Renowned comics writer and novelist Chris Claremont, best known for his many years writing Marvel’s X-Men and Uncanny X-Men series, has reached an agreement to donate his archives to Columbia University’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library. During his 17 years writing for the series, Claremont is credited with both developing strong female characters as well as introducing complex literary themes into superhero narratives while turning the X-Men into one of Marvel’s most popular series.
Karen Green, Columbia University's Ancient/Medieval Studies Librarian and Graphic Novel Librarian, who has been instrumental in building a graphic novel collection at Columbia University, said the acquisition of Claremont’s archive will form the basis for establishing a research center for New York City-based cartoonists and comics writers. “We hope this is the first of more comics papers to come to the University,” Green said, “we want it to be a magnet for these kinds of archives in New York City, where the comics medium was born.”
To mark the donation of the Claremont papers and the university’s commitment to creating a research center for New York comics archives, Columbia University is planning to hold a conference to be called, Comic New York, and organized by Green, comics writer and editor Danny Fingeroth and professor Jeremy Dauber. The event will be held March 24-25, 2012 at Columbia University’s Low Library. The conference is in the early stages of being organized and Green said more details will be forthcoming.
Claremont’s archive includes materials for all of his major writing projects over the last 40 years. The collection includes notebooks with story ideas as well as drafts of short stories, plays, novels and comic books as well as materials from Claremont’s early training in the theater and his career as an actor. Green said the collection will be housed at Butler Library at Columbia University in the Rare Books and Manuscript Library, a distinct collection that is separate from the Graphic Novel Collection which is housed in a different location in Butler Library. Green described Claremont as a “meticulous archivist” and said the collection is comprised of “neatly organized folders” with “his notes, correspondence, drafts and finished drafts, notebooks as well as programs from auditions from his acting and theater background.”
The collection is packed in boxes and Green said that once the materials are delivered to the library, they will be “processed,” or carefully examined and organized so academic researchers can more easily use the materials. Library archivists will create a “Finding Aid,” essentially a detailed guide to the Claremont manuscript collection describing what’s in each box. The Finding Aid will be available online.
Claremont’s approach to storytelling during his run on X-Men is considered groundbreaking. Paul Levitz, former president and publisher of DC Comics, said Claremont’s complex story structures, “played a pivotal role in assembling the audience that enabled American comics to move to more mature and sophisticated storytelling, and the graphic novel. When scholars look back and understand this pivotal change in our popular culture, his papers will prove invaluable.” His longtime editor Louise Simonson said, “his papers will provide many clues, not only to the evolving way comic books are created and presented, but also how they are perceived, licensed, bought and sold in America and around the world.”
Green said Claremont and his wife, Beth Fleisher, were looking for a place to donate his papers and mentioned it to a friend, Mimi Cruz of the Salt Lake City comics shop, Night Flight Comics. Cruz in turn suggested they contact Green, who it turns out knew Fleisher while they were both attending NYU as students. Green brought the project to the attention of Michael Ryan, director of the Rare Book and Manuscript Library, who she said was “enthusiastic” about the project. Negotiations stretched out for about a year, Green said, and Claremont signed a deed of gift to the University in July. The University began receiving the materials in September.
Green said getting the collection is "very exciting' and she expects a lot of interest in the collection from researchers of all kinds. Once the Claremont Collection has been processed, it will be open to “anyone who has a demonstrated need to see it,” said Green, “you don’t have to be an academic if you can show a need to use it.”
The Butler Library Graphic Novel collection was founded by Green in 2005 and now has over 2100 titles (which means many more volumes). Indeed Green said the “existence of the collection helped sell the idea of the Claremont archives to the Rare Book Library. We like it when the general collection and the special collections can support each other.”