As Broad and Varied as a Continent
The European Comics Collection
Introductory Exhibit

February 16 to May 15, 1998
Special Collections Division Reading Room
Michigan State University Libraries
East Lansing, Michigan, USA

Hours of the exhibit and the Reading Room are 9 AM to 5 PM, Monday through Friday, and 10 AM to 2 PM on Saturdays.

Since its beginnings in the early 1970s, the Russel B. Nye Popular Culture Collection has cultivated an interest in the international aspect of the comics medium. Dr. Nye himself wrote articles on Astérix the Gaul for both The Journal of Popular Culture (1980) and The Comics Journal (1982), and donated his research materials. We have continued to attract donations, some very substantial, from friends and returning tourists. In the mid-1990s, we were able to purchase a general collection of 11,000 comic books from all parts of Europe. The occasion for this exhibit is celebratory: we have completed the cataloging of our 16,000-item European comics collection.

Is there a way to "exhibit" a collection of 16,000 unique items? We are not a museum or a gallery. Our exhibit space is limited to eleven small showcases in a small room with restricted open hours. Clearly, exhibitions are not our usual business, and in fact as a Research Library it's not even our place to suggest which of our holdings may be of interest to a given visitor. Our "business" in Special Collections is to have every one of those 16,000 items comprehensively listed and equally available at a minute's notice. Our catalog is our public face, and on this occasion we celebrate its new European Comics aspect, the first American library catalog to "exhibit" the full breadth of these important national literatures.

The online public access catalog of the Michigan State University Libraries is available through your usual university network connections (if you have them) or directly on the worldwide web. In addition, we have begun an index website for more in-depth analysis of our Comic Art Collection.

Showcase One: The European Nineteenth Century

The Comic Art Collection is almost exclusively a Twentieth-Century collection, but even a sketch of the European content of the collection requires the acknowledgement of important Nineteenth-Century precursors.

Rodolphe Töpffer (1799-1846) was a Swiss artist and storyteller whom Art Spiegelman has called the "patron saint" of comics. The Library owns seven early printings of Töpffer's picture-stories, of which six were probably printed during the artist's lifetime. In the showcase is our copy of Töpffer's Les Amours de Mr. Vieux Bois (published in Geneva in 1839).

Wilhelm Busch of Germany (1832-1908) is with Töpffer the other principal name in Nineteenth-Century European picture stories, according to Pierre Couperie, et al. While Töpffer's legacy is seen in the French comics tradition, it was in explicit imitation of Busch's "Max und Moritz" that the ground-breaking American strip "Katzenjammer Kids" began. In the showcase is a Busch page (Nr. 286) from the Münchener Bilderbogen, and our copy of Busch's Max and Maurice : a juvenile history in seven tricks (Boston : Little, 1899).

French picture-story artist Emmanuel Poiré (1859-1909) signed his work "Caran d'Ache." His work, like that of Töpffer and Busch, approaches what we think of as comics. In the showcase is an opening of his Pages d'Histoire, published in Paris at the Librairie du Figaro, probably in 1904.

Please consult our index website for lists of the Library's holdings by and about:

Showcase Two: As Broad and Varied as a Continent

The European part of the Comic Art Collection includes books, comic books, albums, magazines, dissertations, and news clippings. The best-represented countries are France, Belgium, England, Italy, Spain, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, and The Netherlands. Samples are also included from the former Czechoslovakia, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Switzerland, and the former Yugoslavia.

The comics as organized by nationality in our collection are often of multiple origins, and almost every combination of nationalities can be found. In our listings, an item is called "Spanish," for example, if it appears, or originally appeared, as directed to a Spanish readership.

In this showcase we have arranged one comic book from each of the European countries or European language groups represented in our collection. Visitors in the Reading Room may complete a request slip and begin reading comics. Viewers on the web are encouraged to browse our European Comics index for lists of the Library's comics holdings arranged by European nationality.

Showcase Three: Astérix, Tintin and Les Schtroumpfs

Astérix the Gaul was created by writer René Goscinny and artist Albert Uderzo in 1959. Astérix soon became, and remains, an important representative of France in world popular literature. The boy reporter Tintin however, the creation of Belgian artist and writer Hergé (Georges Remi) in 1929. "Franco-Belgian" comics have been a major influence on the rest of Europe throughout the 20th century. In the firmament of the United States, however, these super-stars of comics are barely visible compared to Les Schtroumpfs, created in 1957 by the Belgian artist Peyo (Pierre Culliford). We call them ... Smurfs.

