Comic Book Readership Archive project (CoBRA)

Proposal for IVMOOC 2016

John Walsh, Associate Professor of Information and Library Science
School of Informatics and Computing

The Comic Book Readership Archive project (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, pervious 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.”[1]

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. Possible research questions include:

To date we have generated 6500 records taken from ten comic book publications published from 1961 and 1973: Daredevil, Strange Tales, Fantastic Four, The Incredible Hulk, Captain America, Conan the Barbarian, The Amazing Spider-Man, The X-Men, Tales of Suspense, and Tales to Astonish. The records include names, addresses and other details about letter writers. This small data sample from only ten of dozens of serials is revealing. Many famous individuals associated with the comic book industry appear as authors of fan letters. Other letter writers include George R. R. Martin, author of A Game of Thrones, and film producer Michael Uslan. Authors of fan mail identify themselves as college and university students, fraternity members, law students, and university faculty. Others identify as military personnel, some stationed in Vietnam during the war. A fan from the Bronx identifies himself as a “young Negro,” and—in the context of the 1960s civil rights movement—thanks Marvel, the publisher, for including people of color in their stories.

Our current data set of over 6500 MySQL records include:

By the end of our current grant period in January, 2016, we anticipate having over 10,000 records in the CoBRA data set. In addition to authors of fan mail, the data set will grow to include the names, cities, and states of fan club members whose names were published in the monthly comics in regular lists of new members.

[1]Gabilliet, J.-P. (2010). Of comics and men: A cultural history of American comic books. Jackson, MS: University of Mississippi Press, 2010. p. 364.