Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

January 3, 2013

CR Holiday Interview #15—Jenny E. Robb



Jenny E. Robb became the curator of the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum almost exactly two years ago, after a long and fruitful stint with Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco followed by several years in a position created for her by her current employer with the 2011 transition in mind. Robb is the point person and leader for a devoted team of skilled professionals devoted to the collection of comics art and the gathering of information about that art.

On November 15 through November 17, 2013, the Library & Museum will celebrate a move into its new home in Sullivant Hall, and with the resources available there and with the attention shining on it they so richly deserve, rightfully assume its place in the first rank of comics-related institutions. 2012 was a very good year for a lot of us in comics to finally wake up to the fact that there are these amazing places and organizations that exist in support of the art form. I got to meet Robb in October during a visit to Billy Ireland in its current location, where she enabled me to hold an Oliver Harrington in my gloved hands and stare over Jeff Smith's shoulder at the sweep and grace of an original Hal Foster. What a great day that was. I was delighted that Robb chose to speak with me, and I hope that everyone reading these words will try to learn more about the museum or even consider a small donation. -- Tom Spurgeon


TOM SPURGEON: We're talking on December 28, which I assume is between semesters there at Ohio State. Is this an important time for you to catch up?

JENNY E. ROBB: It is a time that is relatively quiet at the library, so yes, I do use this opportunity to catch up on things and clean up my desk and try to figure out if there's anything I need to get done before the end of the year.

SPURGEON: I think we sometimes forget this because we tend to be very myopic in comics, and therefore may look upon Billy Ireland as sort of our institution, but you have that very active and primary life as something that functions within the university. You have classes going through there, academics utilizing your services... can you sketch out what you provide the university, how you exist that way?

ROBB: We're part of the Ohio State University Libraries. We are one special collection among eight different special collections. Other ones include Rare Books & Manuscripts, the Theater Research Institute, and the University Archives.

Obviously we are here to serve the students and faculty of Ohio State. So we do a lot of specific programming for the university community, including course-related teaching. For example: we have a lot of classes that come in to tour the library, or to get a presentation from one of the curators about our materials. It may be a session explaining how to use a special collection and its primary sources, or it may be a presentation about a specific topic they're studying, such as sequential art, or gender in comics, or printmaking. We tailor our presentations and our tours to fit the needs of that particular professor and that particular class. This past semester, we worked with 16 different classes.

SPURGEON: Am I right in thinking that this is an interest of yours, the use of cartoon materials in other courses of study?

ROBB: Me in particular?

SPURGEON: I'm thinking you've at least written on that subject once or twice.

ROBB: Yes. I'm particularly interested in the use of cartoons in studying and teaching history. I have worked on a project we have here called The Opper Project, and that's actually targeted at K-12 teachers, mostly the higher end of that. We're trying to help educators use editorial cartoons to teach history. It's a partnership with the History Teaching Institute, which is another unit at Ohio State University. We collaborated with them to uncover cartoons from our collection that teachers can use in their classrooms, and then we worked with teachers to create lesson plans using those cartoons. We tried to make it easy for them to access our cartoons since most teachers aren't able to visit us in person.


SPURGEON: How many teachers are out there using that program? I assume it's out there being employed.

ROBB: The lesson plans and cartoons are available on-line. Judging from the number of hits that the images and plans get, thousands have found this resource and are using it. It's called the Opper Project after Frederick Burr Opper, who was an important editorial cartoonist and comic strip artist.

SPURGEON: I do remember The Opper Project, come to think of it, but I think sometimes people like myself fail to make all of these connections we should in your realm of comics. Another question I had is you talked about you guys being one of a number of special collections. I know that the library and museum has grown over the years. Before its current name, it was the... Cartoon Research Project?

ROBB: The Cartoon Research Library was our most recent name. [laughs]

SPURGEON: Is there a development process involved -- were you at one point a subsidiary of another special collection and now are not?

