La Barre, Tilley, and Walsh to build digital comics archive

Carol Tilley
Carol Tilley, Associate Professor
Kathryn La Barre
Kathryn La Barre, Associate Professor

GSLIS Associate Professors Kathryn La Barre and Carol Tilley are collaborating with John Walsh, associate professor of information and library science in the School of Informatics and Computing at Indiana University Bloomington, on a new project called The Comic Book Readership Archive, or CoBRA.

In this pilot project, Tilley, La Barre, and Walsh will build a digital archive of materials related to comic book readership and fandom, focusing initially on materials collected from Marvel Comics publications from 1961-1973. The archive will include content and data gathered from fan mail, fan club publications and membership rolls, contests sponsored by publishers and fan clubs, fanzines, and programs and attendee records from comic book conventions and similar events.

CoBRA will allow scholars to visualize and analyze networks of related comic creators, readers, titles, and publishers as well as study demographics of comic book readership. The detailed digital information will also allow deeper analyses of the works of individual writers, artists, and creators.

“Comic book readership is perhaps the most under-studied element in comics studies. Company records were never well maintained or widely accessible, but readers often wrote letters to their favorite publications, entered contests, or otherwise engaged with comic books,” said Tilley.

“It’s these brief glimpses of readers’ passions and interests that we hope to make more accessible for comics and print culture scholars so that we all might better understand the most popular print medium of the 20th century,” said La Barre.

Each member of the team brings unique expertise and strengths to the project. Tilley is a nationally known expert in comics readership and history and has worked with many of the comic-related archives and research collections in the U.S. La Barre is an authority on information and knowledge organization and has a particular interest in cultural heritage information. Walsh is the developer of Comic Book Markup Language (CBML), a language for the digital encoding and analysis of comic books, graphic novels, and related content.

The researchers hope to grow and enhance the collection and plan to develop a crowd-source model and infrastructure that will allow readers, fans, and scholars to contribute content to CoBRA from their personal or institutional collections.

CoBRA is supported by Indiana University’s New Frontiers in the Arts & Humanities Program and has received a Research Consultation Fellowship from the Institute for Advanced Study at Indiana University.