About Author: Kalmia Strong

Posts by Kalmia Strong


Paperbacks in the Stacks

Students from Professor Loren Glass’ English/UI Center for the Book course Literature and the Book: The Paperback Revolution are using materials from Special Collections this semester to uncover the impact of paperback books on twentieth century American literature and culture.  As they do, we are uncovering some hidden treasures of the paperback revolution in the stacks.

Despite the ubiquity of the paperback book throughout much of the twentieth century, paperbacks are typically an understudied book format, mostly getting attention for sensational cover art. However, many intriguing aspects of the paperback revolution beyond cover art  are illustrated throughout our collections.

Here are some highlights:

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith. New York: Council on Books in Wartime, 1943.

(Armed Services edition ; D-117) x-Collection PS3537.M325 T7 1943b

Armed Services Editions, printed from 1943-1946 for American soldiers during World War II, are notable for their unusual horizontal format. They were printed two at a time on magazine presses and then cut in half horizontally, resulting in an oblong book. The text is also printed in two columns per page.This copy of Smith’s novel was published as a hardcover first edition by Harper & Brothers in 1943, the same year the Armed Services Edition was published. Our copy is worn, and the glue holding the cover on has detached so you can see the large staple that is the only things holding the pages together. Did this book travel to Europe or the Pacific tucked in a soldier’s cargo pocket? 


Chinese Cooking Made Easy, Isabelle C. Chang. New York: Paperback Library, Inc. 1961. Szathmary TX725.C514 1961

There are many paperback cookbooks in the Szathmary Culinary Collection, including this Chinese cookbook, the first paperback edition of What’s Cooking at Chang’s? (renamed in paperback). The low cost and accessibility of paperback cookbooks made a broader range of recipes and techniques available to a large audience – in this case, “tantalizing, exotic dishes you can prepare with ingredients easily available at your grocer or supermarket.”  Paperbacks from the 1950s-70s in the Szathmary collection range from microwave cooking to wine to recipes from all over the world.




Signal Thirty-Two, MacKinlay Kantor. New York: Bantam Books, 1952. Iowa Authors Collection

One of the benefits of our Iowa Authors Collection for book historians is the opportunity to look at multiple editions of a single title, including paperbacks. Webster City native MacKinlay Kantor was a prolific journalist and novelist. This “Bantam Giant” paperback edition of his novel Signal Thirty-Two fits the stereotype of a mid-twentieth century paperback with its dramatic cover art, but other characteristics of the book indicate a desire to represent a “quality” not always associated with paperbacks, especially in the 1950s when they were still a relatively new format. The slogans “Bantam Giants – not one word cut” and “Every Book Complete” emphasize that the paperback, while physically smaller, is not an abridged version of the hardcover original. Signal Thirty-Two’s title page stretches across a spread, showing attention to innovative graphic design, and the text ends with a solicitation from the Bantam paperbacks editor for reader input and recommendations.


Sirens of Titan, Kurt Vonnegut. New York: Dell, 1959. x-Collection PS3572.O66 S47 1959

Our ever-growing science fiction collections include many paperbacks, as much of that genre was first or only published in the ephemeral and cheap paperback format. One particular gem is the first edition of Kurt Vonnegut’s second novel, Sirens of Titan. Though Vonnegut is now recognized as an important an influential American author, in 1959 this first edition was pocket-sized, printed on cheap paper, and sold for 35 cents.

This book, as well as some other exciting paperbacks from our collection, will be on display in our pop-up case. Come check them out!


Zine Month in Special Collections

Happy International Zine Month! Throughout July Special Collections & University Archives will be celebrating by highlighting zines from our collections.

Every day this month, Olson Fellow (and zine enthusiast) Kalmia Strong will be selecting a zine from our collections to share on Twitter. Follow us @UISpecColl to see her picks, which will cover a broad range of subjects, styles, and locations.

We will also have a cart of zines in the reading room for drop-in reading. Anyone is welcome to come in and spend a few minutes (or hours!) browsing the zines. They include art zines, Riot Grrrl zines, science fiction fanzines, and zines made in Iowa, among many others.

Did you know that we have approximately 20 collections of zines adding up to over 500 linear feet?  They range in subject from sci-fi to food to punk to comics to feminism, and date from the 1940s to the present. We also regularly receive donations of zines. Two recent acquisitions are several issues of Dishwasher and Moonbeam #3 .These zines are very different in focus but are both excellent examples of the scope of self-produced publications, produced on a copy machine, bound with staples, and distributed through the mail for little more than the price of materials.

