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Challenges cataloguing the John Ryan Comic Collection

Challenges cataloguing the John Ryan Comic Collection
Sharpen those brain cells
20 January 2016

Those of you familiar with my previous blog posts know how much fun I’ve been having working on the John Ryan Comic Collection. What probably isn’t as apparent, is just how challenging it can be at times. Let me walk you through my two most memorable challenges thus far.

Just last week I catalogued Osiris, a science fiction fanzine edited by Del and Dennis Stocks. Looking at the shelf list, I saw there were 20 volumes. I thought all I’d have to do was catalogue the title using the earliest issue to hand, which is what we do for serials/magazines, then add all the issue numbers into the holdings. I was about to find out it wasn’t going to be that simple.

John Ryan Comic Collection shelf list

Excerpt from the John Ryan Comic Collection shelf list  1984, National Library of Australia 

I suspected it wasn’t going to be so straight forward when I went to put the issues in order, and found that two of the issues had “Mk. 2” on the cover, indicating to me that I was likely dealing with two series, even though it had only been entered as one on the shelf list. As the majority of the fanzines I deal with have ceased publication, I like to put the issues I have in hand, in order, and check online to see if I can find when they began and ended (their “life dates” in cataloguer-speak), before I set about upgrading or creating the catalogue record.

Cover of Osiris II

Cover of Osiris II, MS 6514, Box 46, Item 1014, Mk. 2, no. 4, whole no. 14, 6979819

I searched the Library’s catalogue to see if we might already have a record for other copies of this title that had previously been received via Legal Deposit with no luck. We definitely didn’t hold any issues in our general collections. I then searched the Libraries Australia database which covers the holdings of Australian, American, British and New Zealand libraries. I found a minimal level record in WorldCat (USA), which didn’t tell me anything helpful about the suspected two series problem, but I imported it into the Library's catalogue so I could upgrade it once I had tracked down the answer.

Minimal level record for Osiris

Minimal level record from Libraries Australia for Osiris

Fancyclopedia 3 is a wonderful online resources I use to assist me catalogue the John Ryan Comic Collection. While it did confirm that Osiris was a fanzine edited by Del and Dennis Stocks, it didn’t elaborate any further or mention a second series. The only place I found confirmation that Osiris existed in two series, was The Wright Collections’ work in progress list.

Having exhausted all online avenues, I then went back to the issues themselves, and started reading them. Much to my relief, I found a page in Mk. 2, no. 2, whole no. 12 telling me almost all I needed to know. Two series did indeed exist! Now I could get back to putting the issues in series order then number order, without having to second guess myself as to whether what I was doing was correct.

Excerpt from Osiris II

Excerpt from Osiris II, MS 6514, Box 46, Item 1014, Mk. 2, no. 2, whole no. 12, 6979819

The first series consisted of issues 1–10. The second series started with Mk. 2, no. 1, whole no. 11, therefore continuing the general numbering of the first series. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find an end date. Knowing what I now knew, it was easy putting series one into order. Series two wasn’t as easy to sort out due to lack of numbering on some issues. Using the numbered issues as a base, I then looked at the unnumbered issues in front of me.

I eventually identified issue 11 by its pagination:

Numbering of Osiris II

Excerpt from Osiris II, MS6514, Box 46, Item 1014, Mk. 2, no. 2, whole no. 11, 6979819

I used the postmarks on the backs of whole numbers 15, 18 and a special issue on Immanuel Velikovsky, to put them in chronological order. Thank goodness for Australia Post.


Postmarks on unnumbered issues of Osiris II

And I identified number eight from the first series, when I noticed the back page didn’t match the rest of the publication, and found it actually belonged to Mk. 2, no. 3, whole no. 13 and had been incorrectly attached to number eight (perhaps John Ryan’s little joke to test the investigative skills of a future cataloguer?).

