Comic books are an oft-underrated part of literary history, with fingers in every direction from novels to television and movies. And of course, the comics themselves.
Stephen Geppi has built his career on publishing and distributing comic books, beginning with a small chain of comic shops in Baltimore in the 1970s. In 1982, he founded Diamond Comic Distributors. By ’96, after the acquisition of major competitor Capital City, he had a near-monopoly on comic book distribution in the U.S. and was a major force abroad.
Over time, Geppi amassed a substantial collection of comic and pop-culture history. He opened a private museum in his home town of Baltimore to trace the history of American pop-culture from the days of newspaper comics on forward. He also opened a series of galleries, the Diamond International Galleries, to show comics and collectibles as having a place in the fine art world. Much of the collections shown in those galleries comes from Geppi’s private collections.
This year, he will close his museum. And it’s from that collection comes his recent gift to the United States. Announced Wednesday, May 30th, Geppi will be donating more than 3,000 items from his collection to the Library of Congress, their largest-ever donation of comic books and related articles.
The donation, which is estimated to have a value in the millions, includes items from 80 years of American comics, including storyboards from the early Mickey Mouse short “Plane Crazy,” Beatles memorabilia, and newspaper strips from the very first American serial comics.
The Library of Congress has the world’s largest collection of comic books, with approximately 140,000 issues from 13,000 titles, according to Carla Hayden, the Librarian of Congress.
“When Steve asked about making this gift, I was just thrilled, because it supports something here that is a touchstone for many people who might not otherwise think the Library of Congress is a library for them,” said Hayden.