ROBB: Well, it's interesting. We started as one collection: The Milton Caniff Collection. Caniff offered his papers and artwork to the Ohio State University Library, and the Library turned it down. Caniff was an alum, and he wanted his collection to come to Ohio State, but the Library at the time decided for whatever reason not to accept it. It was the School of Journalism that actually accepted it. They hired our founding curator, Lucy Caswell, to organize it and create a finding aid to make it accessible to researchers.

From that first collection, Lucy and Milton decided they would actively try to collect in the area of cartoons and comics. They realized that most research and academic institutions were not collecting popular culture, specifically cartoons and comics. They were afraid a lot of that material would be lost forever, which is what has happened to much of it. They wanted to save as much as they could. They worked through the National Cartoonists Society and then also through the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists to try and preserve materials such as the papers of cartoonists, their original art, and all the other materials related to cartoons and comics.

SPURGEON: Another thing that popped into my head is when you talked about the Opper Project and doing history through comics and cartoons, I wonder why that is exactly. Do you think it's an underrated resource, that comics has something specific to offer history... ?

ROBB: I became interested in cartoons because I think they reflect the particularly society, culture, and time period in which they were created. If you're going to study history, cartoons are a great primary resource. I'm surprised that they're not used more by historians. They can be used in other disciplines as well, but my particular area of interest has been history because I studied it in graduate school. I originally got interested in cartoons for exactly that reason: I wanted to study them as a historical, primary source.

SPURGEON: You went to a good place for that, because you went to Syracuse for the Masters.

ROBB: Yes. I went to Syracuse.

SPURGEON: They have significant comics holdings, and are one of the traditional places with such a resources, am I right?

ROBB: Yes. They have an excellent cartoon collection, and they have been doing a lot more in recent years with cataloguing it and making it accessible to researchers. When I went there, I didn't know about the cartoon collection. That's not why I chose Syracuse. [laughter] But I already had an interest in cartoons. I did a masters degree in European History and a second masters in Museum Studies. And I was able to use the collection in my work.


SPURGEON: Can you tell me more about the museum studies degree? All comics people greatly distrust academic accomplishment [Robb laughs], but I thought that one was interesting because we're used to library science degrees but I'm not sure I know what museum studies is.

ROBB: It's similar to a library science degree in that part of it is teaching future curators and registrars how to manage collections of historically important objects -- whether it's art, archives or artifacts. So there is that aspect to the museum studies degree. We also covered curating exhibitions and museum education, basically how to engage adults and kids with exhibitions and with museum materials. Other areas of study included museum management and development, including fundraising and collection development.

SPURGEON: This may sound like an absurd question, but I know plenty of people that have almost no professional relationship to what they learn in their degree programs. This sounds like it would actually give you a pretty strong foundation for what it is you do day-in, day-out. Do you still reference back to stuff you learned there?

ROBB: Absolutely. It was a very useful degree. Syracuse University has a great program because it's very hands on. The graduate students in the museum studies program actually work in a gallery, curating, installing and de-installing exhibits, so we really got to do the work that we would be doing after graduation. I learned very practical things that I used later, such as how to write an exhibition label and how to matte a work of art. As I mentioned, they also teach collection management, including what types of data you need to know about each object and how to manage objects from an intellectual standpoint but also from a physical standpoint, such as correct art handling techniques. Through the history degree I learned about how to do historical research which is critical when you're doing the job I'm doing.

SPURGEON: Can you talk about that last thing a little more? How is that a big advantage in terms of you shaping this flagship program, to have that historian's viewpoint? Why do you feel that this is important, to have some rigor in that area?

