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Applications open now for the 2018 Lucy Shelton Caswell Research Award!


This award of up to $2500 supports researchers who need to travel to Columbus, OH to use the collections of the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum. Awards may be used to defray travel expenses, living expenses in Columbus, or research costs.


The award is open to non-OSU graduate students, faculty, and independent scholars (including scholars with or without advanced degrees or without institutional affiliations) who are at least 18 years old and live more than 60 miles from the Ohio State University’s main campus. Both foreign and domestic applicants are invited to apply.


Applications will be evaluated based on the originality and significance of the research topic, the potential of the project to contribute to new scholarship or creative works, the relevance of the collection materials to the project, and evidence of the need to use the materials on-site. We encourage applicants from all disciplines who are using cartoons or comics in their research projects. Our holdings of books, serials, original art, and archival collections can be searched at our website.


Will Eisner and Lucy Shelton Caswell

Will Eisner and Lucy Shelton Caswell

This award was made possible by a generous gift from the Will and Ann Eisner Family Foundation, which was matched by many additional donors to create the Lucy Shelton Caswell Research Award Endowment. Will Eisner was a major cartoonist, writer, educator and entrepreneur. He was one of the earliest cartoonists to work in the American comic book industry, and his series, The Spirit (1940–1952), was noted for its experiments in content and form. In 1978, he popularized the term “graphic novel” with the publication of his book A Contract With God. He was an early contributor to formal comics studies with his book Comics and Sequential Art (1985). The Eisner Family Foundation continues his support of the cartoon arts. The Will Eisner Seminar Room in the BICLM was named in honor of the late cartoonist.

The award is named for the founding curator of the BICLM, Professor Emerita Lucy Shelton Caswell. Prior to her retirement, her scholarly work and teaching focused on the history of newspaper comic strips and the history of American editorial cartoons. She has curated more than seventy-five cartoon-related exhibits and is the author of several articles and books, the most recent being the revised edition of Billy Ireland. Caswell is co-editor of The Ohio State University Press Studies in Cartoons and Comics series. She also serves as the vice president of Cartoon Crossroads Columbus, the annual citywide celebration of cartoon art.


Submit the following application materials to :

  • A statement not to exceed two pages describing your research project, the relevance of the collections of the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum to that project, the amount of time you think you need to complete your research at the BICLM, and the expected outcome of the research.
  • A summary curriculum vitae/resume not to exceed three pages including name, title, education, and contact information;
  • One letter of recommendation. The letter may be sent separately from the other materials, but applicants need to include the name, e-mail address and relationship of the person writing the letter for the applicant.


March 1, 2018


A committee appointed by the Curator will review the applications and select the award recipients.  Decisions will be emailed to applicants by April 30, 2018. Queries about applications in process cannot be acknowledged.  Award recipients and their research projects will be recognized in Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum and University Libraries’ publicity.


Recipients of 2018 awards must complete their research by June 30, 2019.

Recipients will share their work with the university community through an open presentation, blog post, or other appropriate means.

Products of research will give credit to the individual special collection and a copy of any publication resulting from or informed by research will be submitted to the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum.


Contact Jenny Robb, Curator,


Researchers at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum from Australia, Germany and Singapore

Researcher Spotlight: Historian Ian Gordon

Dr. Ian Gordon is an Associate Professor in the Department of History at the National University of Singapore. He has written dozens of articles and books about comics history, and his most recent book is Superman: The Persistence of an American Icon (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2017). Dr. Gordon recently spent a week in our Reading Room conducting research, and we asked him a few questions about his time here.

Can you tell us about the research project that brought you to the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum?

In Italy, Norway, and Brazil weekly comic supplements or children’s magazines published versions of [R.F. Outcault’s influential comic strip] Buster Brown as early as 1905. I am working on a project comparing these different versions of the strip to the American original. So far, I have visited both Italy and Brazil to acquire materials and hire translators. For this project then I needed reference copies of the American comic strips.

