comic talking bubbles

100,000 Comics, Endless Possibilities

[email protected] is cultivating innovative teaching and research around the library’s vast collection.

By Lisa Haney | Photographs by Jenny Siegwart

July 21, 2021

A new Comics Corner at the San Diego State University Library provides a cozy sitting area to take a study break and pick up a recent comic book. The space, made possible by a gift from Jack Sword (’70) and his wife Laura Sword, showcases the importance of comics on campus.

But the true wealth of the comics collection at SDSU is a bit more stealth. Through the doors of the library’s Special Collection you can explore more than 100,000 floppy comics (including many the Swords donated) — one of the largest university collections in the nation.

“Everyone who hears about it is incredibly excited and wants to be here working in our collection,” says Elizabeth Pollard, a history professor.

In 2019, Pollard and Pop Culture Librarian Pamela Jackson teamed up to co-found the Comics Working Group, rebranded in 2021 as [email protected] The group now has about 25 faculty members and aims to boost the comics curriculum at SDSU (and eventually create a certificate in comic studies).

That’s already happening in a less formalized way across the university, with comics or graphic media being used in a range of courses across the colleges, including graphic medicine and engineering textbooks. “In the College of Arts and Letters, pretty much every department has someone who is integrating comics into their courses, whether it’s one reading of many or the focus of the readings,” Pollard says.

The [email protected] Comics and History course, introduced in fall 2020, attracted 438 students across the history and English departments. “One of the great things about this course is everyone showed up having done the reading and wanting to talk about it — that was thrilling as a teacher,” says Pollard. Graphic novels and sequential art comics force the reader to engage with not just the words in the speech bubbles but with the art in the panels too. “It encourages a participation in visualization that brings you, the reader, into the process of making meaning,” she says. “That’s why they work so well and why people like them so much.”

The [email protected] group is thinking beyond campus. They aim to create a summer institute for college and K-12 teachers to teach ways to integrate comics into their curriculum. The group is also expanding their reach to the full California State University system. In April, Jackson and Pollard hosted a Zoom gathering with faculty members from 11 CSU locations to talk about how they can collaborate and share individual expertise across the different institutions, as well as dream up new projects. Ideas include a lecture series, workshops and a possible podcast.

The takeaway: A lot of excitement across the system. Pollard says, “For us, it’s about spreading the word that the collection is here.”

A Lasting Impact Through Comics

Jack Sword (’70) and his wife Laura Sword are happy their gift made the Comics Corner at the SDSU Library possible.

“It’s a fun corner,” says Jack Sword. “You can escape and read a book and then go back to your work.”

And they’re glad Jack’s large collection of floppy comics — which included Daredevil (1-300), Conan the Barbarian (1-300), X-Men (95-300), as well as some Batman, Superman, Flash Gordon and many other titles — is now part of the library’s collection, where students and scholars will utilize it, instead of in boxes in their garage.

“I’m really proud that we were able to contribute some items that helped this collection to grow,” Jack Sword says.

“When you love something, you want to share it,” Laura Sword says. “We knew that they were going to be well taken care of and that they would be in people’s hands. And I think it stands the duration and that’s pretty cool.”

comic library and staff

From top: Elizabeth Pollard, history professor and co-founder of [email protected]; the new Comics Corner at the SDSU Library; Pamela Jackson, pop culture librarian and co-founder of [email protected]