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Exclusive Interview: Underground Resistance, Submerge & Alter Ego:  Discussing books, vinyl records, Detroit’s unstoppable creativity and the roots of techno music with Detroit’s own CORNELIUS HARRIS!

Exclusive Interview: Underground Resistance, Submerge & Alter Ego: Discussing books, vinyl records, Detroit’s unstoppable creativity and the roots of techno music with Detroit’s own CORNELIUS HARRIS!

Exhibit 3000 Museum (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

I love Detroit. This city is loaded with great stories, many of which are oft hidden, unacknowledged, or underreported. If not inscribed for the future, when these stories are gone, they’re gone forever, like magnificent old buildings. To me, these stories are priceless.

The building at 3000 East Grand Boulevard is sign-less and unassuming. It sits near the Jam Handy warehouse on Detroit’s Eastside, within view of the stately 30-story tall Fisher Building.

This humble 3-story brick building was built in 1910 and is 8,790-square feet. It houses a significant contribution to Detroit’s cultural history, something vital and irreplaceable, a collective of Detroit techno culture.

Exhibit 3000, the world’s first (and only) techno museum is housed here on the main floor.

In the basement is the legendary Submerge’s Somewhere In Detroit (SID) record store and then upstairs is the HQ of Underground Resistance (UR). There are also recording studios, rehearsal spaces and offices.

Downstairs, DJ John Collins and Tyler Dancer are prepping the museum for a school tour today. Collins has been a well-known DJ since 1985. He’s a producer, manager, and talent agent. Tyler is a young DJ and producer from Kalamazoo who now lives in Detroit. Techno great Mad Mike Banks is also here getting things squared away. The ethic is: everyone helps out regardless of status.

Cornelius Harris (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

I’m sitting upstairs in a conference room with Detroit’s own Cornelius Harris, who was (and still is?) the only black manager in techno music in the world. “That’s what I’ve been told.  I’m not aware of any other black managers in techno, in the world,” he says.

Cornelius Harris is the label manager of Detroit-based independent techno label Underground Resistance, an assistant at Submerge Distribution (and SID), and founder of Alter Ego Management.

Cornelius is a deep thinker with a multitude of insights and very focused on all aspects of the intersection of culture and music. We are discussing books, vinyl records, the roots of techno and all-things Detroit.

Cornelius explains:

“History, especially local history, is important to know so you understand the context of where you’re at in the world and in your own time. The impact of certain points in history have a lingering echo long after the fact.”

“I’m originally from Ann Arbor. Moved to Detroit in the 90’s. I’m not here by accident. I love the people, the culture, the history, the music.”

“I consider myself a cultural advocate and activist, promoting agents of culture beyond mere entertainment and using it as a tool for education and inspiration. I studied Media and Pop Culture at University of Michigan. My family are all educators and very passionate.”

“Economically, how do you bring this thing that came out of Detroit and generates millions of dollars globally, back to the source? I’m always interested in the next stage of evolution. Detroit is a powerful music center. How do you drive culture in the city?”

 

Detroit: The Birth of Techno

“Belleville Three” Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson, Derrick May. These are from Belleville High School yearbooks (circa 1980 & 1981). Kevin Saunderson also played varsity football and basketball for the Belleville Tigers. Atkins (class of ’80), May & Saunderson (class of ’82). Thanks to Psyche Jetton at the BHS Media Center for allowing me to do research there (Ryan M. Place)

“Techno music was started in the early 1980s by four African Americans: Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson, Derrick May and Eddie Fowlkes. The first three went to Belleville High School and Eddie went to a different school.”

“At the time, it wasn’t called ‘techno’, it was just a new, emergent form of different music. The British press came up with the title ‘Belleville Three’ even though they DJed mostly in the city of Detroit.  Belleville isn’t known for its cutting-edge club scene.”

Just like any inception-story, there’s different mythologies about this. One is the facts. The others are the added interpretations, which become the agreed upon history. So, let’s just agree to a middle understanding of all this.”

“They were playing a precursor to techno before their music was given a label by outsiders. What they had created was inner city dance music with a futuristic vibe.”

In the mid to late 80’s, techno blew up here locally in Detroit. It was already a phenomenon here for several years before it became popular globally.”

Kevin Saunderson (senior photo 1982 Belleville High School yearbook)

“All of the techno labels were based in Detroit’s Eastern Market neighborhood.”

