Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum

North Lobby rendering

Some things are best kept secret. Colonel Sanders’ recipe. PIN numbers. What’s whispered at the end of Lost in Translation. The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum at The Ohio State University is one of the biggest secrets in Columbus, but big plans are in the works to make it a place you won’t forget. 

The Cartoon Library was founded in 1977, when Ohio State alumnus and famed cartoonist Milton Caniff donated his artwork to the university. It was named after former Columbus Dispatch cartoonist Billy Ireland, who mentored Caniff. With more than 300,000 original cartoons, 50,000 books, and 2.5 million comic strip clippings, it’s the world’s largest academic research facility dedicated to printed cartoon art. In addition to editorial cartoons, comic strips, comic books, graphic novels, sports cartoons, and magazine cartoons, it has one of the world’s largest collections of Japanese manga.

This summer, the Cartoon Library will move from its hidden 6,000-square-foot digs behind the Wexner Center for the Arts to a 30,000-square-foot space at Sullivant Hall. The new area will feature three museum-quality galleries for visiting and permanent collections, and will host book tour events, cartooning workshops, and live slide show readings of comics. The Grand Opening Festival is scheduled for November.

“We want 2013-2014 to be the year of comics,” said Caitlin McGurk, visiting curator of the Cartoon Library (and a cartoonist herself).

New Gallery Rendering

There are some amazing exhibits planned for 2014 that you won’t want to miss. Trust me. In the meantime, an exhibit of A.B. Walker’s work opens tomorrow. Walker was a popular early 20th century cartoonist who drew for Life,Harper’s, The Atlantic, The Saturday Evening Post, Judge, and Collier’s. The exhibit runs through April 26 and will be followed by a show of Civil War cartoons. In late May, the Cartoon Library will close for relocation.

The Cartoon Library is free and open to the public, but is a “closed stack” non-circulating institution. While you can’t browse items, you may access anything in the collection by completing simple paperwork and asking staff members for guidance. Researchers from around the globe visit the library to study items in the collection. All artwork is humidity/temperature controlled and stored in acid-free archival materials.

“Tons of famous cartoonists are from Ohio,” McGurk said. “There’s no reason that Columbus shouldn’t be the main comic city in America.”

North Entrance rendering