ROBB: First, some of the materials we receive are difficult to identify so we try to determine where they came from, where they were published, and who drew them. Some things are obvious and are well-documented, but other items are really obscure. You need to know how to do historical research and be able to track down these things, particularly with popular culture, because that's an area that hasn't necessarily been well documented. So I find I use my research skills on a regular basis in this job for that reason and also for helping patrons find what they are looking for. For example, I know what resources to check if you're looking for a cartoon about the presidential election of 1884 or the election in 1984.

imageSPURGEON: I'd love to hear about something specific. Is there a particular mystery you remember solving, or maybe even one that you're working on right now or recently that has stumped you so far?

ROBB: I can tell you about one that stumped me when I first came to Ohio State. I was working on a short article about the delightful comic strip Madge the Magician's Daughter, and I was unable to discover the first name of the creator, W.O. Wilson. When that type of thing happens now, we're turning to crowd-sourcing in our blog. We've posted some things from the collection that we can't identify to see if our readers and patrons can help. We've had a lot of success so far. For example, we posted a photo of a textile from the San Francisco Academy of Comic Art Collection that featured over 100 embroidered cartoon characters and readers helped us identify almost all of them.

SPURGEON: I lose track of you in the late '90s. I want to say that you were in Columbus for a while before you emerged out in the Bay Area at Cartoon Art Museum. Am I right in thinking that?

ROBB: Yes. I did an internship here through the museum studies program with Lucy Caswell. I spent a semester working with her. I knew her and I knew the collection a little bit, and it gave me a taste of what it was like to work with a cartoon collection. I just loved it. I had a great time. I worked on an interesting project; I helped curate an exhibition called Before The Yellow Kid. We explored the history of all the different features of comic strips and how they came together in the early newspaper comic strips of the 1890s.

SPURGEON: So you were locked in at this point. Or maybe not -- were you still up in the air at all about a potential professional path?

ROBB: I definitely wanted to be a cartoon curator. [laughs] I don't know what I was thinking. It's a very obscure thing to do. I think I looked at what Lucy Caswell was doing and thought, "I want to do that." My parents were horrified, although, to their credit, supportive. I'm sure they thought I would never be gainfully employed and they would be supporting me for the rest of my life. My dad wanted me to go into computers. But I just had this passion for history and for cartoons and curating. I was very interested in exhibitions as a way of presenting knowledge and scholarship to a general public. So that's what I wanted to do. And I'm incredibly lucky it worked out for me, because there are not a lot of cartoon curator jobs. [laughs]

SPURGEON: Now is there a personal trigger for the affection with which you hold cartoons? Is there a specific entry point for you and cartoons, or did that come for you solely through the history?

ROBB: I've always been the type of person who reads the comics page in the newspaper. I love newspapers and I love comics. I would always read every single one, but I wouldn't have said I had a particular passion about cartooning and comics until I was a student at Wittenberg University. I was a history student studying Victorian England and also photography. I decided to do a project on how Victorian working-class women were portrayed in the media. I discovered there weren't very many photographs in the media at the time because of limited printing techniques, but there were tons of fantastic cartoons that I could get access to. I came to Ohio State University and used their Punch volumes. I was fascinated by how cartoonists of that time period depicted working-class women. That's really when I decided, "Wow. Cartoons. What a fascinating subject," and they are really under-utilized by historians. I think that's when the spark happened.

SPURGEON: So you got the call after Columbus to go to the Bay Area, right? Did it start that quickly?

ROBB: No. I graduated from graduate school and proceeded to not find a job as a cartoon curator for several years. [laughter] I did several other things, including temp work. I did research for an exhibition for the International Monetary Fund which actually included cartoons, so that was a little bit related. And then I moved out to San Francisco and got the job at the Cartoon Art Museum in 2000.

SPURGEON: That's an interesting institution. The only assumption I have about it is that to curate shows there would be an interesting experience because they all kind of have to work in and of themselves, they all have to be successful -- there's not the institutional bedrock that you might have in academia. Is that a fair albeit incredibly broad [Robb laughs] generalization to make about CAM?