The first one was in 1985 when Juan Atkins opened Metroplex (1492 Riopelle St), then in 1986 Derrick May opened Transmat (1492 Gratiot), then in 1987 Kevin Saunderson opened KMS next door to Transmat.”

“Derrick started referring to Gratiot Avenue as ‘Techno Boulevard’.”

“These were the days of things like Channel 62 ‘The Scene’ and the Electrifying Mojo on Detroit’s WGPR, which was the first black radio station in America.”

“We also had Duane ‘In the Mix’ Bradley on WJLB Radio.”

“We had Jeff Mills, DJ Stacy “Hotwaxx” Hale, and there was Ken Collier who played house music at Club Heaven (19106 Woodward @ 7 mile).”

“There was The Music Institute (1315 Broadway an after-hours techno club opened from 1988-89).”

“Across the river in Windsor, there was Richie Hawtin (Plastikman) who was inspired by Detroit techno. By the early 90’s, everybody was getting turned on to Detroit music all over the world.”

Techno! The New Dance Sound of Detroit (c. 1988 vinyl record)

“Music popularity goes in waves. Techno got big globally around 1991, then experienced another resurgence in the late 90’s-early 2000’s, and a few years ago we had another wave.”

“Also, we had the techno festival, which started in Detroit in 2000 and was called DEMF before it became Movement in 2006.”

“Detroit is the smallest big town ever. Among creatives here of all stripes, mostly everyone knows everyone. Some of Juan Atkins old tapes even feature Kid Rock back when he had spiky hair and was trying to rap.”

“I credit Creem Magazine with symbolizing the Detroit ethos. Not being on the East or West Coasts, we weren’t bound by those scenes. There’s no restrictions here, we’re free to do our own thing, which Creem reflected in its coverage of music. “

 

Underground Resistance (UR) Detroit

Underground Resistance

Underground Resistance, aka: UR, is a collective, that’s the best word to describe it because there’s so much back and forth flow between the various groups and producers.”

“UR was started in 1989 by Jeff Mills and Mad Mike Banks in Mike’s mom’s basement on Detroit’s Westside near 7 Mile and Livernois. Mike and Jeff worked together before in a group called Members of the House. Mike had at one time been in a band on tour alongside Parliament Funkadelic.”

“The UR album UR001 had Yolanda Reynolds on it. She was the original third member of UR. A lot of people think of Robert Hood as the third member of UR, but he came later, though a lot of people forget that.”

“In 1991, the city of Berlin, Germany was hit by UR’s music from Detroit not long after the Berlin Wall came down. Detroit’s techno music helped unite the young people of East and West Berlin and reenergize the city. It was the soundtrack of what was happening in Berlin. And there were tons of Detroit techno records at the Hard Wax store owned by Mark Ernestus.”

Terrence Parker (photo courtesty of UR)

I joined UR in the mid 1990s. The Detroit Regional Music Conference, started by DJ John Collins, was going on and I was a producer at the time. I submitted to perform at the conference. The music showcase manager said I should give my tape to Mike Banks, which is how we met. I also had put together a zine called SCENE. Mike and Lawrence Burden asked me to work with them doing promotion. Mike later asked about me doing label management. I did it until 2001 when I became extremely burned-out.”

“I quit everything for a bit and became anti-music for a few years. Did some management at Kinney Shoe Corp (Foot Locker), then Kinko’s, also did some teaching at a middle school. Eventually, I created Alter Ego Management and started again fresh. Alter Ego used to rep Juan Atkins, Model 500 and others. Right now we handle UR and some others.”

“At the time just before starting Alter Ego I, got a call from Mike. He said they’re working on a project in Japan. He invited me to come work on it, and initially I said, “no,” but he said ‘they got those thinking gardens in Japan, you could just come here and think’ (laughs). I was in the middle of acting in a show with Plowshares Theater. Mike was insistent. So I went to Japan. I was there for six hours and decided to return as label manager in 2005.”

“My first time as a tour manager, through the Burden Brothers (Lenny & Lawrence), was a tour in Germany. I was tour manager for Aux 88 who was on their label Direct Beat.”

