Did you know that the largest cartoon collection in the world can be found in central Ohio? It’s true, the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum at Ohio State has such a large collection that it moved to its present location at 110 Sullivant Hall across from Mershon Auditorium this past summer.
According to Caitlin McGurk, engagement coordinator at the museum and library, the collection started when Milton Caniff donated the items of his mentor, Billy Ireland, to the university. Ireland, who drew a cartoon for The Columbus Dispatch called “The Passing Show” until his death in 1935, was a popular figure in central Ohio. His cartoon was a commentary on everyday life in Columbus. He also did cartoons of topics that bothered him such as the appearance of the Scioto Mile as a gateway to the city. A scene depicted on one of the Billy Ireland stained glass panels in the building shows the rundown area being cleaned up. When developing plans for the Scioto Mile, planners looked to his drawings on what he thought the Scioto River area should look like for inspiration.
Lucy Caswell, a former professor and curator of the library, organized the materials and started amassing a cartoon collection. The collection was kept in the journalism building. After it grew, it was moved to The Wexner Center, and in two separate storage areas. The collection eventually outgrew that space as well.
The museum officially opened the doors to its new space on Nov. 14, 2013. The new space was the result of a large fundraising effort, in which Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz’s wife, Jean, offered to match donations dollar-for-dollar. Schulz’s popular comic strip, Peanuts, is among those found in the gallery.
The library and office spaces are located on the first floor, with the second floor housing a seminar room with a smart board for classes and hosting special workshops, a lecture hall, a large gallery space and restrooms.
The “Treasures” gallery takes the visitor on a journey to learn about the history of cartoons and their popularity and reach across the world. Pull-out drawers house frames of cartoons and works from the late 19th century up through more recent times. They include the work of Mort Walker, the creator of the Beetle Bailey comic strip. Walker founded the first cartoon museum in 1973 and in 2008, transferred the International Museum of Cartoon Art collection to the Ireland museum and the gallery is named after him.
An adjacent gallery features an exhibit titled “Substance and Shadow: The Art of the Cartoon” which includes a comic strip of Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson, a cover of The New, a Bugs Bunny sketch, a Daffy Duck sketch by Carl Barks, a sketch from plans for Alice in Wonderland and many more comics and sketches. The cartoon museum collection does not include animation pieces, but does include sketches of characters and scenes from animated works. The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m. The library is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m. Admission is free, but you’ll want to take money for parking. For more information and to plan your visit, check out https://cartoons.osu.edu/visit-us.