Now for the cataloguing. Starting with the first series, I gave the minimal level record a massive overhaul. The fields I upgraded were title, publication details and description. The fields I added were:

  • an Australian authentication code and a special index term to indicate that the title was published in Australia

  • a Dewey Decimal classification number

  • serial life dates

  • subject headings

  • a genre heading to show the type of publication it is—in this case a fan magazine, as distinct from the particular subject it is about

  • entries for the names of both editors

  • an entry for the organisation associated with the publication

  • and an “institution specific” series heading showing that it was part of the Library’s John Ryan collection.

I also upgraded the record to conform with the specifications of our latest cataloguing standard, Resource Description and Access.

I also added a note explaining that after number ten, Osiris merged with Mithril to become Osiris II, and then I added a succeeding title field to link the two catalogue records together.

Full level record from Libraries Australia for Osiris

Full level record from Libraries Australia for Osiris

The record for the second series of Osiris I catalogued from scratch, as no other library had catalogued it to date. It differed from the record of the first series by its title, publication details and serial life dates. The Brisbane Fantasy and Science Fiction Association was no longer involved resulting in numbering peculiarities and two preceding title entries.

Full level record from Libraries Australa for Osiris II

Full level record from Libraries Australia for Osiris II

As I had catalogued Mithril last year, and there had been no mention of it merging with Osiris to become Osiris II, I added in the relevant history note and linking title entries. I also called up the general copies we hold in the stacks, to take another look at them and see what extra information I could garner from them. I’m so glad I did this, as in the editorial of number one, I found that Mithril began life as Miscellaneous Intelligence, so in went another linking title entry and a tweak of the history note.

Mithril cover

Mithril, MS 6514, Box 45, Item 962, No. 1, May 1972, 1813344

Reading over this now, it all seemed pretty straight forward, but in reality, the whole process took hours of intense uninterrupted concentration and culminated in a visit to the National Library’s Paperplate cafe for an extra-large black tea and the biggest piece of cake I could find. (Warning: cataloguing can make you fat!)

My other memorable challenge concerned Michael Jolly’s fanzine. It was nowhere near as intense as my Osiris challenge, but it still involved extra effort.

At first glance, all I had to identify it, was by its caption title. There were no dates or other publication features. While cataloguing rules do allow for this type of occurrence, I only allow myself to use this as a last resort, eg. [Place of publication not identified] : [publisher not identified], [19--?].

MJFZ Excerpt

Excerpt from Michael Jolly's fanzine, MS 6514, Box 44, Item 955, No. 2, 6971788

I did my usual searches, but no other library had attempted to catalogue it, nor could I find any information online. So I read it. In the middle of a paragraph on page four, I found Michael’s address, and then further on, he spoke about the recent (at the time) passing of Brian Jones from The Rolling Stones, which put the date of publication at 1969.

Excerpt from MJFZ

Excerpt from Michael Jolly's fanzine, MS 6514, Box 44, Item 955, No. 2, 6971788

I’ve been working with the John Ryan Comic Collection since June 2014—I’ve become used to how particular publications are formatted. Knowing Michael Jolly was Australian, I began to suspect that his fanzine could be a contribution to Australian and New Zealand Amateur Press Association (ANZAPA), which was a compilation of short stories, zines and other articles submitted by various authors, especially as it contained a few pages of mailing comments, yet no mention of the publication. I got my ANZAPA index out, looked Michael Jolly up, and there he was! At the time the index was published, Michael had contributed two Michael Jolly’s fanzines to ANZAPA. The first was published in ANZAPA six, and the second in ANZAPA seven. I checked our holdings of these particular issues, and found that they were indeed published in 1969. If I had catalogued this item at the beginning of my time with the John Ryan Comic Collection, I never would have recognised and made this ANZAPA connection.