“I remember being in Berlin outside this club talking to a local dude, told him he should come check out the scene in Detroit. He said, ‘I’ll never go to Detroit.  I don’t make enough money to travel, but when I go to this club and it’s dark, and a Detroit DJ is playing, I can imagine that I’m in a Detroit club. That’s how I’m able to travel’. His explanation really stuck with me.”

“I realized that we’re giving people, people who are willingly giving their hard-earned money to us, these one-of-a-kind experiences. We owe everything to these people who make that choice to support the music. It really had a profound effect on me, gave me a sense of purpose.”

“For some people, music is their main outlet. It’s a type of therapy, a release for them, something they can’t get any other way. We all owe a deep appreciation for the fans who live on this stuff.”

“The clubs are social spaces where amazing things can happen. The 1980’s were rough in Detroit. The U.S. was in a bad recession, there was crack, AIDS, Detroit was dubbed ‘Murder Capital of the World’, the auto industry went to hell, etc. The one good thing at the time coming out of Detroit globally was this music, techno.

“These aren’t just DJ’s, they’re cultural ambassadors. They are some of the best representations this country has ever had, often better than professional diplomats. They tour extensively and as a result, acquire a broad perspective and deep understanding of other cultures and people around the world.”

Jeff Mills currently lives in Miami, France and Japan. In 2017, Jeff got the Order of Arts and Letters in France, which is that country’s second highest title, for his cultural contributions. Other nations seem to recognize the importance of creativity. The city of Detroit, our state, our nation, should consider providing more recognition to their own people. Why do we gotta go to France to get awards and be recognized? Why can’t it happen right here where it all started and continues to thrive? It would uplift the community in a positive way.”

Detroit’s global contributions are numerous. Back here at home, true community development is not just giving money to something and hoping for the best. Things need to be nurtured, cared for, and given the proper attention in order to develop.”

Submerge Distribution

Submerge (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Submerge Distribution was founded in 1992 by Mike Banks and Christa Robinson.”

“It was originally located Downtown at 2030 East Grand River Ave. However, in 2000, we moved to 3000 East Grand Blvd.”

“Submerge exports Detroit techno labels to Europe and the world and transmits Detroit’s techno music around the world. All the techno and house labels went through Submerge.”

“There is no ‘Submerge Records’, it’s a distributor and vinyl record store. We carry all kinds of records but primarily specialize in techno, house and hip hop. Heavily Detroit oriented. There’s also Basic Channel out of Berlin.”

“Submerge even put out J. Dilla’s first vinyl record in 1994.”

“Everybody who visits the Submerge basement signs the wall.”

The Impact of Books on Cornelius

Cornelius Harris (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

I love to read. Books are powerfully influential across all cultures, professions, whatever. Books are windows into the unfamiliar. Having a broad interest in a lot of different things gave me the perspective I have today.”

“Prior to music, I worked in the reference department at the downtown Ann Arbor Library from 9th grade through my time at the University of Michigan. First shelving books, then at the desk as an assistant. I grew up surrounded by books. A lot of my interpretation of the world was formed by books and music.”

“Here’s a few of the key books that have inspired me over the years.”

Black Magic (1967) Langston Hughes

Black Magic (1967) Langston Hughes. Chronicles black entertainment from slavery to the modern late 60’s. Amazing as a kid growing up with that book. It traces the painful lineage of exploitation as well as incredible achievements.”

Sex and Race (1940-44) J.A. Rodgers (3 vols.) I first read it at the public library when I was 10 or 11. Originally was excited by the name (laughs). Turned out to be a fascinating study of racial classifications, how people mix and blend and the fact that definitions of race are subjective.”

Dustland (1980) Virginia Hamilton. It’s part of The Justice Trilogy about an African American girl named Justice. First time I ever read sci-fi where the central characters were African American. It blew my mind.”

No-No Boy (1956) John Okada. The first Japanese American novel. It takes place just after WW2, it’s about Japanese no-no boys and post-war trauma in the USA.”

Los Arboles Mueren de Pie (1949) Alejandro Casona. Amazing book, written in Spanish. I recommend learning Spanish just to read this book. It’s about how you define family. Magical realism. Many intriguing twists and turns.”

Mumbo Jumbo (1972) Ishmael Reed. Magical realism about historical events and a contagious epidemic of the Jes Grew virus.”

New Teen Titans: The Judas Contract (1988) Wolfman and Perez (DC Comics, Titan). They took this medium and crafted a story so thoughtful, warped, exciting. It’s about betrayal and abuse.”

