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Let’s marvel at the comics

Alumnus donates comic-book classics to Cary Graphic Arts Collection

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A. Sue Weisler

The RIT Cary Graphic Arts Collection will be hosting an exhibition of The Stephen Neil Cooper Comic Book Collection in April.

Go ahead—laugh—because something very funny is going on.

Political maverick Sarah Palin now stars in one, so does the TV cast of Glee and the vampires of Stephenie Meyer’s novel Twilight.

There will always be new superheroes in comic books, but we can’t forget our childhood staples: Archie, Jungle Jim, Uncle $crooge, Nancy and Sluggo, Mighty Mouse, The Lone Ranger, Daniel Boone, Little Iodine.

And for one avid hobbyist, collecting some of these classics became a “cosmic-sized vision.” Stephen Cooper’s personal challenge was to amass a synchronized collection to include all 202 comic books that were on candy store shelves and newsstands in April 1956.

The RIT alumnus—who graduated in 1966 with a fine arts degree in illustration photography—recently donated The Stephen Neil Cooper Comic Book Collection to the RIT Cary Graphic Arts Collection. The value of the series is conservatively estimated at $20,000.

So why did he start collecting?

“When I was 11 years old, I was on a bus going down Sixth Avenue, reading my favorite science fiction comic magazine,” recalls Cooper, owner of Sybille Gallery, a creative framing store in New York City. “The story was about a guy who kept getting bigger and bigger and so stretched out that planets could pass through him. It was called “Search for a Lost World” and originally was published in Strange Adventures No. 67, April 1956.”

Years later, a friend found the original copy at Comic-Con International in San Diego and gave it to Cooper, who says the date itself “sparked a blazing inferno into my collector fires.”

“Owning one solitary comic with that date wasn’t enough,” he says. “I wanted to own every single title during that same month, that same year.”

Cooper is also simply “mad” about MAD, and enjoys collecting original art from the popular magazine.

“That’s the golden grail of the genre of collecting—the original art—and I own what’s considered the greatest cover of all time. It’s MAD No. 27 from April 1956, and it so happens that this particular comic is in the collection I donated to RIT.

“Created by artist Jack Davis, it’s a crowded scene of famous people who made news that year: Winston Churchill, Richard Nixon, Casey Stengle, Nikita Khrushchev, Adlai Stevenson—even Gina Lollobrigida.”

For trivia seekers: The cost of the comic was 25 cents; it was also Alfred E. Neuman’s first appearance in color.

As for the entire collection now residing at RIT, Cooper says he kept his alma mater in mind during the 10-year span it took to complete.

“It has authentic academic value insofar as it encompassed an entire niche of anthropological study,” Cooper says. “Knowing the comics of April 1956 will be preserved intact at the Cary Graphic Arts Collection—under archival conditions for students to study into the next century—is my reward.

“The comics will provide a comprehensive window into the graphic design, printing technology and popular culture zeitgeist of mid-20th century America.”


A. Sue Weisler

The RIT Cary Graphic Arts Collection will be hosting an exhibition of The Stephen Neil Cooper Comic Book Collection in April.