ANZAPA index excerpt

Excerpt from ANZAPA 64 : The Australian and New Zealand Amateur Publishing Association: tenth anniversary mailing, October 1978 (N 052 AUS)

My resulting catalogue record for Michael Jolley’s fanzine ended up looking like this:

Full level record from Libraries Australia for Michael Jolly's fanzine

Full level record from Libraries Australia for Michael Jolly's fanzine

I’ve been a cataloguer for 19 years (ten of those have been spent at the National Library of Australia). I really enjoy a cataloguing challenge, so I find my work with the John Ryan Comic Collection extremely rewarding. There’s nothing like hunting down answers, following through suspicions, and eventually coming across the solution—it can be really exciting after having put in so much effort.

I always have accessibility in mind while cataloguing, which is why I go the extra mile to get answers so as to be able to create the most useful catalogue record possible. I hope my work helps a future researcher or fan discover material they have been searching for, that hasn’t been previously accessible.

Loved this posting, thank you for all your meticulous work to expose the John Ryan Collection!!
Thanks Nick - I'm glad you enjoyed my post! Making the John Ryan Comic Collection totally accessible is one of my passions here at work. There are so many wonderful, entertaining, and informative items contained within this special collection, some of which I can't find a trace of online. I really enjoy bringing them back to life, so to speak, by creating the most detailed records I can, as I know that there must be other people out there who would enjoy these items, if only they knew they still existed after all these decades.
It was that commitment to detailed cataloguing that lead to my donating zines and comics to the NLA; making resources discoverable is crucial, particularly with rare and ephemeral publications like fanzines.
Really cool stuff. Thanks for sharing.
No worries, Cody - I'm glad you enjoyed the read.
In am delighted that the John Ryan is being so lovingly catalogued. I have looked online: to see if I can view the archive this far and have not had much luck accessing it. Am I looking in the wrong area, or is it yet to be released?
Hi Bigfoot - glad to hear the John Ryan Comic Collection is of interest to you! Every title my predecessor and I have cataloged, has had a "John Ryan Comic Collection" series field added to the record. If you do an advanced search for "John Ryan Comic Collection" "as a phrase" in "series", then you'll get all the individual titles that have been catalogued thus far for this special collection.
Thank your for the advice. The search works. I can now appreciated the depth of work required. Comics are a graphic medium. It is a shame there is not access to a cover visual, and for some, a visual of internal pages. Unfortunately I am sure that this would take up a massive amount of data. Again, thank you for taking time to reply.
Incredibly jealous of this project and in awe of your detective skills!
Thanks Ben! I feel incredibly honoured to have been chosen to work on this project. It’s a real joy to use my cataloguing skills to bring this amazing collection back to life and accessible for future generations.
We who love Australian fanzines had no idea where the John Ryan collection had finished up. It's indeed encouraging that you are putting so much effort into cataloguing it. However, your blog post raises some serious matters, quite apart from the peculiar difficulties of cataloguing very personal documents such as fanzines, especially 'perszines' (personal fanzines). The difficulty is that fanzines that were published for a particular apa (amateur publishing association) really should not appear on the public record at all, as the understanding of members is that their contributions will not be seen outside the apa. However, that will not be apparent to someone, such as you, who receives the entire collection of someone who has died. However, at the moment it seems that you are only cataloguing fanzines that appeared in ANZAPA (Australia and New Zealand Amateur Publishing Association), not reproducing their contents. I'm glad that you've been able to find a list of contents of early ANZAPAs. I suppose I have it in my collection somewhere. I am, by the way, the current Official Editor of ANZAPA, which began in 1968. I am also a founder member.
Thanks very much for your appreciation of my cataloguing efforts Bruce. It’s a real privilege for me to work with the John Ryan collection and make him more widely known to the world. He was so passionate about his collection and the importance of comics and fanzines as both literature and a significant aspect of our cultural heritage. That’s the reason he wanted to ensure that his collection wasn’t lost or dispersed, but went to the National Library as a secure home where it would be properly described, maintained and made accessible for future generations. I am constantly amazed by the richness of the collection, comics, fanzines, trade catalogues, newsletters, fotonovellas and much more! I have learned such a lot during my cataloguing and am now a real convert to, and enthusiast for, the genre. The cataloguing process describes the items in the Ryan collection, fulfilling John’s aim of making people aware of what was being written both in Australia and overseas. However the actual content of the material, the text and images, is not reproduced in any way by the Library.
