When I, in August 2011, agreed to run “the national project for archiving commercial comics and illustrations”, I had to seriously think over what the project is all about: what should be archived, why, and why now. First: how to define commercialism? Does it rule out works clearly made out of artistic ambition and for art scene? Can commercial works also have artistic ambitions? Like many things in life, this mission, too, fortunately became clearer during the process.
To make things simple, the goal of the project is to archive and index original comics material for scientific and artistic research. The fundamental problem is that, in comics, the actual piece of work is the printed version, while the original work is in principle the outcome of the last work phase. Personally, I have not had that many “Wow!” or “Aha!” experiences from reading original versions, but it is naturally therapeutic to see that even professional artists sometimes have to use glue and pieces of paper to make alterations to their drawings.
It was not until I became more acquainted with the material that I realized how outstanding material we had in our hands. It feels as if I have fallen into Ali Baba’s cave with exotic treasures in every corner of it. Since comics-related material has not been systematically archived in Finland, it has been challenging to name and categorise these jewels in a way that really supports the research later on. Which is to say that the most interesting and significant material in the archive are sketches and notes in notebooks and on slips of paper, different versions, and background material.
Despite my negative words at the beginning, the finished comic originals naturally deserve to be archived for future generations. However, in my opinion it is actually those sketches and different versions that allow us to observe the creative processes through which comics are produced. These processes vary from artist to artist, sometimes simply because it is an individual process, while in other cases the comic is produced by both a scriptwriter and a cartoonist. And what about the contribution of the publisher? The archive may reveal both censorship and self-censorship, which provides opportunities for both social analyses and artistic and scientific research.
What benefits most from creation of a comic archive is our art education. Today, comic guide books and comic courses are based mainly on each writer’s or educator’s individual experience and expertise. Research based on a wide range of material would surely provide many new perspectives and a basis for new theoretical approaches to teaching.
At the moment, a challenge for the archive project is that a significant part of the historical original comic material is either lost or even destroyed, often by the artist himself, because it has not been possible to store or donate the material. In addition, paper is a very sensitive material and it cannot withstand random storage conditions for very long periods. With current funding, we are able to archive the original comic material of the Finnish Comics Society, which is, nevertheless, only a tiny part of the material that is in danger of being lost.
The Finnish Comics Information Center, Comic Archive Project
A comic archive is the pilot project of the Finnish Comics Information Center, which was started with the support of the Jane and Aatos Erkko Foundation. The aim of the project is to examine more widely the archiving and storage of illustrational images in Finland.
Originally published in Sarjainfo magazine 01/12