reproductions of comic books. So far this collection includes complete runs of selected comic book series circa 1939-1956:
- Action comics *XL-735
Adventure comics *XL-736
All-Flash quarterly *XL-755
All select *XL-754
All star comics *XL-737
All winners *XL-756
Archie comics *XL-757
Black Hood comics *XL-756
Blue ribbon comics *XL-759
Captain America *XL-760
Captain Marvel *XL-761
Detective Comics *XL-739
Green Lantern *XL-763
Human Torch *XL-765
Jackpot comics *XL-766
Leading comics *XL-767
Marvel mystery comics *XL-768
Mystic comics *XL-769
New adventure comics *XL-753
New comics *XL-786
Pep comics *XL-770
Planet comics *XL-771
Plastic Man *XL-772
Police comics *XL-773
Special comics *XL-764
USA comics *XL-775
Whiz comics *XL-776
Wings comics *XL-787
Wonder Woman *XL-777
World's best *XL-778
World's finest *XL-779
Young allies comics *XL-780
Another set, on standard black & white microfilm, is
Comic books; an annual sampling of the cartoon, television moving picture, adventure and romantic "comic books" on sale at news stands
. (*ZAN-M28) 1959,1965-1988. This set consists of a random sampling of all comic books on sale in a particular year starting with 1959.
Certain titles relating to comic characters appearing in both comic books and the cartoon media, e.g., Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny, are held in the Theatre Collection of The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center. These are catalogued in classmark MFL.
Selected Internet Sites
- Classic Comic Books
A home page containing reviews and articles about comic strips and comic books, and articles on their writers and artists.
- Comic Arts Collection
Web site of the Special Collections and Archives of the James Branch Cabell Library, Virginia Commonwealth University, which houses "nearly 10,000 comic books dating primarily from the 1970s-1990s; the papers and drawings of two Richmond political cartoonists and several other related manuscript collections; an extensive collection of reference journals donated by Dr. M. Thomas Inge, an expert on popular culture and the history of the comic arts; and a growing collection of reference books supporting the study of all areas of the comic arts."
- Comic Books for Young Adults
This "site is designed to introduce librarians (as well as teachers and parents) to the rich, diverse offerings from today's comics book publishers, and to encourage the acquisition of comic books and graphic novels in libraries serving young adults."
- Comics Research Bibliography
More than 10.000 entries related to comic books, comic strips, animation, caricature, cartoons, bandes desinees, and other topics.
- Friends of Lulu
"Friends of Lulu is a national nonprofit organization whose purpose is to promote and encourage female readership and participation in the comic book industry."
- Grand Comic-Book Database
Searches title, publisher, year, book, or story and finds the work of a particular artist, writer, letterer.
- Guardians of the North: The National Superhero in Canadian Comic-Book Art
Historical overview of comic book costumed heroes in Canada. In English and French. From the National library of Canada.
- Lambiek Comiclopedia
This site features "an illustrated compendium of over 4,000 international comic artists with biographies and artwork examples."
- Michican State Univesities Libraries: Comic Art Collection
MSU's "Comic Art Collection holds over 150,000 items. Most of these items are comic books, but also included are nearly 1,000 books of collected newspaper comic strips, and several thousand books and periodicals about comics. Although some archival material and a few dozen pieces of original comic book and comic strip art are held, the focus of the collection is on published work, in an effort to present a complete picture of what the audience has seen over the years of the twentieth century. Local students and advanced scholars from around the world find this collection to be the primary library resource for the study of U.S. comic book publications."