New to the Archives: Manuel Martínez Nazario Collection of Puerto Ricans in the World of Comics (1950s-2022)

By Paloma Celis Carbajal, Curator, and Nathan Evans, Special Collections Processing
October 27, 2023

(En Español)

The Manuel Martínez Nazario Collection of Puerto Ricans in the World of Comics (1950s-2022) is now available for public research at the Manuscripts and Archives division!

In 2022, Manuel Martínez Nazario generously donated this collection, which documents the presence and legacy of Puerto Rican creators in the comic book industry from the 1950s to the present day. It holds more than 1,400 comic books, trade paperbacks, hardcover collections, and zines by Puerto Rican writers, pencilers, colorists, inkers, letters, cover artists, and editors; and comics about Puerto Rico or featuring Puerto Rican characters. Five pieces of original art by some of the island’s most popular creators are also included. This collection, which contains many self-published works, complements the comics held in the Rare Book Division, as well as the U.S. Latino Comic Book collection and our other holdings of comic books and graphic novels from different Latin American countries in the General Research Division. 

a dozen or so comic books spread out on a table
Sample of comic books in the Manuel Martínez Nazario Collection of Puerto Ricans in the World of Comics, Manuscripts and Archives Division, NYPL.
A man stands holding four comic books in plastic sleeves
Martínez Nazario at the 3rd UPR Comics Fair in 2022.

Courtesy of M. Martínez Nazario.

Martínez Nazario was born in Brooklyn, New York and grew up in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Currently, he is the Chief Librarian for the Circulating & Reserves Collection and the Film Collection at the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras, where he has worked as a librarian since 1995. During the 1990s, Martínez Nazario began amassing a personal collection of Puerto Rican comics. He has authored publications on the topic, and before donating his collection to NYPL, curated an online exhibition about comics by Puerto Ricans. Since 2019, Martínez Nazario has organized the Feria de Cómics de la Universidad de Puerto Rico, a semiannual comic book fair held at the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras that features the work of local creators.

We interviewed Manuel Martinez Nazario about the collection, his hopes for its use at NYPL, and his love of comics.

Why and when did you start collecting comics?

I started in the mid-80s and the main reasons were to be able to re-read stories that I liked the most, exchange issues with friends and admire the art. Initially, I grew up with Looney Tunes, Tom & Jerry, Batman, Superman, The Fox & The Crow, Woody Woodpecker, Heckle & Jeckle, Walt Disney's Comics, Condorito, Mafalda, and Archie comics. Later, I began collecting comics made in Puerto Rico, such as Yenny, Tato y Kenepo, Razor Blade Apple, Turey El Taíno, Changuy, Jíbaro Samurai, and Isleño.

Why did you decide to focus on Puerto Rican creators?

Because their perspective for their stories and their art caught my attention. These elements led me to reflect on the socio-political contexts of Puerto Rican society and the creative elements of the characters and stories. And above all, the most striking characteristic was the thematic diversity of Puerto Rican comics that range from children's to adult stories on superheroes; sociological, pedagogical, and historical topics; as well as fantasy, science fiction, and sports.

How did you decide what to purchase and where did you find these comics?

I am a librarian by profession. When a librarian develops a specialized collection, one tries to acquire as many information resources as possible to complete that collection. In my case, I decided to acquire all the comics made by Puerto Ricans, about Puerto Ricans, or about Puerto Rico. A good example of this last aspect are the comics by Californian Tom Beland, who wrote about his experiences in Puerto Rican society during the years that he lived there. His comic True Story: Swear to God is a sociological study of the cultural clash of two societies. I also decided to include comics made by Puerto Ricans living in the United States because I was interested in learning about their creative works and wanted to see how they compared to those made in Puerto Rico. Such were the cases of Kenneth Rocafort, Alberto Cortés Osorio, Iván Plaza, Rags Morales, George Pérez, Ernie Colón, Juan Doe, Rubén Moreira, and Javier Saltares.

Furthermore, libraries and archives in Puerto Rico didn’t develop comic book collections until recently because they had no curricular justification, and because they were not part of their collection development policies. Faced with this situation, I set myself a particular mission, to collect as many comics as possible to eventually place these in a library or archive for the use of researchers.

I acquired comics at local comic stores, bookstores and at events held on the Island throughout the year, for example: fairs, expos, comic-cons, and exhibitions. This is still the case, but social media has enabled me to stay informed of newly released comics.

a dozen or so comic books spread out on a table
Sample of comic books in the Manuel Martínez Nazario Collection of Puerto Ricans in the World of Comics, Manuscripts and Archives Division.

