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OHIO STATE UNIVERSITY / MEANWHILE

Recently, discussing the claims of the Brussels international center of comic strip art as “the world’s most important comic-strip museum,” I remembered that both the Library of Congress and Mort Walker’s National Cartoon Museum have larger holdings than the Brussels’ pile of 6,000 original drawings by 500 cartoonists. I forgot that another repository, not a museum admittedly but a vast holding nonetheless, surpasses all of these. This May, the Cartoon Research Library at Ohio State University celebrates its 30th anniversary and counts in its vaults 250,000 pieces of original art, plus 2.5 million comic strip clippings and tearsheets, 34,500 books, and 51,000 additional “serial” titles (comic books, newsletters of various cartoonist associations and the like). The CRL was created in 1977 when Milton Caniff donated some of his papers (15 file cabinets and 60 boxes worth) to his alma mater. That’s when Lucy S. Caswell got involved: a journalism professor, she was assigned to spend six months sorting and cataloguing the Caniff collection. According to E&P (March 2007), she “soon decided that she liked her new job too much to leave after six months.” Through her efforts and those of others, new acquisitions came in, including the papers of Will Eisner and Walt Kelly. After that, the deluge continued, producing, to-date, the numbers I just cited. I’ve known Lucy since 1982 when I first visited the CRL during the OSU weekend feting Caniff on his 75th birthday. Since then, we’ve worked together frequently on Caniff projects (many of the illustrations in the Caniff biography are taken from CRL holdings) and others. And I hope to continue in the same vein.

PROGRESS REPORT: The “definitive” Caniff biography is now at the printer, due out in May from Fantagraphics; entitled Meanwhile...A Biography of Milton Caniff, Creator of Terry and the Pirates and Steve Canyon, it’s a 950-page hardcover tome selling for a mere $34.95; I’ll be selling autographed copies ON MY SITE. (My autograph, not Caniff’s.) When Caniff and I first met to discuss my doing his “definitive” (his term) biography, he said he wanted it to be entitled “Meanwhile” because, he explained, “if there is one word that sums up the trade of the continuing story cartoonist, it’s ‘meanwhile.’ He later elaborated: “You always end an adventure just one panel short of a full day’s strip so you can get the next story going in that last panel. And in that panel, you go to another part of the city and draw a villainous character, muttering imprecations about your hero. Dire threats. And up in the corner -- to introduce this new threat -- you letter that potent, scene-shifting word, ‘meanwhile.’”

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

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