In the early 1990s, I read a lot of Buster Brown strips but I did this using microfilm of newspapers at the Library of Congress. I visited [San Francisco Academy of Comic Art founder] Bill Blackbeard in San Francisco in 1992, and he generously gave me free range in his collection, but it would have taken weeks and probably months to sort through his storage facility and locate all the Buster Brown strips. As a graduate student, I couldn’t afford to spend that amount of time on the process or indeed the cost of staying. So for me it was a real delight to visit the Library and get that material.

Richard F. Outcault, Buster Brown. Published in Los Angeles Herald, February 14, 1904. From the San Francisco Academy of Comic Art Collection.

Did you make any unexpected finds in the collection?

Well, not so much in the Buster Brown material I was looking at, but there were many potential distractions in the other strips in the boxes. I did find a satire by Frederick Opper of Henry James’ work. Or at least an account by Henry James entitled “What Henry James Saw and Heard in New York,” with illustrations by Opper. The illustration undercut the text and so the piece and the satire appeared side-by-side in Hearst papers on January 21, 1906. An early example of repurposing material perhaps.

Frederick Opper, “What Henry James Saw and Heard in New York,” 1906. From the San Francisco Academy of Comic Art Collection.

What were some of the most interesting items you found?

Well I got over 800 images, so trying to single out the most interesting is hard. Probably what’s most interesting is the change in Outcault’s style over time, with some of the strips from the mid-1910s being much more colourful and dynamic than the earlier strips.

What was it like to conduct research at the Billy Ireland?

I did a day’s research at the Billy Ireland in 2013 around the time the new building opened when I was here for a conference. I walked in and was greeted by Eddie Campbell, who heard an Australian accent and introduced himself. Later my friend Christina Meyer arrived for her research on the Yellow Kid. In the afternoon that day, Eddie introduced me to Audrey Niffenegger. At one stage, Eddie, Christina and I were all calling each other over to look at our finds. It is hard to top that day, but let me say–this time I had a wonderful research trip.

Left to right: Scholars Eddie Campbell, Ian Gordon and Christina Meyer happened to be visiting the Lucy Shelton Caswell Reading Room from Australia, Singapore, and Germany on the same day in 2013.

Can you tell us a bit about your process, and how you found these resources?

My early research on comic strips in the 1990s was mostly conducted at the Library of Congress using microfilm. I spent months in the semi-dark scrolling through film getting motion sickness. As I mentioned I visited Bill Blackbeard in San Francisco and he gave me access to his collection, and very generously copies of reprint editions he had done and even a Buster Brown strip. But the collection was not organized in a way that made it usable for a researcher with a week or so to find a lot of material. To walk into the Billy Ireland, where the relevant boxes were organized and pulled from the stacks for me was great. Everything is so well organized, the experience was as painless as possible. I photographed all the strips with my phone. I will then compare these strips with strips from other countries and try to match up various translations to see what they tell us. I got through the equivalent amount of material in days that would have taken me months and months in the 1990s. And everyone was so friendly.

Any highlights from visiting the city of Columbus (food, stores, bars, museums, etc)?

I stayed downtown and walked in through the Short North each day. In the evening, I went through the day’s haul and dated the material so I didn’t lose track. So I didn’t venture out much. But when I was here in 2016 for CXC I went to a tiki bar with comic scholars Brannon Costello, Craig Fischer, Andrew Kunka and Ben Woo. It was wonderfully tacky. The cartoonist Dustin Harbin was so entertaining in my hotel bar that I was up much later on my first night than I intended. I wish I could remember the two restaurants I ate at that trip because they were both good but their names escape me. This time I had dinner at Martini, which was a decent Italian place. So yes, I have been to Columbus three times and I hope to be back a fourth time in 2018 for CXC.

To see more of Ian Gordon’s research and work, visit his website.

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