I am so grateful to Bruce Gillespie for drawing my attention to this blog, but I fear I could end up devoting *far* too much time to it. Like Bruce, I have reservations about mailings and individual contributions to amateur press associations (apas) being made available in this way, but not after half a century. I personally do air private indiscreet thoughts in my apa zines at times that could be incredibly embarrassing (and damaging) if made available to the general public in a contemporary way. I would suggest that in most cases a delay of about 10 years would be appropriate. I had understood that John Ryan's widow, Jan, who was never personally a comics or sf fan but who was wonderfully indulgent of John's passions, had sold his collection after he died, but I had assumed it was scattered to the four winds, not kept intact in the National Library. This is wonderful news, and it is wonderful to see serious attempts to catalogue the fanzine part of it by someone who has taken the trouble to learn something about the fanzine world. Having said that, it does appear to me that much of the "comics" part of John's collection cannot be included in just 515 items, and perhaps some of the more valuable items did get sold (quite reasonably) to fulfil economic needs. I am less concerned about the dispersal of mass-produced items of which plenty of copies exist around the world than limited-edition items and items that were originally produced in numbers, but of which John's copies might have been among the last in existence. Fanzines are particularly ephemeral, it seems to me, but Australian-produced comic books from the era in which John was most interested might also be coming into the category of "last copy left". I understand that this project is really about John's collection, but are you also involved in fanzine cataloguing generally? John was a member of ANZAPA, on and off, for most of its existence up until the time of his death. I was Official Editor (later Official Bloody Editor) for part of that time, and I could probably, in the fullness of time, let you have contents pages for many early mailings, which might help confirm the provenance of some of John's holdings. I note that there seems to be some sort of record of some of my publications, and my 1996 workers compensation book has been cleverly connected with my fanzines, although I have to point out that I am *not* the Gary Mason who wrote something about Drought Feeding in 1986 for the Queensland Department of Primary Industries! I always took legal deposit requirements seriously -- because they are something of which I heartily approve -- but I believe I had a discussion with someone at NLA in the early 70s who confirmed my suspicion that legal deposit was not required for something with a limited, purely internal, distribution, such as an apa. Thus none of my apazines were deposited (at least not by me) and do not seem to be listed. As I have mentioned, I still have grave reservations about current or recent apa zines, but I might at some stage re-visit my views on those half a century old.
I'm so pleased you enjoyed the blog post Gary, and thanks very much for letting me know that you are a different Gary Mason from the person who wrote the book about drought feeding. It is sometimes very difficult for cataloguers to distinguish between people with identical names, so wherever possible we try to "disambiguate" by adding some additional information to the name if it is available, such as life dates, middle names/ initials, or field of activity. I've done some more checking today and found that the Gary Mason who wrote the drought feeding book had the middle initials W. J. so I've added this to his name on our catalogue record to show that he is not you! You will see this change reflected in our online catalogue tomorrow. I have only been cataloguing fanzines since beginning work on John’s collection in 2014. I can assure you that the Library has been collecting Australian comics, zines and fanzines for many years, both via legal deposit from the publishers and also donations or purchase from other collectors. So we have much, much more than what was acquired in the John Ryan collection. As you said, many of these publications are quite ephemeral and at risk of being lost entirely. So the Library places great importance on trying to collect and preserve copies for the future. For example, some of the earliest fanzine titles we hold are S-F Review from 1952-1953 Woomera from 1951-1953 and Etherline from 1953-1958 plus some issues of the later series from the late 60s to 70s We also hold many early Australian comics (plus of course contemporary ones), including titles such as The Kookaburra and Captain Atom This just gives you a little taste of what the Library holds. They all have a safe and loving home here!