Dishwasher was published by Pete Jordan (AKA Dishwasher Pete) in fifteen issues from 1989-2001, and chronicles his journey across the United States washing dishes in every state. By turns tongue-in-cheek, political, and personal, it includes stories of work as a dishwasher, contributions from other dishwashers, collage, comics, quotes, and movie reviews (focusing on dishwashing scenes, of course).

Moonbeam #3 was published in 1978 by Deborah M. Walsh, and was one of the first Star Wars fanzines created after the film was released in 1977. It is an anthology of contributions of original art, fan fiction, and poetry, with a focus on Alec Guinness/Obi-Wan Kenobi. It is particularly interesting to look at early Star Wars zines because of the great excitement and speculation about characters and plot that would be revealed in later films and because of the complicated relationship between Twentieth Century Fox and the growing community of Star Wars fans.

Walsh writes on her website: “Everyone warned me that I shouldn’t try to do a Star Wars zine, because at the time, conventions were frequently the scene to FBI search and seizures of bootlegged Star Wars merchandise. But I was headstrong and crazy for the Force. It proved to be an amazing experience publishing this zine.”

If you’d like to learn more about zines or browse our zine collections, check out our Zine Resources page, or stop by the department on the third floor of the Main Library 8:30AM-5PM Monday through Friday.


Collaboration in Comics: Tradition and Experimentation

As a virtual supplement to our exhibit The Comics Continuum (on view in the Main Library 3rd floor hallway, now through November) this fall we are featuring items from our comics collections on the Special Collections & University Archives blog. Below we’ve described two examples of collaboration in comics from the exhibition, but please explore our collections on your own! Comic Books in Special Collections is a good place to start online, or come into the reading room and check out the cart of comics material we’ve pulled out of the stacks.

While many comics from idea to finished product are the work of a single artist, collaborative work is an important part of the history of comics, both in the mainstream and experimental realms.

Dick Tracy storyboard

Max Allan Collins’ notes, including dialogue and textual description of the illustrations to come, for a Dick Tracy Sunday comic strip from the 1980s.

The Papers of Max Allan Collins, a UI alumnus, screenwriter, and novelist, contain records of Collins’ correspondence, notes, and writing as he created comics with collaborators who contributed ideas and characters (including Mickey Spillane, for Mickey Spillane’s Mike Danger), art (including Terry Beatty, for Ms. Tree), and lettering.  Collins also has worked to adapt/revive existing comics, as well as the expectations of their fans, in the case of Dick Tracy and Batman.  His papers provide insight into both of these processes, including research and analysis of a comic’s themes and style and creating new stories and sketches that appeal to a contemporary audience and meet the approval of the publisher.

In a letter to the Dick Tracy artist Rick Fletcher from 1980, Collins describes some of the difficulties and compromises inherent in collaborative work:

“Will do my best to describe wardrobe, situations, ‘up front’ – I try to be very specific in my panel descriptions and at the same time not hamstring you; a delicate balance. Occasionally this sort of thing is bound to happen, considering we collaborate largely by mail.”


Another item in the exhibition that features collaboration is C Comics No. 2. This 1965 publication is one of only two issues produced as a continuation of C: A Journal of Poetry, which was edited by the poet Ted Berrigan. C Comics is the result of collaborations between visual artist Joe Brainard and a number of poets associated with the New York School including Berrigan, John Ashbery, Frank O’Hara, and Kenneth Koch. Much of Brainard’s other artwork uses comic conventions or existing comic characters like Nancy, and in C Comics the combination of semi-abstract images, re-appropriated characters, unusual layout, and the language of the New York School of Poets creates an innovative form of comics, a precursor to modern experimental and artistic comics of all types.

C Comics "The Earth Machine"

from "The Earth Machine" by Kenneth Koch and Joe Brainard, C Comics No. 2, 1965

Rather than set existing poetry in comic form, as others have done, Brainard drew the graphic parts of the comics (sometimes straightforward, sometimes abstract or absurd) with blank spaces and asked his poet collaborators to fill them in with words. In addition to this issue of C Comics, Special Collections has a number of books on Brainard, including Ron Padgett’s Joe: A Memoir of Joe Brainard, in which he describes a later comics collaboration between artist and poet:

“Knowing that Joe preferred not to do the kind of messy, spontaneous, simultaneous collaborations that we had done [earlier], I wrote a text–a pseudo-professorial statement–that I thought could be adapted to the comic strip form. Then Joe and I set about looking through his … postcard collections, selecting images that jumped out at us. We quickly put them in a sequence, sometimes matching image and text, sometimes going against an overt connection. In light of the images, I made a few final revisions of the text. Joe then redrew everything in black and white, and I lettered in the words” (163).