ROBB: That's fair. The Cartoon Art Museum is of course a small, independent non-profit, so they have the pressures that all small, independent non-profits have. They do depend partially on people that come to see exhibitions and the admissions they pay. That's part of their funding. You do have to think about that when you're deciding what exhibitions to do and curating those exhibitions. You have to think about your audience and getting people in the door. I think they've done, especially recently, some really fantastic exhibitions within that framework. Andrew Farago is the curator there now, and he's doing a wonderful job. There are different pressures there than I have here at a large university where the focus is more on academics and scholarship and serving the faculty and the students. So they're very different institutions even though they have very similar missions.

SPURGEON: Was it professionally good for you in any specific way? Is there any way you're better at your current job for having worked at CAM? Maybe a better curator for having curated those shows?

ROBB: Yes. I learned how to do exhibitions with very few resources. [Spurgeon laughs] That's an important skill to have; it really is, because whether you're at a big institution or a small institution, you're never going to have as much money as you want for exhibitions. [laughs] There's never enough funding. It's good to have the skills to be able to do more with less. Now I find I really appreciate the resources I have at Ohio State even more because I have had the experience of having to do shows and programs without much.

SPURGEON: A lot of the CAM exhibitions seem to me co-curated, largely, I imagine, because you're drawing on individual collections to put together something. Did working at CAM introduce you to that network of independent collectors? Because that's a significant part of the overall landscape of how comics are collected and kept...

ROBB: That was one thing I loved about that job, that I got to meet collectors and work with collectors on specific exhibitions. With popular culture it's interesting because for almost any topic you can think of there's probably somebody who has a huge collection of materials related to that topic or that artist or that character or that particular title. Pop culture collecting is very accessible. It's hard to be a collector of Monet paintings [laughter], but there's a much lower threshold for most of popular culture. I did enjoy getting to meet the different types of people that collect and learning about their motivations and the focus of their collecting.

imageSPURGEON: It seems that could potentially be an area of tension. But I remember you wrote a profile of Bill Blackbeard, and you were very affectionate towards not just his massive contributions but the whole idea of independent collectors and how they've sustained cartoons and other pop culture in that way. I guess that might be something – I don't know if there is tension between institutions and individual in other areas or not, but it seems like that's been a strength of yours, to know and appreciated those people and work with them.

ROBB: I'm incredibly grateful for people like Bill Blackbeard. The reason for that is -- and I talk about this in that article -- that larger institutions like universities and libraries were not collecting this type of material. They were in some cases disposing of the material they did have such as newspapers. If it wasn't for these passionate, sometimes obsessive [laughs] collectors, who decided, "I'm going to be the one that cuts out every Blondie from the day it starts until the day it ends" -- which hasn't happened yet -- if we didn't have people like that, we might have lost a lot of that material. As I said, institutions weren't necessarily focused on collecting ephemera or popular media. They didn't even think it was necessarily something that belonged in an academic library. If it wasn't for these independent collectors, we might have lost a lot of our popular culture heritage.

SPURGEON: You mentioned earlier that there aren't a lot of jobs like yours. There aren't a lot of opportunities to do what it is you do. And now you have like job #1, basically. [Robb laughs] It's two years next month since you assumed the current gig. How intimidating was that? Or were you so busy it didn't settle in? That's The Show, right there, and I wondered if that was an intimidating transition, even though I think you were brought there with that in mind.

ROBB: Yes.

SPURGEON: I'm horrible with dates today, but I thought you were there for a few years before the transition occurred.

ROBB: Lucy created the position of associate curator here. It was a new position, with the idea that she could hire someone that she could train and that hopefully could move into her position when she retired. Of course sometimes these things don't work out as planned. But in this case I think it worked out very well. I had a great opportunity to work very closely with her for about four or five years before she went into semi-retirement and I became curator. Definitely following in her footsteps is very challenging. I was very concerned about that because she's so well respected in the cartooning community and with scholars and at Ohio State as well. I certainly lost a few nights of sleep [laughs] over being able to measure up and do the job as well as she did it. But luckily she's still working with us and I've been able to consult with her for the last two years that I've been curator and that's been really helpful as well. It was not an abrupt transition in any way. I hope it's been very seamless.