As a former cataloging librarian, now retired, I loved reading about your challenges with Osirus and Jolley's fanzine and how you went about solving them. Despite the current emphasis on speed and brevity in cataloging material to the detriment of good records your process shows how some detective work and intellectual effort can make accessible content that otherwise would be unavailable to the public. Bravo!
Thank you, Carol - I'm glad you enjoyed reading about my cataloguing efforts. I always strive to create the best catalogue records possible, especially if the National Library of Australia is the only library in the world to hold it in an accessible form. Many titles in the John Ryan Comic Collection are hard to come by elsewhere, and contain a wealth of information just crying out to be discovered and appreciated by current and future generations. I always say if something is worth doing, then it's worth doing well.
Amazing. What a small world. My sister in Canberra is doing some research and sent me the link to your blog on my late husband's collection. I have passed it on to Nat Karmichael who is still heavily involved in John's work and his book panel by Panel. I'm sure he will be in touch and may be a good resource for your work. Thank you for you wonderful work. Jan Rhoades
Hi Jan, It made my day to find a comment from you on my latest blog post! It means a lot that you’re happy and supportive of my work on this special collection. I’ve been slowly and carefully working my way through it for the last two years, and am thoroughly enjoying the experience. I have come across so many hidden gems just waiting to be re-discovered. Quite often the National Library turns out to be the only library in the world to hold some of these titles, so I always strive to catalogue everything in as much detail as possible, which will allow future fans and researchers to access them after having been hidden for all this time. Out of the 1207 titles, I’ve got less than 200 left to catalogue. I will be sad once I finish this project, but on the bright side, at least it will be totally accessible after being stored safely away for so long. Thanks once again! Alison
Hullo Alison. Jan Rhoades (nee Ryan) passed on details about your research to me this morning. So, I thought I should extend my greetings to you. And my appreciation on behalf of not only myself, but of all future historians. This is a wonderful job you are doing. John Ryan was largely influential in getting me into the wonderful world of Australian comics. I know that my very first comic is among those in this collection ("Thoughts"), as I sent it to him soon after publication. I even obtained a physical copy of the collection's catalogue (in the days before the internet), with the aim of one day thinking that I might be able to help in identifying some of the knowledge gaps in it. (However, my copy has only few marks on it. Life has 'got in the way', and I have focussed on publishing Australian comics instead.) I reminisce: In the Letters page in one of my publications ("John Dixon's Air Hawk Magazine" #6 ISSN 1034-1323 Summer 1989), in reply to Alex Soboslay's letter I hint at "surprises in the issues ahead" in relation to back-up stories. Sadly, there were no further issues on the Australian newsstands (although another issue was distributed in the USA), but the plan had always been to reprint some of the original Syd Miller's "Rod Craig" strips (1945 - 1955) that Dennis Stocks - the same Dennis Stocks from you posting! - had acquired from John Ryan after his death. Sadly, however, Dennis disapproved of my cover to Issue #6 (perhaps too hot for a comic book?), and never answered any further correspondence from me! Still, now that I am in my 'twilight years' I am publishing more Australian comics and comic-related books than ever before. (Without meaning to brag, I have now self-funded 17 comic books and 6 comic-related books in total.) There is so much that needs to be done to record and reprint past Australian comics so they are preserved for future generations, and you are doing a marvellous job in seeing that happen. I salute you, Alison! In my own way, I am still doing my little bit too: I was able to assist in the negotiations in the National Library being able to acquire the Stan Cross original "Stop Laughing" last year, and I am looking forward to its unveiling to the general public later this year. I am attending the first "Australian Comic Art Festival" later this month in Canberra, and I would dearly have loved to have spent longer in your city to have been able to catch up with you to congratulate you in person, now that Jan has informed me of your work. The wonderful depth of research that John Ryan obtained in the days before the internet is phenomenal; the information that he has left us to build on is invaluable. Thanks, once again, for keeping his passion for this largely forgotten entertainment medium alive, Alison, and for attempting to fill in those important gaps.
