The Rare Books and Manuscript Library will be hearing a few more chuckles at the end of October. Columbia has recently acquired the complete comic archives of Al Jaffee, a cartoonist for Mad Magazine for more than 50 years.
Karen Green, the graphic novels librarian, a position which she created herself in 2005, has pioneered the expansion of Columbia’s collection of comic books and graphic novels to which Jaffee’s archives will be added.
The collection will include cartoons from Mad Magazine and the Moshiach Times, as well as posters Jaffee designed for a local program in Provincetown, Mass., where he spends his summers. In addition to these final products, the archives will also include preparatory material and sketches that were rejected or never pitched.
“So many of the papers show the process. You see the roughs and then the original tracing and then the inked, and you get the sense of the changes made,” Green said.
Jaffee is best known for his illustrations for “Snappy Answers for Stupid Questions” and back page fold-in comics in Mad magazine, as well as his 25-year-long comic strip “The Sphy” for the Moshiach Times.
Jeremy Dowver, a professor in the Germanic languages and American studies departments, first introduced Green to Jaffee. Professor Dowver, in his role as director of the Institute of Israel and Jewish Studies, organizes discussions with prominent Jewish cartoonists each semester and invited Al Jaffee to speak in fall of 2009.
In October 2012, Green approached Jaffee about his plans for his archives. Jaffee, along with his stepdaughter Jodi, agreed to donate his collection to the RBML. The first installment of Jaffee’s work will arrive at the end of October.
Columbia’s current collection includes sketches from Chris Claremont, the creator of X-Men, Wendy and Richard Pini of Elfquest, and Jerry Robinson—who attended the Journalism School from 1940-41 before leaving after teaming up with Bob Kane to create the Batman comic series. Robinson is attributed to creating the characters of the Joker, Alfred, and Robin.
As Green noted, comic books have a great deal to offer in an academic setting.
“When you read comics you are using both sides of your brain that you don’t when you are taking in something purely textual, purely visual,” Green said.
While comics book are indeed reminiscent of childhood pastimes, they also represent an often-overlooked artistic medium.
“Comics are a major 20th-century art form. They gain steam first in newspapers than in, then in comics books, then in graphic novels, first in the 20th century and now the 21st,” Green said. “They are a lodestone for American popular history and social history.”
Jaffee’s work represents more than two decades of comic history, a testament to not only the evolution of comic books over the past decade but also to the important role that they play in American culture. While the complete collection will not be ready until some time next semester, the Rare Books and Manuscript Library will be open to those who could use a good laugh.