SPURGEON: What has been the big learning curve for you in that part of your career, specifically that four years leading up to the transition? What did you add to the skill set?

ROBB: I was new to libraries. I had to learn all of those aspects of the job. I understood the concepts of collections management from a museum standpoint. The way museums manage their collections is different than the way libraries manage their collections. So I had a lot of learning to do regarding managing a library collection. I also had to learn how to work effectively within a large institution because that's not something I had much experience with. There's a lot of skill in that [laughs] and it's very different. Ohio State is a large bureaucracy and that's not something I had to deal with at all at the Cartoon Art Museum. So that was a learning curve also for me.

SPURGEON: You knew that when you took on this job that you'd be doing this massive move, the fruition of which we'll see next Fall. I assume that that was pretty far along by then. You're not just accepting this job and being the person that replaces this beloved figure, but you're also doing it in the midst of this massive career-crowning achievement for Lucy and for the library generally. So... yikes. [laughter] I'm not sure there's a question there. How gratifying is it to turn the corner on that last several months, and how crazy is it there with the move so imminent?

ROBB: It's definitely added a layer of complication to everything that we do. [laughter] To put it mildly. There's a lot of work in designing a new space and all of the details involved. Everything from how you want an exhibit case to be designed to what this chair needs to look like that sits in our offices. There are so many details that you have to think about, and pay attention to. And I hope that we get things right. In any kind of a big project like this, you're not going to get everything right. But I hope that for the most part we end up with the facility that we've always dreamed of. It looks like it's going to be that, and we're very excited about it. But it's daunting. I will be very relieved when we get everything moved into the new space. [laughter]

SPURGEON: What is the biggest deal? Is there something you can point at and say, "That there; that will be the biggest difference."

ROBB: There are two things. One is that we will actually have a museum. We are opening three exhibition galleries that we haven't had before. Currently our exhibition space is also our reading room. We can only do very modest exhibitions there. We don't have the space to do anything more. We're also hidden underground. We don't have a lot of visitors because it's hard to find our door. Our new location will be much more visible.

The second thing is that we will have a lot more space. That's always a concern when we are considering what collections to acquire. In the new space we will obviously still be very careful about what we acquire, but we won't have to worry about every square inch. We have a lot of storage space for growth built into the new facility.

SPURGEON: How much will the space increase?

ROBB: Our storage areas will be significantly larger and we'll have compact shelving throughout, which will allow us to use the square footage more efficiently. Overall, we're going from 6800 square feet in our current facility to about 30,000 square feet in our new facility. That includes the new museum and larger office space and a larger reading room. I haven't actually measured the storage space separately and compared it to the new storage space. But that's a good idea, I should do that just to see. [laughter] Instead we told the architect how many running feet of shelving and how many art cases we needed, and he fit it into the available space.

SPURGEON: Do you have an image in your head what the next 5-10 years look like with the new space? Or is this going to be a matter of settling in and figuring stuff out? Does this put stuff on the table for you to do that you haven't been able to do before?

ROBB: Yes. I think the biggest area that we're hoping to focus on is engaging people with our collections. At this point we have an amazing collection. Literally millions of items all related to cartoons and comics. And we've always had plenty of people who use our collection -- students, faculty, people from around the country, people from around the world -- for a variety of reasons. But I think we can do an even better job with this new facility of reaching out to people and really engaging them with our collection and also with cartoons and comics in general. We just haven't had the facilities and the resources to be able to do as much as we've wanted in the past. I see us growing in that area.

SPURGEON: The people that will be reading this interview will be more comics industry type people. Is there a desire on your guys' part to have a more active relationship with independent researchers and comics professionals moving forward?