Hi Nat, Delighted to make your acquaintance! When I was writing my post on the challenges involved in cataloguing the John Ryan Comic Collection, in the back of my mind I was thinking, “Who’s going to be interested in this post other than fellow cataloguers?” With the amount of feedback I’ve been getting, I now stand corrected! It truly means a lot to me that interested parties are learning that the National Library of Australia holds John Ryan’s comic collection, and appreciate all the effort that goes into cataloguing it and making it accessible. Making these valuable items accessible to current and future generations is important to me. Glad to hear you have a copy of the John Ryan Comic Collection shelf list. I understand how life gets in the way of intentions. If you get around to making your notations one of these days, definitely let me know! My copy has notations of my own all over it, of little discoveries (mainly in the way of corrections and enhancements) I’ve made along the way while handling the items. I look forward to getting up to cataloguing your “Thoughts” creation. I’m pleased to report that I will be at the Australian Comic Arts Festival to represent the NLA, along with two of my colleagues. I have already registered for another session during the time you’ll be giving your “Flogging Comics” session, but I hope to catch up with you some time afterwards. Will you be manning a stall on the Market Day? To end with, I love your quote, “The wonderful depth of research that John Ryan obtained in the days before the internet is phenomenal; the information that he has left us to build on is invaluable.”
Geez, Alison, I hate the way that this computer does not allow for paragraphs. My last entry looks like one long monologue, like someone manic and passionate. Perhaps it reads as it is!
Me too, Nat!
Hi Alison - I'm John Ryan's daughter so as you would imagine, I was delighted to read this blog post. My Dad was highly organised and very meticulous so he would be thrilled to know that the NLA is undertaking such painstaking management of his collection. From time to time as I sort through papers at home I still come across some stray correspondence between my Dad and other comic artists and collectors from across the world. Just yesterday I opened a book by Vane Lindsay and tucked inside was a illustrated dedication to my Dad. Though it is some years since my Dad passed and I was too young to be involved in the dispersal of his collection, I'm the best contact for the family if you ever wish to do so. Best email address (that I'm prepared to publish on this blog at least) is fiona at tiffinbitesized dot com dot au. Thanks again for all of your hard work!
It’s wonderful to hear from you, Fiona! It means a lot to me that you, your Mum, friends and admirers of your Dad are appreciative of the effort I’ve been putting into cataloguing his comic collection. I loved hearing you describe him as a highly organised and meticulous man, as that’s exactly how I am when it comes to cataloguing his collection. Access to the John Ryan Comic Collection is so important, especially when a lot of the titles are so rare (not to mention cool and interesting!) Thank you very much for your kind words.
I have really appreciated this little blog that links people regarding cataloging the John Ryan collection and Australian comics in general. It links the people and family and passions behind the scenes. It also encourages me to consider donating material and early comics. Alison it is likely that you have been accessing the resource of James Zanotto and This has been a rare and valuable visual resource too and would love both this site and John's collection to join forces to bridge the various gaps.
Thanks very much for your appreciative comment Bigfoot. I am delighted that you've enjoyed my blog posts, and I share your passion about the importance of this material and its creators. I have definitely found James Zanotto's site very helpful in my cataloguing. It is a wonderful resource. The Library would certainly be very happy for James to add links to our catalogue records from his site to provide some further information about the titles. For example, you can link to all of the records in the John Ryan collection at[]=&submit=Find . You can also link to the catalogue records for particular comic or zine titles (and we have many more than just those in the Ryan collection), by searching the Library's catalogue for a title, and then using the "Cite this" link at the top of the record to get the catalogue persistent identifier URL. For example, if you search for the title "Kokey Koala and his magic button" the Cite this link provided is
Love to talk to all those involved. Please contact me via email Or any others that are into Australian comics.