 

Some Favorite Records & Why Vinyl Still Matters

Cornelius Harris @ Submerge (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

“Musically, I listen to a range of different things. Grew up on jazz and gospel. My grandma from the had grown up in the South and turned me onto Hank Williams.”

“Some influential albums for me are:”

Prince-Dirty Mind (1980)

Jorge Ben-Samba Esquema Novo (1963)

Grace Jones-Nightclubbing (1981)

Ryuichi Sakamoto-Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983)

Vinyl records still matter, still sell, still elevate the listener. There’s something special and different with something being tangible, rather than bits of information on a computer. To feel the grooves with your fingers. It’s an experience, you feel more connected. With vinyl you have to put the needle on it, make sure the needle is clean, flip it over when it’s done, you interact with it differently than you do a playlist on your smartphone.”

“Also, the order of the tracks meant something, not just random shuffling. Tracks are not just thrown onto an album indiscriminately. There’s a meaning in the order.”

Jorge Ben-Samba Esquema Novo (1963)

The Need to Preserve Creative Spaces in Detroit

Detroit aerial (photo courtesy of Formulaone)

Detroit needs more creative spaces. The value of the creative community to a city cannot be overstated. Creative people imbue spaces with value. And they almost always need help from the city to mitigate things like gentrification and help maintain safe and fun spaces & outlets, for other people to go and experience the gift of their creativity. There should be a low barrier to entry.”

People have had their life changed forever by music or art. Creativity keeps people in neighborhoods and stabilizes communities. Make it easy for people to access these things.”

“Right now, Detroit is a place where the creative community can go in any direction. As a city, we need to recognize talent and creativity and help engage creative types. Yet some of our greatest spaces are being ignored and disregarded. Detroit is loaded with iconic spots that should be preserved and used instead of being wasted unnecessarily. How do you set things up for success?”

“Listen, I’ve traveled all over the world for the past almost thirty years and I can honestly tell you that Detroit is a global nexus of untapped, undiscovered potential. It’s here but it’s disguised because it’s not often officially recognized by big-time funding.”

“We have the spaces, we’re just not doing anything with them, not making them accessible, and it’s a tragedy that’s rarely discussed. These places will get torn down and most folks, especially young folks, won’t ever even know they were there in the first place. We need to preserve them and do everything we can to drive more creative people to the city.”

The world is saturated with creativity in all forms from Detroit. I remember when I was in Japan, a promoter told me at the time he couldn’t book one of my DJs because Japan had too many people from Detroit there! (laughs) That’s how big and powerful our footprint as a creative class of people is globally.”

We’re givers not takers.  We give the world our creativity, but I don’t think we take enough a lot of times and it shows because it seems there’s always a financial struggle here for everyone. Culture comes from the incredible wonderful, people here. The people are the value. They should be embraced.”

Thoughts on The Future

Submerge (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

“I don’t worry about the future of techno.  It will evolve.  Musical, creative diversity has to be encouraged. Stuff that doesn’t exist currently will be born and become transformational. Music is a reflection of that generation, that time, what’s happening globally and locally.”

“There is an undeniable need for space and a need to encourage openness. Hopefully Detroit will continue being at the forefront like it always has been. Don’t be afraid of the future. Yes, things will be strange and different than what you’re used to right now, and that’s a good thing.”

“Just remember, Motown was started by high school kids singing in their garages. They were broke but they were passionate and creative. However, what really changed everything was love from the local community. The community was supportive and encouraging. Local support helped them thrive globally. Never forget the enduring and positive lesson of Motown.”

Bonus: Cornelius’ favorite eateries in the Metro Detroit area

Pupuseria y Restaurante Salvadoreno (3149 Livernois, Detroit)

Yum Village (6500 Woodward, Detroit)

Royal Kabob (3236 Caniff, Hamtramck)

KG’s Grill (465 Inkster rd, Garden City)

Al Ameer’s (27346 Ford Rd, Dearborn Heights)

Cornelius Harris @ Exhibit 3000 Museum (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

 

UR, Submerge & Exhibit 3000 Museum

3000 East Grand Blvd.

Detroit, MI 48202

 

Exhibit 3000 Museum

For free tours or if you want to donate early techno artifacts

Contact:

John Collins

jcpremier@gmail.com

Cornelius Harris

cornelius@alteregomgt.com

 

UR

http://www.undergroundresistance.com/

 

UR FB

https://www.facebook.com/URundergroundresistance/

 

Somewhere in Detroit (Submerge)

https://www.facebook.com/Somewhere-in-Detroit-242400282479827/

 

Alter Ego Management

http://www.alteregomgt.com/

Submerge (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

 

Submerge (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Exclusive Interview: Touring the World’s Largest Library Comic Book Collection of 350,000 items @ Michigan State University with head honcho RANDY SCOTT!

