Issues of inclusion when archiving and displaying mini-comics from the Les Coleman Collection

Horton, Ian and Miers, John (2021) Issues of inclusion when archiving and displaying mini-comics from the Les Coleman Collection. In: Bandes dessinées hors-champs = Comics on the Outside; 2 - 4 Jun 2021, Université libre de Bruxelles (held online). (Unpublished)


Les Coleman (6 May 1945 - January 17 2013) was an artist, lecturer, writer and critic. His substantial comic book, cartoon and illustration collections was bequeathed to the Archives and Special Collections at University of the Arts London (UAL) in 2013. This is an invaluable resource for research into Underground Comix of the 1960s, Alternative Comics from the 1980s onwards, and Mini-Comics, many of which cannot be found in any other British institution. In 2018 we curated ‘Into/Out of the Box’, an exhibition of Mini-Comics from the Collection at London College of Communication (UAL) as part of the London Design Festival. In 2019 this was redesigned for display in the Window Gallery at Central St Martins (UAL). In the LCC display, an interactive Archiving the Collection section invited visitors to write new captions for selected Mini-Comics, and adjacent to that Mini-Comics produced during student workshops were displayed. The former might be taken as a provocation that challenges the authority of the archivist, while the second is easier to understand as a straightforward invitation to join a community of practice. The exhibition highlighted underground circulation networks such as Starhead Comics, while the presence of familiar names including Art Spiegelman, Gary Panter and David B. indicated the role self-publishing networks can play in hierarchisation and legitimisation. Catalogues held in the collection alerted us to the existence of a range of competing terms for describing the products and practices of self-publishing cartoonists, reminding us of the role of definitions and terminology in deciding what is in and outside any corpus, and the relative lack of attention this particular definitional question has received in comics studies. The inclusion of such publications, alongside books of postcards, sketchbook drawings and rubber stamp designs also raised the question of what types of object count as Mini-Comics.

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