Randy Scott always had loved comic books.
As a typist for the Main Library in 1974, he spent his lunch hours volunteering at the library’s Comic Art Collection, which only had 6,000 comics at that time. After the first edition of Spider-Man was stolen, Scott swung into action. Despite tracking the comic to Curious Book Shop, 307 E. Grand River Ave., it was too late — the comic had been sold and there were no markings to identify it as a part of MSU’s collection.
The experience convinced Scott and Special Collections to create a stamp for the comics — preventing another incident from happening again. It also convinced Scott to go to graduate school before returning to the Comic Art Collection and seeking a larger role.
In 1980, a library trustee found out the library had received a donation of 1,000 comic books. But the library initially was reluctant to promote the growing collection.
“The library wanted to keep it on the down-low because they weren’t too sure that the world would approve of comics in a formal, academic library,” Scott said.
Eventually, the library sent out a press release that reached newspapers across the country. From there, things blossomed. The department sometimes received tens of thousands of comics at a time.
“People got the idea, ‘Here’s a place to send those damn comics that I’ve had in my attic,’” Scott said. “We made a lot of enemies of the kids because their mothers sent us their comics.”
Today, the collection is the biggest in the world, according to Scott. It features about 250,000 comics, and 6 million newspaper comic strips, mostly because of Scott’s dedication to enlarging it. Scott now works as assistant head of Special Collections at MSU Libraries.
“I’m always begging,” he said. “I beg people for donations, and I beg my bosses for more money. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Mostly, it works.”
Scott took the position of assistant head of Special Collections in 1992, but he’s had an interest in comics since he was a kid.
Scott started working at Curious Book Shop in 1970, where he became interested in science-fiction novels. Curious Book Shop owner Ray Walsh said Scott was his first employee.
“He sorted comic books and did retail sales,” Walsh said. “We basically winged it and figured out what was a fair price on things.”
Scott left Curious Book Shop in 1973 to work as a typist for MSU’s Main Library. Back then, the Comic Art Collection was a mere 6,000 comics and were from the 1960s, donated by a professor named Russel Nye.
Scott began volunteering at the Comic Art Collection during his lunch hours.
“They didn’t quite know what to do with them,” Scott said of the comics. “They put them in alphabetical order, and just waited to see what would happen. It was a much smaller department.”
In 1975, Scott left MSU Libraries to earn a master’s degree in library service at Columbia University. He returned to MSU Libraries in 1977, where he worked as a catalog librarian, organizing the collection and bringing in new books.
About 10 percent of the comics are purchased with a yearly fund Scott receives from the library administration. Previously, the fund was about $8,000 a year. This year, Scott received an extra $15,000 from the administration.
“Randy came to me and described a gap in our comic art collection, which we’ve been building for many years,” Head of Special Collections Peter Berg said. “This gap was comics from the 1950s, a very important era. We both decided that it would be important for him to, as soon as possible, go out and make some extensive purchases in this area.”
Scott hesitated to say that the library administration is putting a greater focus on the Comic Art Collection compared to years past. However, a yearly fund for the collection represents a stark contrast from 1980, when the library was hesitant to even send out a press release promoting the collection.
Berg agreed the administration recognizes its Comic Art Collection is special.
“There are several collections here in Special Collections that are world-class,” Berg said. “One of them is comic art. So, it’s only in our best interest to ensure that we keep that at a very high level because it draws interest and researchers from throughout the world.”
Although Scott’s love for comics helped propel the collection to a quarter million comic books, maintaining the collection is a group effort.
Roughly 90 percent of the collection is donated comics. The other 10 percent of the comics were purchased with the yearly fund Scott receives.
Both student and faculty volunteers help catalogue the constantly growing collection.
Scott said one of his prime volunteers in the past year is sophomore Stephanie Zang.
The Japanese major spent much of last semester translating and cataloguing Japanese manga in the collection.
“I noticed that there were a lot of uncataloged Japanese comics,” Zang said. “I offered my services because Japanese and comics are two things that I’m interested in.”
Berg said the library administration tries to support local vendors when making comic book purchases.
“One of the nice things about (filling the gap) is that I said, ‘You know, it would be really nice if we could keep this money local,’” Berg said. “There was a very good comic store in Detroit and a dealer in Detroit that he worked with.”
Scott also purchases comics from Curious Book Shop and 21st Century Comics and Games, 215 E. Grand River Ave. 21st Century Comics owner Andrew Morrow said Scott makes purchases from the store a couple times a year, and he appreciates the local business.
“We’ve got a great crowd of customers,” Morrow said. “A lot of collectors, people who just come in because they enjoy the books. Some people do podcast reviews. (There are) a lot of very enthusiastic people in the community.”
Scott knows the comic collection is among the largest in the world, but even he’s not sure how many there are.
“Precisely, between 249,000 and 280,000, who knows?” he said. “It may be a little more.”
Because of the constant influx of donations, Scott says the real number of comics is impossible to count.
“During Christmas time, if you get your stuff in before the end of December, you get a tax deduction,” Scott said. “We got 20,000 comic books in December. I’m going to be working on them until next December, sorting them out and putting them on shelves. Some new comics come in, almost every day, but at least every other day.”
Breaking down the collection, Scott says about 200,000 of the comics are American. At least 35,000 of the comics are foreign, and there are 5,000 books about comics. Those figures don’t include the vast amount of newspaper comic strips — totaling 6 million.
Scott has traveled the world boasting of MSU’s impressive comic book collection, and no one has been able to deny it is the largest of its kind.
“It is the biggest,” Scott said. “I can say that, and nobody can contradict me. I’ve been saying it for 10 years, in different countries, I’ve been saying it everywhere. That’s the only way you’ll know.”
When asked what it means to be responsible for compiling the greatest archive of comics in the world, Scott gave a long pause before answering.
“It gives me great satisfaction,” he finally said with a smile. “I’m hoping to retire in about four years, with everything organized and catalogued up to that point. I know it won’t be true, because there’s always stuff coming in and we have to catch up.”