Exclusive Interview: Touring the World’s Largest Library Comic Book Collection of 350,000 items @ Michigan State University with head honcho RANDY SCOTT!

Aerial photo of MSU (photo courtesy of: Michigan State University)

Michigan State University is a sprawling and beautiful campus of leafy trees, ubiquitous green & white team colors, and intriguing experiences, such as visiting the World’s Largest Library Comic Book Collection.

Located in East Lansing, about 1hr 30mins west of Detroit, the school was founded in 1855 as a prototype land-grant university and renamed MSU in 1964.

MSU currently sits on 5,200-acres dotted with 566 buildings. Over 50,000 students attend here. There are 27 resident halls and over 900 registered student groups on campus. Yes, this place is massive. It’s one of the largest universities by population in the USA.

MSU’s Nuclear Physics graduate program ranks # 1 in the nation. Magic Johnson & Sam Raimi attended MSU simultaneously in the late 1970’s. Fun factoids abound.

I’m here visiting the MSU Library, the building which contains the main portion of the comic collection.

Red Cedar River (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

You park on the north side of Spartan Stadium in Lot # 62 W (99 Red Cedar Road, East Lansing). You ‘pay by plate’ by the hour. Then, use the footbridge to cross the beautiful Red Cedar River and enter the library doors straight ahead.

Once inside, the Special Collections Reading Room is on your left. This is where you’ll read the comics.

As the world’s largest library/academic comic book collection, the MSU Comic Collection is a true world resource.

Sure, Mile High Comics in Denver has a self-estimated eight million comic books in three warehouses and a single individual, Bob Bretall, in Mission Viejo, California has over 105,000 comics.

But the MSU Collection is catalogued, indexed, available to the general public free of charge and managed by comic book expert, Randall W. Scott.

Randall W. Scott, or “Randy” as he prefers to be called, is an MSU Special Collections Librarian, Comic Art Bibliographer, and head curator of the MSU Comic Art Collection. Working here almost 50-years, Randy has one of the greatest jobs on the planet: reading and archiving comic books.

Yes, a state university had the foresight to bankroll Randy’s unique expertise and thus, help fund a world-class collection of pop culture artifacts in the form of comics books. We’re so jelly. Randy, I want your job.

MSU’s Comic Book Curator and Head Honcho: Randy Scott

Randall W. Scott, aka: Randy, head of the MSU Comics Collection (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

I’ve always enjoyed comic books. I like the format of blending words and pictures. I also read a lot of books without pictures. Mainly, I like thinking about how the literary form of comic books works and is evolving. Comic books are different from every other kind of storytelling. And I like the theoretical questions associated with comics and collecting comics.”

“I grew up on a farm in Alpena County in a little town called Hubbard Lake. I like to practice reading in other languages like French, German, Spanish. My foreign language level is fair. But my level of reading comics is pretty good.”

“In the late Sixties, I migrated to Lansing and attended MSU while working at Curious Book Shop, a used & rare bookstore run by Ray Walsh. I was Ray’s first employee and the comics buyer there back when Curious had an upstairs that was all comics. Stan Lee did a signing there once! I met Ray while we were both students at MSU. He was famous for riding his bike around campus in a trench coat.”

The Paper (image courtesy of: Michigan State University)

“As a student here at MSU, I worked as a writer and editor on an underground paper aptly called ‘The Paper’ and toward the end of its lifespan, it became absorbed into SDS, Students for a Democratic Society. There was a national movement for underground papers at that time. Detroit had The Fifth Estate, Ann Arbor had The Sun and so on. In June 1969, we had a convention in Chicago where SDS split and The Weathermen became one of the splits, so I briefly became an original Weatherman before it became the Weather Underground.”

“I have a B.A. from MSU and an M.S. in Library Science from Columbia with a concentration in cataloging and indexing.”

