By Brian McNeill
On the fourth floor of James Branch Cabell Library, senior communication arts major Mailan Ireland is carefully paging through a 178-year-old copy of “The Adventures of Mr. Obadiah Oldbuck,” widely considered the first comic book, in that it was the first to combine art and text to form a sequential narrative.
“The question I always get is: What is the oldest comic? Well, most scholars have decided on this work by Rodolphe Töpffer called ‘The Adventures of Mr. Obadiah Oldbuck,’” said Cindy Jackson, library specialist for comic arts with VCU Libraries’ Special Collections and Archives. “It was first published in French in Switzerland in 1838. VCU Libraries is very lucky in that we own the first British printing from 1841.”
Jackson manages VCU Libraries’ Comic Arts Collection, which was established in the 1970s with the donation of a modest comic book collection and the papers of Richmond newspaper editorial cartoonist Fred O. Seibel (1886-1968). Now the collection has more than 57,000 single issues, thousands of graphic novels and books about comics, and roughly 20,000 pieces of original comic art.
“It’s a very rich and deep research collection,” Jackson said. “[But] you don’t have to be doing research, you don’t have to be doing a project. If you just want to come in and read some EC Comics, I can help you out.”