In this showcase is a sampling of Astérix and Tintin, and including some of the related books they have prompted. Also there are some Schtroumpfs. Brochures in French and Flemish for the Centre Belge de la Bande Dessinée are on display. The Center ("The Belgian Center for the Comic Strip") is a library and museum of comics that occupies a beautiful building in Brussels.

Visitors on the web may see the lists of our holdings of these three series by following these links to our index website:

Showcase Four: Moebius and Science Fiction

European comics are as varied generically as they are linguistically. The landmark French magazine Métal Hurlant begun in 1975 by the "Associated Humanoids" Druillet, Moebius, Donnnet and Farkas, helped bring a new look and feel to science fiction in general, not only in France but in the rest of Europe and the New World. In English the comparable magazine, reprinting some of the French material, is called Heavy Metal. Included in this showcase are the first issue of Métal Hurlant and issues of derivative magazines from the U.S., Germany, Sweden, Spain and Argentina, all with covers by Jean Giraud. Giraud was one of the original "Humanoïdes Associés" under the signature "Moebius." The poster in the background advertises the Epic Comics graphic novel series published by Marvel Comics in 1987.

Showcase Five: Gir and Westerns

Westerns are in a sense a particularly American kind of story, but they flourish in Europe as well. Since the 1970s at least, the European western comics seem more popular, and more energized as a genre, than those produced in America. The works of the artist "Gir," who began his western series Blueberry (with writer Jean-Michel Charlier) in 1963, have contributed mightily to this. The poster in the background displays characters from Blueberry, signed by "Gir," who is of course the same Jean Giraud who signed his name "Moebius" in the previous showcase.

Another important western series is "Lucky Luke," by Belgian artist Maurice de Bévère, whose drawing is signed "Morris." Most of the series is written by René Goscinny, also the original writer of the Astérix team. Lucky Luke is a gentle parody of westerns (the hero is so fast that he can out-draw his own shadow).

Examples of the long-running Italian series "Tex," begun by Giovanni Luigi Bonelli and artist Aurelio Galleppini, and a German western comic titled Karl May after the prolific German adventure writer, are shown here along with albums of Lucky Luke and Blueberry. The Karl May western comic is translated to German from Spanish.

Selections to visit in the index website:

Showcase Six: Hugo Pratt, Adventure, and the Italian Reprint Collections

In the tradition of Karl May, the Italian writer/artist Hugo Pratt's character Corto Maltese pursues dramatic high adventure around the world. The spines of two dozen albums in several languages are visible in the showcase, and open for reading is an unusual color printing of his "Lagoon of Beautiful Dreams" (Paris : Publicness, 1972), in English.

The Library also owns parts of some impressive reprint projects, presenting American newspaper adventure story comics to Italian readers. "Terry and the Pirates," and "Tim Tyler's Luck" ("Cino e Franco") are shown. The revival of interest in comics throughout Europe in the 1970s might be credited to these Italian reprints.

Showcase Seven: Spain and El Víbora, England and Dan Dare

When Spain rejoined the "uncensored" part of the European comics community at the end of the 1970s, it was most notably with the magazine El Víbora : Comix para Supervivientes ("The Viper : Comix for Survivors"). In the showcase, besides issues of El Víbora , is an issue of the Argentine magazine Fierro a Fierro. Note that the front cover is by Hugo Pratt (Showcase Six), the back cover is by Moebius (Showcase Four), and the subtitle echoes the Spanish magazine: "Historietas para Sobreviventes."

England has a long tradition of comic art, and historian Denis Gifford shows many examples from early British magazines in his book Victorian Comics. A memorable British invasion of American comics, one of several, came in the 1970s in the form of Judge Dredd in the magazine 2000 AD. Judge Dredd inhabits a negatively-envisioned future that contrasts with the positive outlook of another famous British science fiction strip, "Dan Dare." Dan Dare is from the weekly Eagle, which began in 1950. In the showcase are examples of each magazine, with book collections and Spanish editions of each strip.

Showcase Eight: Topolino and the European Disneys

Which American literary hero is the most famous throughout the world? Is it Superman, Tarzan, or Mickey Mouse? In our European comics collection, Mickey is way ahead. In the showcase are runs of Topolino (from Italy) and the German Micky Maus magazine, as well as sample Dutch, French, and Russian Mickeys. Although some of the stories are translations, the European appetite for Disney stories is so great that new stories are constantly being created.