ROBB: Yes. We strive to serve that audience of comics researchers, whether they are independent scholars, publishers, even just fans, we want to serve the community of people that loves and appreciates cartoons and comics and is using them in their work or hobbies.


SPURGEON: Of special interest to me and some other folks that might be reading this interview is the establishment of a small press collection in Dylan Williams' name. I was wondering how something like that is conceived and then implemented. Is it that you think, "We would like to improve our holdings in the small press; how do we do that?" or is it that someone comes to you with an idea for a collection? How does that get folded into your own, overall aims.

ROBB: It's interesting because it could happen in either of the ways you describe. Sometimes it is that someone has a collection of something in particular and they come to us and say, "Are you interested in this?" We look at our collection development policy, our strengths, and the areas where we hope to improve, and we ask, "Does this fit in with what we're trying to do?" Sometimes an opportunity arises that we hadn't expected, so we might go in a different direction than we anticipated because we realize that there's a need for someone to preserve a certain collection or group of materials. For example, collecting millions of newspaper clippings and tear sheets wasn't our specific focus when we learned that Bill Blackbeard's San Francisco Academy of Comic Art collection was at risk and the opportunity arose to become the repository that would house that collection. It was an opportunity that Lucy jumped at at the time, and she was able to save the collection -- all 75 tons of it. That's the kind of unexpected situation you can't prepare for.

SPURGEON: One occasionally hears rumors of more institutions that might be getting into cartoon collection -- I even heard one about Harvard maybe stepping up their game.

ROBB: [laughs] Yes, yes. There are a lot of academic institutions that have now become very interested in collecting cartoons and comics.

SPURGEON: It was suggested to me that the fact that you might have areas of specialization is a way you all get along a bit. Is it competitive? I'd like to think of you all fighting each other, because that's delightful.

ROBB: [laughs] Well, there are times when I see another institution has gotten a specific collection and I think, "Darn! I would have loved to have had that collection here." That certainly does happen. But in general, it's a very positive thing. It's better for the cartoon and comics industry and for scholarship if more institutions are collecting in these areas. It would be nice if we could all get together and discuss what areas we're focusing on so that we're not competing directly with each other. And we may move in that direction in the future. By we I mean institutions that are actively collecting cartoon and comics materials. I'm sure there will always be some competition, but it's friendly competition and we appreciate the contributions of our fellow institutions.

imageSPURGEON: One question someone suggested to me is about digital. Both the digitization of what you have, I guess that's one question, but more intriguing to me is the area of digital comics themselves. That seems to me a nightmare in terms of curating or collecting that stuff, because I'm not sure we've even solved how to do that in the most basic of ways.

ROBB: No. And there's an assumption out there that once something is on the web it will be available forever and won't go away. Which is not actually true. We do have to collect born-digital materials. And this is important with born-digital cartoons, but also with the papers and correspondence between cartoonists and other people in the industry. That's something I don't think anybody is really thinking about. I think we're going to lose this first generation of people whose correspondence is all e-mail. We're likely to lose all of that, because as archivists and librarians we haven't figure out how to encourage people to save that material -- how do they transfer it to us, and how do we store it and make it accessible? These are all things that professional archivists are exploring, and that we're trying to figure out. In the meantime, I fear that we're going to lose a lot. Back in the day when Milton Caniff had a secretary and all of his correspondence was on paper, she kept copies of everything and put them into folders. It was easy to collect; the paper files were transferred to us. But given how rapidly hardware and software evolves, and the fact that computers crash and people lose e-mails, or people just delete everything, I fear we're going to lose some great material. I think that will be a shame for future researchers in 50 years or a hundred years, if it's not saved.

SPURGEON: So is that a priority for you guys to figure out a way to collect this material? Are you maybe further along than we realize?

ROBB: It is a priority, and there are different models that archivists are experimenting with. I haven't worked with any particular cartoonists to preserve their born-digital business correspondence but I hope to in the future. It's one we need to move more quickly on.

