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Aquaman comic book, issue 4

Comic Books at the State Library?!?!

June 2018

The New York State Library's June exhibit focused on comic books, with a special "pop-up exhibit" in the last week that featured Luke Cage, the first black superhero to star in his own series.

Comics are probably not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the State Library collections, but the holdings in Manuscripts and Special Collections are many and varied, with contemporary as well as historical items that reflect New York's and America's cultural landscape -- including comic books! Our Comic Book Collection (SC23377) was originally compiled by Adam C. Siegfried (son of Clifford Siegfried, former director of New York State Museum). First donated to the State Museum, the collection was transferred to the Manuscripts and Special Collections unit of the State Library in 2010. The collection consists chiefly of superhero comic books but also includes some detective and western titles. Most of the works in the collection were published by DC Comics and Marvel Comics, the two major publishers of comic books, dating mainly from 1977-1987. This collection also includes a small series of graphic novels.

Display case with Superman, Captain America and Wonder Woman comics

During the 1940s, comic books depicting superheroes became enormously popular because they promoted nationalism during a period of war and were a quick source of escapist entertainment for those in battle. Detective Comics (DC) and Marvel Comics were the main publishers of superhero comic books. Some of the superheroes first introduced during this Golden Age of Comic Books include Superman, Wonder Woman, and Captain America. NYSL's collection includes later iterations of these characters:

  • Superman (Vol. 34, No. 257, October 1972; Vol. 42, No. 343, January 1980; No. 419, May 1986)
  • Wonder Woman (Vol. 37, No. 244, June 1978; Vol. 38, No. 255, May 1979; Vol. 38, No. 256, June 1979)
  • Captain America (Vol. 1, No. 230, February 1979; Vol. 1, No. 278, February 1983; Vol. 1, No. 311, November 1985)


DC Comics

Left display case, with a variety of DC comics

DC Comics was founded in 1934 in Burbank, California, by Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson under the name National Allied Publications. The name DC Comics was officially adopted in 1977, although it had been used informally for many years prior. The DC titles on display here are:

  • Metal Men (No. 23, December 1966 – January 1967)
  • The Demon (Vol. 1, No. 1, August – September 1972)
  • Batman (Vol. 40, No. 314, August 1979)
  • The Outsiders (No. 7, May 1986)
  • Suicide Squad (No. 1, May 1987)
  • Justice League (No. 1, May 1987)
  • Centurions (No. 1, June 1987)
  • Aquaman (No. 4, March 1992)
  • Eclipso (No. 1, July 1992)


Marvel Comics

Right display case, with a variety of Marvel comics

Marvel Comics was founded in 1939 in New York City by Martin Goodman under the name Timely Comics. The current name, Marvel, was adopted in 1961. The Marvel titles on display here are:

  • Ms. Marvel (Vol. 1, No. 4, April 1977)
  • The Invincible Iron Man (Vol. 1, No. 100, July 1977)
  • The Avengers (Vol. 1, No. 162, August 1977)
  • The Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1, No. 173, October 1977)
  • Fantastic Four (Vol. 1, No. 225, December 1980)
  • Daredevil (Vol. 1, No. 194, May 1983)
  • The Punisher (Vol. 1, No. 5, May 1986)
  • The New Mutants (Vol. 1, No. 43, September 1986)
  • X-Force (Vol. 1, No. 11, June 1992)


Small Publishers

Green Hornet comic book, issue 7
Shatter comic book, issue 2

Although DC and Marvel have dominated the comic book publishing industry for decades, smaller imprints have existed alongside them. Here is a selection of titles from NYSL's collection that do not bear the DC or Marvel imprint.

  • Dagar the Invincible (No. 16, July 1976)
  • The Rocketeer (Vol. 1, No. 2, April 1983)
  • Starslayer (Vol. 1, No. 6, April 1983)
  • The Fly (Vol. 1, No. 3, October 1983)
  • Adventurers (No. 1, 1986)
  • Shatter (Vol. 1, No. 2, February 1986)
  • Grips (Vol. 1, No. 4, December 1986)
  • The Steel Claw (No. 3, February 1987)
  • The American (No. 1, May 1987)
  • Usagi Yojimbo (No. 1, July 1987)
  • Whisper (Vol. 2, No. 11, February 1988)
  • The Green Hornet (Vol. 2, No. 7, March 1992)


Graphic Novels

Watchmen graphic novel
Daredevil: Born Again, graphic novel

While both comic books and graphic novels pair text with illustrations to tell a story, the two forms have a crucial difference. Comic books are by nature short; each issue is part of a serialized story told over the course of months and sometimes years. Graphic novels tell a story from start to finish so are by nature longer and more complex, allowing for greater character development and more intricate plotting.

Binding is another distinction between the two forms: comic books utilize saddle stitching whereas graphic novels—whether hardcover or softback—are bound like books, their thick spines glued to hold the pages together. The graphic novels on display here are:

  • Frank Miller's Ronin (1983)
  • The Uncanny X-Men (1984)
  • Watchmen (1986)
  • Daredevil: Born Again (1987)
  • Batman: The Killing Joke (1988)
  • The Death of Superman (1992)


X-Force and Wonder Woman comics

Exhibit curated by P.J. Nastasi

Last Updated: November 2, 2021