Showcase Nine: Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden

Samples from these northern countries are on display in several other showcases, to show that every kind of comic is produced there. If a general statement can be made based on our collection however, it seems that "adventure" is the watchword. There is clearly a vigorous comics industry in all genres, but the bulk of the material is spies, detectives, and cowboys. And also Jungle Adventures.

In this showcase are Secret Agent X9, James Bond 007 and The Phantom, plus a selection of Tarzan comics from the jungles of Scandinavia, with the Icelandic version open for reading.

Showcase Ten: Newspaper strips

American newspaper strips have always been popular in Europe, but European strips are less known here. The biggest exceptions are probably "Ferd'nand" by Danish creator Henning Dahl Mikkelsen ("Mik"), "Andy Capp" by Reg Smythe, and "Fred Basset" by Alex Graham. Michigan residents can feel honored that, of all American newspapers, only the Detroit Free Press kept us up-to-date on Peter O'Donnell's "Modesty Blaise," until that strip ended. In the showcase are volumes of the these Danish and British strips, and samples of "Ferd'nand" in Spanish and Dutch, "Andy Capp" in German, and "Modesty Blaise" in French. Also included is a selection of individual photocopied strips from France, Italy, and Belgium. A scrapbook of 79 strips sampled from European newspapers in the late Summer of 1968 is available for inspection.

Also shown are sheets of two strips in French, which were found in Canadian newspapers in 1969 and 1970. The first, "Pilote Tempête," is signed "Sprenger." This is a translation of the Dutch strip, "Piloot Storm," by Henk Sprenger. One strip for which we have not found information is "Les Soeurs Galurin," signed by Bernard Jeanson. Visitors either on the internet or in the reading room are invited to help clear up this mystery.

Showcase Eleven: The European Eye on Japan and America

Alerted by an article by Bart Beaty in The Comics Journal, we have recently taken a sample of the French language "manga" publishing phenomenon. According to Beaty, while their parents and grandparents are lining up to buy the latest Astérix album, the youth are much more involved in a wave of translations of Japanese comics (manga). In this showcase are 50 volumes of Euro-manga, from Belgium and France. "Dragonball" in French and the original Japanese are shown side-by-side.

Abundant examples of European reprinting of North American comics have been shown in other showcases. In this case are scholarly works about American comics, written by European scholars. We look forward to a future when we can show the converse, a case of works about European comics, written by American scholars. To that eventuality, this exhibit and this collection are dedicated.

Recommended Background Reading

English-language sources for further acquaintance with these topics

Beaty, Bart. "L'Autoroute du Soleil: European Manga" p. 22-27 in The Comics Journal, no. 197 (July 1997) (Call no.: PN6700.C62no.197)

Couperie, Pierre, et al. A History of the Comic Strip. New York : Crown Publishers, 1968. 256 p. (Call no.: NC1355.B28513)

Gifford, Denis. Stap Me! The British Newspaper Strip. Tring : Shire Publications, 1971. 96 p. (Call no.: PN6735.G5S75 1971)

Gifford, Denis. Victorian Comics. London : Allen & Unwin, 1976. 144 p. (Call no.: PN6736.G53)

Kunzle, David. The History of the Comic Strip, v. 2: The Nineteenth Century. Berkeley : University of California Press, 1990. 391 p. (Call no.: PN6710 f.K85 v.2)

Lent, John. Comic Art of Europe : an international, comprehensive bibliography. Westport, Conn. : Greenwood Press, 1994. 663 p. (Call no.: Z5956.C3L46 1994)

Madsen, Frank, et al. Danish Comics Today. København : Dankse Tegneserieskabare, 1997. 170 p. (Call no.: PN6790.D3D3 1997)

Spiegelman, Art. "Commix: An Idiosyncratic Historical and Aesthetic Overview" in Print, v. 42, no. 6, Nov./Dec. 1988, pp. 61-73, 95-196. (Call no.: PN6710.P7 1988)

Webster, Richard M. European Newspaper Comic Strips : a survey of 79 strips collected from various European papers dated August 16 to September 10, 1968. Collection assembled March 1998. 44 leaves. (Call no.: folio PN6720.E8 1998)

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Last updated: June 16, 2022
Exhibit compiled and website edited by: Randall W. Scott