SPURGEON: I've read some of those e-mails, and I'm not all the way certain the world isn't better off if they're lost. I'm not sure that me exchanging insults with some publishing figure via e-mail isn't an overall drag on society as we know it. [Robb laughs] I'm not sure that benefits anyone.

ROBB: Well, that's the question. Will it? In 50 years, is that going to be something interesting, that some researcher will think, "Wow, what an interesting group of e-mails?" [laughs]

SPURGEON: Okay, that's just terrifying. Now you do have a bunch of biographical files and material like that, right?

ROBB: Oh, definitely. Yeah. Our mission is to document American printed cartoons and comics. So that extends into the culture that surrounds the world of comics and cartoons. That's definitely something that we collect.

SPURGEON: I wanted to ask you about how you're paying for your part of the move into the new building yourselves, that you've raised money, for example, in partnership with the Schulz people. I wonder why it was done that way, and how it's gone, if there are still opportunities for people to give.

ROBB: Yes. We started this project with a founding gift, the naming gift, which was in honor of Billy Ireland. That was a $7 million donation. Then we received the Schulz Challenge Grant, which was a $2.5 million challenge plus Jeannie [Schulz] also gave an additional million dollars. So those two gifts made it possible for this project to happen. Without those two we would not have been able to afford this at all. The university has been supportive, but they did not have the funds to build us this facility without this private money. So we have been working very hard at matching the money Jeannie Schulz has promised. We have raised $2,410,000 of the $2,500,000 that we need. So we need another $90,000 at this point to finish the Schulz challenge. We have until March of 2014. So there is still an opportunity for people to give and have their money doubled by Jeannie Schulz. We have a little bit more fundraising after that to do for the building and then we'll be finished with that project. Our contribution to the renovation from private funding is about $13.5 million total.

imageSPURGEON: You mention Jeannie, and we've talked about Lucy a bunch, and there's you yourself. One of the things we do with these holiday interviews is kind of look back at the year, and one of the overriding issues in comics is about gender and representation and which kinds of positions and how many have women in them. There's a perceived boys' club of American comics, and it strikes me that we don't always appreciate some of the reality of the women that hold these positions. Amy Lago would be another one, someone you might deal with. Is that something you think about at all, this aspect of male-dominated culture in comics?

ROBB: It's interesting because the world of librarians and archivists has always been dominated by women. So when I go to the American Library Association meetings or the Society of American Archivists', it's mostly women, but when I go to the comics events [laughter] like Comic-Con or the National Cartoonists Society, there's definitely more men. Traditionally, it has been a boy's club. But in the last five to ten years, I am seeing the genders evening out. More and more men are going into librarianship and archives and there are more and more women who are becoming cartoonists or cartoon scholars or going into related fields. So I see more of a balance in recent years. Does that answer your question?

SPURGEON: That's a great point. It's just that we've had a lot of discussions on these issues this year, and it seems like we fail to fully appreciate those women that already hold positions of influence.

ROBB: The focus does seem to be more on creators and executives of bigger companies, a world dominated by men, rather than on the people in support services. One example of a very influential woman in the world of comics is Toni Mendez. She was a licensing and literary agent for many years and represented numerous cartoonists, including Milton Caniff. We have her papers, but I don't think that many people remember her or appreciate her contributions to the business of cartooning.


* Jenny E. Robb
* The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library And Museum
* The Billy Ireland Blog
* Billy Ireland On Twitter
* The Schulz Challenge Grant


* photo of Jenny E. Robb and a random piece of treasure from the Billy Ireland foundational holdings; photo supplied by Robb
* frederick burr opper
* photo from the library and museum's current home
* madge the magician's daughter
* portrait of bill blackbeard
* portrait of dylan williams by jesse hamm
* from leisuretown, one of the great digital offerings that should be archived somehow
* from the toni mendez collection there at osu
* video tour of billy ireland (below)


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