I started working in the MSU Library back in 1971. I had various jobs, including being a preorder typist, whereby I would send out orders to jobbers to order books. I started cataloging the Comic Art Collection in 1974 when I developed a system for indexing and cataloging them and I’ve been here ever since.”

“In 1975, a high-school student stole our Amazing Spider-Man # 1 comic book. We knew who it was but couldn’t prove it. Today, in good condition, that comic is worth around $100,000.”

“After that happened, I decided to take on the job of looking after the Comic Collection, during my lunch hours, as a volunteer.”

 

MSU Comic Collection: At 350,000 items, it’s the World’s Largest Library Comic Book Collection

MSU Comic Collection (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Randy and I head downstairs, one floor below the Reading Room.

The Comic Collection is housed in long rows of electronic Spacesaver mobile storage units. The lights are on 120-second timers, thus, if there’s no movement for 120 seconds, the lights go off.

We have the main core of the collection here. Then we have about 700 shelves of international comics at an offsite, remote storage warehouse.”

 

Russell Nye: Creator of the MSU Comic Collection

Russell B. Nye circa 1978 (photo courtesy of: Michigan State University)

The MSU Comic Collection started in 1969-70 when MSU professor Russell Nye donated 6,000 comic books, mostly 60’s-era Marvel superhero comics, to the university.”

“Around 100 of the comics were his, the rest were from some of his senior students who donated their collections to him for his new Pop Culture course.”

“Nye taught in the English department from 1941-79. He was an early proponent of Pop Culture Theory and I had him as a teacher. Nye was a gentleman, always wore a suit, taught 19th century American Literature and had an inquiring mind.”

“At the time, comics were deemed ‘inappropriate material’ by academia. However, Nye was respectable, he had also won a Pulitzer Prize in 1945, so they couldn’t deny this pop culture scholar’s donation of comics.”

Comic Buyer’s Guide issue # 1 (1971) image courtesy of: Michigan State University

“Comic books had already been around for over 100 years and it took them that long to get academic recognition. I did Independent Study with Nye and wrote a paper called ‘Comics in Libraries’ where I argued for their inclusion.”

“Prior to this, academic libraries had been reluctant to collect and study comics, which they foffed off as ‘subliterature’. It was revolutionary times. The spirit of the time was to open things up and do what hadn’t been done before.”

“Nye wasn’t thought of as a radical but being a proponent of putting comic books in libraries was definitely a radical idea at the time. It’s hard to fathom now because it’s more commonplace. Now over 50 libraries have permanent comic book collections.”

 

It’s a Midwest thing: Michigan and Ohio Lead the Charge

Bowling Green University’s Popular Culture dept. (image courtesy of Bowling Green University)

“Ohio’s Bowling Green University started a Pop Culture department around the same time. The Journal of Popular Culture started in 1967 at Bowling Green and was edited by Ray Browne. They now have the Browne Popular Culture Library, which is the world’s largest collection of pulps, dime novels and ephemera.”

“In 1977, Lucy Caswell started the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum at Ohio State University, which is now the world’s largest repository of original cartoon art.”

It was a Midwest thing. We started putting comic books in libraries, then NYPL followed suit after a few years and now it’s a global thing.”

“In 1978, the Russell B. Nye Popular Culture Collection was officially titled as a branch of the Special Collections. This collection includes the Comic Art Collection, 10,000 volumes of sci-fi (mostly monographs), probably 5,000 books, magazines & fanzines, and loads of Popular Fiction (ie: dime novels, pulps, detective, westerns, etc).”

MSU Library’s Carolyn Blunt (c. 1973)

 

A Taste of the Goodies

Young Allies # 1 (1941) photo by: Ryan M. Place

The hardest part of being a Comics Librarian is cataloguing. Cataloguing is a daily, ongoing process. On January 1st, 1981, we stopped using the filing index card system.”

“Every year we get deliveries of 12 to 20 boxes of comics sent via UPS. Gerber invented mylar comic sleeves. I order these babies 5,000 at a time. Cataloguing all this stuff takes time.”

“We have 7 copies of the original Obadiah Oldebuck here, the first comic ever created.”

Obadiah Oldebuck, the first comic book ever printed (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

“We have the personal microfilm collection of Detroit comics guru Jerry Bails and the #1 CAPA-Alpha (1964).”