Why did you choose to donate your collection to this library?

I decided to donate my comics collection to The New York Public Library because this is a valuable center of information for writers, scholars, students, and creators around the world. Specifically, NYPL has several valuable collections of US comics as well as from other countries around the world. In addition, it provides users with various tools that visibilize their comic book collections, such as: research guides, catalogs, inventories, and finding aids.

screenshot of a collections page on a library website
Collection's guide in the Archives & Manuscripts portal.​

How have you used your comic book collection for educational purposes or to build ties with the community?

For educational purposes, the virtual exhibition Puertorriqueños en el Mundo del Cómic was created on two social networks with the aim of publicizing the creative works of my people. This exhibition consisted of scans of the covers of each comic with brief descriptions that included all the people involved in the creation of each comic, for example: writer, illustrator, inker, colorist, letterer, and editor. With these virtual exhibitions, I aimed to build connections across geographical regions in which people from any place in the world could access the content of the exhibition; distant places such as Mexico, Spain, Colombia, the United States, Peru, Chile, Brazil, and Argentina.

In my professional capacity as a librarian, I answered bibliographic queries from researchers on topics presented in Puerto Rican comics. The most popular topics were politics, sociology, history, violence, and education.

How do you imagine this collection being used now that it is part of NYPL?

I firmly believe that this collection of Puerto Rican comics is an untapped source of information and that its availability at The New York Public Library will offer researchers the opportunity to study them from different perspectives. There are several possible aspects of research such as: the political status of Puerto Rico, government corruption, hurricane culture, elements of Puerto Rican identity, artistic manifestations, narrative, and gender violence, among other topics.

You are the founder and main organizer of the Feria de Cómics at the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras, which this year is in its 6th edition. How and why did you start this fair, and how did this fair influence the development of your collection?

For several years I had the idea of ​​creating an event that would bring together the largest number of local comic creators, because I had noticed that many Puerto Rican comic book writers and artists did not participate in many local events. After overcoming several administrative challenges, I managed to organize in 2019 the First Comics Fair of the Library System, which lasted one day and had only eight exhibitors. The reception was very favorable and it created a very positive atmosphere at the José M. Lázaro Library. These excellent outcomes led to more fairs later and each one grew more and more in terms of visitors and exhibitors. More than 6,500 visitors attended the last two fairs, and at each event we have had more than 75 exhibitors.

These events significantly influenced my personal collection, as they gave me the opportunity to stay up to date on new publications and purchase them. It also helped me realize that a collection of comics should exist in a library or an archive that would commit to preserving the history of Puerto Rican comics.

Manuel Martínez Nazario with fair volunteers at the 5a Feria de Comics. Courtesy of M. Martínez Nazario.
Manuel Martínez Nazario with organizing team at the 5a Feria de Cómics at the UPR in 2023.

Courtesy of M. Martínez Nazario.

What is your favorite comic in this collection and why?

It is impossible for me to say which comic is my favorite, since I have several favorites. Briefly, I can start with the comic Yenny by David Álvarez, since its stories, characters, and art masterfully fulfill its primary objective of entertainment, and its adventures were able to make me smile with joy while reading. I also really like Eliana Falcón's graphic novel Cosmic Fish. The story is very well crafted, rich in narrative and artistic details. Finally, Tato y Kenepo by Martín Gaudier left a deep mark on me for its narrative style, which is very representative of the Puerto Rican mentality, and its emphasis on universal values, such as: respect, peace, kindness, justice, equality, love, responsibility, and solidarity. 

comic books on a tabletop
Sample of comic books and original art work for Turey El Taíno in the Manuel Martínez Nazario Collection of Puerto Ricans in the World of Comics. Manuscripts and Archives Division, NYPL.

With permission from Magali and Ricardo Álvarez Rivón.

Scholars, educators, and the general public interested in the study of popular culture in Puerto Rico and the portrayals of natural disasters, economic issues, national identity, superheroes, women’s voices in comics, in addition to the topics mentioned above by Martinez Nazario, will find many relevant materials in this collection. It also has the potential to inform the creative work of other artists, illustrators or writers who are working in these areas.

The Manuscripts and Archives division welcomes all researchers to explore the hundreds of comic book issues in this collection. We encourage that you start by reading through the collection guide. If you need help making an appointment, would like to speak to a librarian about your research, or have any questions about our collections, please reach out to the division via manuscripts@nypl.org. To learn more about the Latin American, Iberian, and U.S. Latino Research Collections at NYPL, contact curator Paloma Celis Carbajal at palomaceliscarbajal[at]nypl[dot]org.