In the past I’ve made some collection of comics. One was a collection of Frank & Ernest comics. Another was a collection of editorial cartoons from The Star newspaper in Auburn, Indiana.
The Frank and Ernest are organized by publication date. I would cut out a few weeks of comics and then glue them 5 comics to a page. I would start a new month at the top of the page. Once the pages covered a whole year, I would bind the pages together with my Velobind strip binding system. Comics are easy to organize chronologically because the artwork has the month and day within it. In contrast, I manually stamped the editorial cartoons each with a red date stamp to record their date of publication.
I consider these as just collections. There was no plan to organize the comics beyond sorting them by date.
I also started a collection of comics from the weekly magazine The New Yorker. The magazine includes 10 – 15 comics each issue. I have been cutting out the comics and filing them with the title page and cover in a page protector for each issue. That holds them together, so they don’t get mixed up. Recently, I had accumulated about a year and a half unprocessed. For a long time, I didn’t really have a purpose for them, I was just filing away each week’s drawings. I was getting more and more behind with no plan.
Recently I thought of turning the collection into an archive by asking the question: What are the differences between the styles of the comic’s creators? The New Yorker’s title page has an index of the artist names for each comic so that I could attribute them to the right artist. I wondered whether I could learn something from the different artists’ styles. That gave me the impetus to do more with the comics I had accumulated. I would separate the comics and organize them by each artist chronologically.
When I started processing them, I made a pipeline where I would take one of the page protectors and pencil the comics’ margin with the artist’s name and publication date. By having this basic information on the paper, if a comic falls out, it will have enough information to be put it back in place. After labeling them, I put each week in a manila envelope and made a pile of those. I would keep the pile from getting too tall by taking the bottom envelope and gluing its contents to artist pages. I took the penciled information and wrote it in ink next to the comic. The artist’s name is at the top of each page. When a page was full, I would create a new page for that artist. I only glued the comics on one side of a page which makes them easier to leaf through. After this, I would try to be efficient with a couple of filing steps before the comic is in its final position.
I keep the comics on paper instead of scanning them in. That would allow the archive to not be affected by technological change. Old digital archives can become useless because the software they need won’t work anymore. Digital archives can require substantial work by archivists to preserve. Although, at some level, the metadata will need to be in digital form, the ground floor will be something more permanent.
When I decided to turn the collection into an archive, I started thinking about what additional information would someone find useful if they were doing research? I was told that a historian would like to have full bibliographic information, so I started including page numbers with the date. Since the archive wasn’t started with that in mind, most of the older comics are missing their page number. Other useful data is to give each comic an index number so that researchers could easily find a comic in the archive after finding them in computer search. I haven’t chosen an indexing system yet.
Looking at what librarians would like to do with the comics, I thought of additional metadata that would be useful. The dimensions of the comics are easy to measure and useful. I could also pick keywords to describe each comic. I could evaluate different existing metadata standards from the Library Science courses that I took. Perhaps one of them will work well.
I should decide on the purpose of a keyword index. I would define a standardized vocabulary that I could use for keywords. An index could be kept in cataloging software. Without planning, choosing the keywords to describe each comic could become an ever-expanding job. I don’t want to give the comics keywords and then realize I need to go back and select more keywords to the old drawings. It would become an endless task! Information that I might want includes graphical details of the graphic such as drawing technique and style. Other keywords would describe the theme such as “sheep,” “pearly gates,” “therapist office,” or “royalty.” The purpose of the archive should inform my choices of what keywords to use. I can use what I have so far to suggest a more thorough list to move forward.
I didn’t start recording some of the metadata. I’m about a year behind the current publication, about 45 issues. I’m playing catchup. Some of the desirable metadata is lost, or at least impractical to recover. The order the comics appear in each issue might be interesting to analyze and is only available when I dissect an issue. Once the magazine is chopped up, that information is lost. I need to consider what is worth keeping and what is impractical.
I try to minimize is going back to older items to fill in missing data. To rewind several times would become frustrating and eventually overwhelming. It’s a matter deciding what’s practical to get vs. what is important. I need to make a good-enough archive, not try to make a perfect archive. Data entry is a substantial task and I need to estimate how much I really can take the time for.
Already, there are several artists who I can identify without needing to see the signature. Someday, it would be fun to interview some of the artists.