“We have all sorts of comics: Young Allies # 1 (1941), Walt Disney Comics and Stories No. 1 (1940), Wonder Woman # 1 (1942), R. Crumb’s Zap # 1 (1967), etc.”

“We have about 600 Underground comics, 10,000 volumes of Manga, 1 million comic strips donated by Dick Webster, and large holdings of Eclipse, Marvel, DC, Fantagraphics.”

“We have the King Features proof sheet collection from NYC (1930’s-1990’s).”

Rodney Ford scrapbooks (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

“We have 530 scrapbooks of daily newspaper strips. They came all at once from Rodney Ford in Sacramento, California. Over 100 titles from the 1920’s-1970’s. He made the scrapbooks meticulously by hand.”

“We have 17,000 Golden Era comics (1938-52), the first 1,000 of which came from Jim Haynes, a Connecticut racetrack owner who grew up in Port Huron, Michigan.”

“We have the Lexikon der Comics, the only copy in North America. It’s a German language encyclopedia of comics.”

“The list goes on and on. MSU has a tradition of keeping the best two copies of each item. Our triplicates we give to the MSU Surplus Store to be sold, and proceeds of these sales come directly back to the library to continue supporting the collection.”

Lexikon der Comics: German language encyclopedia of comic books (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

MSU’s International Comics @ the Remote Storage Warehouse

MSU International Comics inside Remote Storage warehouse (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

After touring the main collection, Randy drives us to an offsite warehouse in Lansing, about 15 minutes away from the main library. The facilities coordinator, Josh Maki, lets us in.

The warehouse is divided into two massive rooms.

One room contains international comic books on 10 and 12-foot-high steel shelving. The other room is a high-density storage bay of 800,000 books and bound journals. Big blue-box air scrubbers clean the air.

This is but one warehouse in a complex of warehouses. The others are: Folio, Special Collections and RSA. The comics warehouse is RS-F and called ‘remote storage’. Spread across the complex, there are around 1.7 million items.

MSU Remote Storage warehouse (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

“Here we have about 700 shelves of international non-American comics from all over the world. For instance, we have 1,800 comics catalogued from India alone.”

“We have shoe boxes full of two million daily comic strips, plus big boxes of proof sheets, Sunday sections, etc.”

“The most we ever paid was $130,000 for 13,000 European comics in the 1990’s.”

“We get about one international visitor per month, mostly from Europe and Asia.”

“When visiting, please remember that international comics must be requested at least three full days in advance.”

Funding: Where does the money come from?

“I get a little slice of the annual MSU Library book budget. I also have a couple of endowments which provide funding. Our total annual budget is around $40,000.”

“In regard to acquisitions, I have a Collection Development statement that I follow when we want to acquire new material for the collection.”

In addition to the budget Randy receives from MSU, generous supporters also lend a hand by giving funds in support of this collection.

For more information on ways you can support the collection, contact:

MSU Libraries’ Development Office

517-432-0708

giving@lib.msu.edu

 

MSU Special Collections

MSU Special Collections Rare Book Collection (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Established in 1962, the MSU Special Collections department contains 450,000+ printed works, several manuscript and archival collections, a huge stash of ephemera, and more.

MSU has a massive collection of Sixties Radicalism pamphlets and papers. You can find these in the American Radicalism Vertical File (ARVF).

The Special Collections Rare Book Collection is at the end of the comics collection, behind a vault door, inside a temperature-controlled room.

It contains the Charles Schmitter Fencing archives. And the oldest printed book at MSU: Scriptores Rei Rusticae (1472, Venice). They even have a Book of Hours here.

 

Randy’s Final Thoughts

Randy Scott at work in the MSU Library basement (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Well, I’ll need to retire one day, I suppose.”

“My replacement will need to be enthusiastic about comic scholarship, knowledgeable in the field of comics books and care deeply about growing the collection and understanding how important it is.”

The MSU Comic Collection is always open to donations of comic books. If you or someone you know wants to donate their collection, they can email or call the MSU Libraries’ Development Office.”

“Personally, I think it would be cool if the library put a little more recognition into the comics, such as the graphic novels. We have a ton of graphic novels, including the first-ever, Will Eisner’s ‘A Contract with God’ from 1978.”

