Comic Book Readership Archive (CoBRA) Receives New Frontiers of Creativity and Scholarship Grant

John Walsh
John A. Walsh

ILS Associate Professor, Dr. John A. Walsh and colleagues Dr. Carol Tilley and Dr. Kathryn LaBarre (both ILS Ph.D. alumna who are now Associate Professors at the University of Illinois) are working together on a new project named CoBRA: Comic Book Readership Archive. Walsh has received two Indiana University grants to support the research. One is a New Frontiers of Creativity and Scholarship grant from the New Frontiers in the Arts and Humanities program. The other is a Research Consultation Fellowship from the Institute for Advanced Study.

Other ILS-connected people who have contributed to the project include Richard Higgins and Grace Thomas (master’s students) and Michelle Dalmau (ILS alumna and current Librarian, Head of Digital Collection Services at IU). Richard and Grace have worked on data collection and Michelle has helped with data analysis.

Included below is a summary about the project.

CoBRA: Comic Book Readership Archive

John A. Walsh, Carol Tilley, and Kathryn La Barre

The Comic Book Readership Archive project, or CoBRA, proposes to build a digital archive—of primary source material and related data sets—to document American comic book readership and fandom. The archive will include content from such sources as: 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.

Comics scholarship is an established area of academic research and the subject of thousands of dissertations, journal articles, book chapters, monographs, and digital projects. Comics readership has been a specific target of scholarly attention. However, previous studies have not fully considered the vast documentary record of comic book readership that will be compiled and analyzed in the CoBRA project.

In the “Bibliographic Essay” concluding his study, Of Comics and Men: A Cultural History of American Comic Books, Jean-Paul Gabilliet writes: “fan mail constitutes a largely unexplored source of information about the reception of characters, stories and creators.” (Gabilliet, J.-P. (2010). Of Comics and Men: A Cultural History of American Comic Books. Jackson, MS: University of Mississippi Press, 2010. p. 364.)

The CoBRA project will address this gap in comics scholarship by providing access to a large and growing archive for the study of comic book readership, including fan mail. Our archive will allow new research questions to be asked and will enable new forms of research, such as interactive maps, timelines, other information visualizations, and computationally-assisted content and data analysis.

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