Poster outside the Bill Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum

Outside the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum located in Sullivant Hall on North High Street. Credit: Ashley Kimmel | Arts & Life Editor

After months of shutdown, the 300,000 cartoons, 45,000 books and 2.5 million comic strip clippings at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum will see the light of day again.

When the library closed down March 17 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, its two featured exhibits, “Ladies First: A Century of Women’s Innovations in Comics and Cartoon Art” and “Making Faces: Portraits by John Kascht,” were locked away from the public. Now, nearly six months later, the library welcomed patrons once again Thursday.

“The experience of actually seeing the work is completely unaltered, there’s nothing different about that. It’s just there’s going to be less people in there. Which, for a lot of museum-goers, that’s a good thing. You get a private viewing time and it’s extra safe,” Caitlin McGurk, associate curator at the library, said.

Both of the featured exhibits will be available for patrons to view and interact with once they purchase a ticket and make a reservation through the museum’s website. McGurk said the online ticket and reservation process is one part of the efforts being made to ensure the safety of the museum’s patrons while preventing the further spread of COVID-19. Only five people will be allowed in at one time and there are sanitation stations in the galleries and around Sullivant Hall, where the museum is housed.

“We’ve put a lot of precautions in place, as far as how people are going to be accessing the place,” McGurk said.

In addition to the reservation system and the sanitation stations, McGurk said the museum is also doing contact tracing, in which patrons fill out their email, phone number and full name so they can be alerted should a positive case occur within the museum. 

McGurk is one of the curators in charge of “Ladies First: A Century of Women’s Innovations in Comics and Cartoon Art.” The exhibit celebrates the Centennial of the women’s suffrage movement and is an overview of the major contributions by women cartoonists to the field of comics and cartoon art over the past hundred years up to current comic books, McGurk said. 

Also on display is “Making Faces: Portraits by John Kascht,” which was curated by Anne Drozd, the library’s museum coordinator. 

“John Kascht is a caricaturist that focuses on celebrities and politicians and authors; people who are pretty recognizable to anyone,” Drozd said. “What his work does really well is it amplifies or magnifies what makes the person unique or identifiable.” 

McGurk said part of the library’s effort during the shutdown was to bring extra joy into people’s lives by hosting virtual events and social media challenges.

“This has been such a hard time for everyone. We are the cartoon library and so we don’t always lean on the sometimes mischaracterized silliness and entertainment factor of cartoon art,” McGurk said. 

The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum is open from 1-4 p.m. Thursday through Sunday.