Randy Scott at work in the MSU Library basement (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

“There’s a future in academic comic study. It just depends on administrative attitudes. Currently, MSU offers two minor degrees in Comics.”

“Every February, we host a two-day long MSU Comics Forum here on campus.”

“Visiting scholars with an MSU netID can apply to stay overnight at the Owen Hall Grad Dorm here on campus.”

Plan a trip. Let us know you’re coming. We look forward to seeing you.”

MSU Comics Forum (courtesy of MSU)

 

Donate your comic collection to MSU by emailing Randy Scott and the library development office:

scottr@msu.edu

giving@lib.msu.edu

 

Search the MSU Comic Collection here

https://lib.msu.edu/findbooks/

 

Randy’s Comic Index

http://comics.lib.msu.edu/index.htm

 

Russell B. Nye Popular Culture Collection

https://lib.msu.edu/spc/collections/nye/

 

MSU Comics Forum

http://www.comicsforum.msu.edu/

 

Map of MSU Campus

https://maps.msu.edu/

 

Library of Congress has 150,000 comic books

https://www.loc.gov/rr/news/comics.html

MSU logo (image courtesy of: Michigan State University)

Ryan’s Final Thoughts

Having toured the collection multiple times, I feel it necessitates its own building.

Due to the size, importance and future growth potential of the collection, MSU should consider centralizing the entire collection under one roof exclusively.

You could also add a museum component to this, complete with display cases, regular events and periodic in-person signings.

 

Ryan’s Recommendations on Visiting the MSU Comic Collection

While visiting MSU, you might want to make time to check out the following:

 

1.) Brody Square (241 Brody West) campus food hall

Brody Hall (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Brody Hall (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Park in the Kellogg Conference Center parking garage (219 S. Harrison Rd.) for $1.50/hr. Walk directly across the street to Brody. Up on the 2nd floor is one of the most ingenious campus food hall concepts ever created.

Brody features 9 to 12 food stations. For $10.00 per person it’s all you can eat, all day long. And yes, this is open to the general public.

They have a wondrous array of food featuring things like:

Burritos, sushi, spicy crab soup, Cajun fish with mashed potatoes and gravy, Hudsonville ice cream (get the Cake Batter with chocolate syrup), 15 breakfast cereals, pepperoni pizza, vegetable spring roll, miso soup, mango slush drink, pasta with spinach and alfredo, breadsticks, and more.

Also impressive is their automated tray system. You walk over to a moving wall of empty metal racks and slide your tray in and it disappears into the back for the cleaners. Every university in the country should replicate this food hall model.

 

2.) MSU Dairy Store @ Anthony Hall (474 South Shaw Lane) 9am-8pm

MSU Dairy Store (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

MSU Dairy Store (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

MSU Dairy Store grilled cheese (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Park out front at the meters. 8 minutes per quarter or use your credit card.

This is an ice cream parlor open to the general public and run by the MSU Department of Food Science. All the ice cream is made right here at MSU. You can even buy half-gallon tubs!

I recommend trying a double scoop of the Sesquicentennial Swirl and Dantonio’s Double Fudge.

Also try the Grilled cheese on sourdough with a cup of soup.

 

3.) Curious Book Shop (307 East Grand River Ave)

Curious Book Shop (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Curious Book Shop (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Park directly behind the store. $2.25 for 90 minutes maximum.

Opened in 1969, this is a used & rare bookstore with a large sci-fi section.

The store is owned by Randy’s friend Ray Walsh. Ray has done a tremendous number of good things for the book community over the past several decades.

Ray puts on the annual Michigan Antiquarian Book & Paper Show.  You can usually find Ray himself a half mile down the road, running his other bookstore, Archives Book Shop (519 W. Grand River).

 

Some Other Cool stuff in Lansing:

Potter Park Zoo (1301 South Pennsylvania Ave, Lansing)

Zoobie’s Old Town Tavern (1200 North Larch Street, Lansing)

Lansing Brewing Company (518 East Shiawassee St, Lansing)

Meat BBQ (1224 Turner Rd, Lansing)

Randy Scott (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

MSU Special Collections gift of Jim Haynes (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

MSU Comic Collection cataloguing (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

MSU Library basement (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Comics Librarianship Handbook by Randy Scott

Comics Librarianship Handbook by Randy Scott

Randy Scott at work in the MSU Library basement (photo by: Ryan M. Place)