The University of South Carolina received an unusual donation recently: the entire collection of a comic book collector from Ohio, totaling more than 180,000 comics, books, magazines, and other items, estimated to be worth around $2.5 million.
Some of the collection’s comics will go on display at the Thomas Cooper Library on August 29th. The debut of the collection will also be accompanied by a series of events at the school, such as talks by comic book authors and artists.
The collection includes a number of rarities, including Avengers #1, which depicted the first teamup of Stan Lee’s creations in 1963, along with titles that introduced characters like Spider-man, Batman, Black Panther, Iron Man, and more. The university says that it’s “one of the largest collections of its kind,” and that it’s a “phenomenal, transformational gift,” according to associate dean of special collections at University Libraries Elizabeth Sudduth.
South Carolina’s Post and Courier says that University archivists have begun going through the collection, a process that is expected to take years. The collection was the life’s work of an Ohio collector named Gary Watson who began buying comics in 1958, and continued until his retirement in 2010. He had resisted the idea of breaking up the collection or selling it privately, and eventually began speaking with officials at The University of South Carolina. He told the paper that he’s “glad someone can take better care of them now.”
The university notes that while it seems odd that such a collection might end up in the hands of an academic special collection, it’s “precisely what special collections are really all about,” according to Sudduth. David Shay, a cataloger for the school’s Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, notes that “Comics are really reflective of American interests and anxieties,” and that researchers can learn much about the contemporary attitudes on race, politics, and gender from them.