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Comic Belief: The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum

Entrance to the museum at OSU's Sullivant Hall
Comics and the art of cartooning in general has gained some well-deserved attention in recent times as an art form worthy of critical analysis and acclaim. I had known about and visited two institutions in the Bay Area that helped foster and are a sign of this trend: the Charles Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa (everything about the author and his Peanuts comics you could ever want) and the Cartoon Art Museum in the South of Market neighborhood (showings from artists past and present that I've found cut across numerous social, pop-culture and cultural genres: both of these places are highly recommended if you travel out to the area.)

The well attired and comfortably roomy exhibition space 
I am delighted to have discovered a wonderful connection to my past stomping grounds in the form of the expanded space that now houses the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum, located on the second floor of Sullivant Hall at The Ohio State University. The museum, dedicated to the famed groundbreaking Columbus Dispatch editorial cartoonist, has the largest collection of collected comic and cartoon art in the world, including the formidable contents of the non-profit San Francisco Academy of Comic Art. The Academy had been founded by Bill Blackbeard in the 1960s out of his San Francisco home and its holdings accessible to the public. By the time circumstances forced Blackbeard to reach out to Ohio State to find a home for most of his collection in 1977, his holdings were enough to fill six semi-trailer trucks.

Mrs. 614orty-Niner and I had our first chance to visit the museum recently. While we were here specifically to catch the Calvin and Hobbes exhibition before the end of its run, we came away quite impressed by the museum as a whole.

As I learned more about Bill Watterson, the artist/cartoonist behind perhaps the most famous child and tiger duo ever, the more I came to respect his drive to break the newspaper comic norms of the time and to strive for something much more than just quick throwaway bit of humor wrapped in a doodle. I also admired him for essentially going out on top (though I personally had not detected any quality declines in his comic strip) and, more importantly, on his own terms. I was equally as enthusiastic to see the displays that provided some insight into Mr. Watterson's thinking and other talents as the Calvin and Hobbes comic strips themselves.

Insight into Mr. Watterson's thinking mixed with examples of his talent for painting.
Of course, my spouse and I were among the many people stopping by to relive some warm memories of Calvin and Hobbes themselves for one last time before the exhibition's closing, and there were plenty of strips around for viewing to accomplish this task.

A six-year-old and his tiger - an unstoppable combination
The museum has two rooms dedicated to short-term exhibits, and I admit I was not too familiar with the second featured comic artist, Richard Thompson. However, the museum did a great job of showing the breadth of Thompson's talents, which included illustrations done for the Washington Post and the comic strip Cul de Sac. This comic strip had an abbreviated run (2007 - 2012) that was unfortunately cut short due to the artist's battle with Parkinson's Disease.

Thompson's talents were made more than evident through the museum displays
A third exhibit space in the building acts as something of a "catch-all" room, where one can see a variety of comic art strips, panels and other memorabilia. Slide out drawers and pull-out panel displays cleverly increase the items available for viewing for visitors and adds a bit of personal interactivity with the material. However, the wide breadth of material in this room easily gives the viewer the impression that they are merely scratching the surface of the museum's vast collection.

There are more items than one might think in the museum's "catch-all" area
The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum is a no-longer hidden gem that is giving a traditionally under-appreciated art form its just due. While all exhibitions may not have the attraction level that Mr. Watterson's works had during its run, the wide breadth and depth of materials available to the curators should provide assurance for visitors of an educational, worthwhile and most likely fun experience.

Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum
The Ohio State University
110 Sullivant Hall (Google Maps)
1813 N. High Street
Columbus, OH 43210
(614) 292-0538
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