Not Your Ordinary Comic Books: Underground Comix

Today is National Comic Book Day! It may surprise you to learn that we have an extensive collection of comic books here in Special Collections and University Archives. No, we don’t have DC or Marvel, no Batman or Spiderman, but what we do have is pretty amazing. We have a large collection of underground comix (or comics), which are a bit more, shall we say, unconventional. Fair warning: many of them are not for the faint of heart or the easily offended and are meant for a mature audience. These are found in the Underground Comix Collection, MS 636. Just a few examples of the comics we have that may sound familiar: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Jonny Quest, and Space Ghost.

Space Ghost, Jonny Quest, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. MS 636

Space Ghost, Jonny Quest, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, MS 636.

If you’re not a comics fan but any of these titles seem familiar, that’s because they were made into TV shows. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles became a craze of the late 80s/early 90s and are popular with kids again today. The comics however, are not as kid-friendly – they are darker and more graphically violent – so keep that in mind in case you want to bring a young fan to see them. Jonny Quest was a cartoon in the 1960s and played on Cartoon Network for a time, and Space Ghost also had a series in the 1960s, along with a parody talk show Space Ghost Coast to Coast on Cartoon Network from 1994-2004.

A peek into one of the boxes in the collection. MS 636

A peek into one of the boxes in the collection, MS 636.

In addition to the aforementioned comics (and so many more), we also have a piece of underground comix artwork by Reed Waller, creator of Omaha the Cat Dancer, a series of comics that are available in our collection. The artwork is from that series, and it is explicit, so keep that in mind if you plan to view it. This is found in the Reed Waller Underground Comix Artwork Collection, MS 400. Another collection we have regarding underground comix is the Clay Geerdes Photograph Collection, MS 630. The collection consists of photos that Geerdes took of underground comix artists in the 1970s.

Zap by R. Crumb, the inspiration for many other underground comix creators, MS 636.

Zap by Robert Crumb, the inspiration for many other underground comix creators, MS 636.

So, what exactly are underground comix, and how did they come into being? Their origin can be traced back to the 1950s with E.C. Comics – some examples of these are Tales from the Crypt, Tales of Terror, and Weird Science, which can also be found in our collections (see the appendix in the Underground Comix Collection finding aid). They really came into their own in the 1960s and 70s, however, and featured adult themes discussing controversial topics (e.g. abortion, feminism, marijuana legalization) and often mocked conventional society. The comic books were often sold in head shops (shops using book sales as a cover for their actual business of selling drug paraphernalia). Robert Crumb’s Zap is often considered the first real underground comix and inspired many other artists in the genre. The overall culture of underground comix shifted in the late 1980s to include more conventional content by authors who wanted to avoid the restrictions of comic book superpowers like Marvel and DC and create comics with new perspectives.

An assortment of smaller, pamphlet-like comics. MS 636

Not all of the comics are in traditional comic book format. Here’s an assortment of smaller comic booklets that are prevalent in the collection, MS 636.

If underground comix sound like your cup of tea, stop by sometime! There are 63 boxes in this collection, so if you have an idea of what comics you’d like to see, that would be incredibly helpful. You may also be interested in our science fiction collection, which I have written about previously. Come in to our lovely reading room and have a read!

Illustrating Apples: Prestele’s Lithographs

Pewaukee – Drawn from Nature and colored expressly for the Iowa State Agricultural College, by Wm. H. Prestele, Washington, D.C. Collected by J. L. Budd, Prof. of Hortl. I.S.A.C.” (ca. 1890)(MS 70, box 1, folder 37)

In the late 1800s, Professor Joseph L. Budd commissioned renowned botanical artist Wilhelm H. Prestele to illustrate from nature several apple varieties. Special Collections and University Archives holds 8 of these in its collection of 58 of Prestele’s lithographs (MS 70). These beautiful and finely detailed works were created during Prestele’s tenure as the first artist in the Pomological Division of the United States Department of Agriculture.

Red June – Drawn and colored from Nature expressly for the Iowa State Agricultural College, by Wm. H. Prestele, Washington, D.C. Collected by J. L. Budd, Prof. of Hortl. I.S.A.C. ” (ca. 1890)(MS 70, box 1, folder 40)

Should you wish to try your hand at botanical illustration, we also have a copy of Répertoire de couleurs pour aider à la détermination des couleurs des fleurs, des feuillages et des fruits which offers guidance on the colors found in flowers, foliage, and fruit such as apples.

Here are the “honey yellow” tones found in some pears and apples:

“Jaune Miel.” “Cette couleur s’observe frequemment sur l’epiderme des Poires et des Pommes mures. (QK669 .So13r)

Other materials on apples and pomology include:

Joseph L. Budd Papers (RS 9/16/13)

Charles Downing Pomological Variety Notes (MS 220)

CyPix: Concrete Canoes

Scene from the Third Annual Midwest Concrete Canoe Race (1973) (MS 275, box 3, folder 3)

Scene from the Third Annual Midwest Concrete Canoe Race (1973) (Mary Krumboltz Hurd Papers, MS 275, box 3, folder 3)

In 1971 The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and Purdue University competed in the first intercollegiate concrete canoe race. “Clyde Kesler of the University of Illinois gets credit for starting the whole thing, by having his civil engineering students build a ferro cement canoe in 1970. Purdue students learned about it, built their own canoe, and challenged Illinois to a race. That’s how it all got started … but spontaneous enthusiasm has caused the idea to mushroom all across the country.” (1973 race report, MS 275, box 3, folder 3). These events continue today as the National Concrete Canoe Championship hosted by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).

The concrete canoe race is a way for engineering students to work with concrete, practice fluid analysis, use design software, and work in a team. Iowa State University was not present at the 1973 competition pictured here, but the ASCE Iowa State Student Chapter does have an active concrete canoe team.

If you’d like to learn more about the history of concrete canoe racing, stop by the Special Collections and University Archives Department to examine the other materials in the Mary Krumboltz Hurd Papers (MS 275). Hurd was an Iowa State University alumna (BS Engineering 1947), consultant, writer, and staff engineer for the American Concrete Institute. This collection, part of our Archives of Women in Science and Engineering (WISE), documents Hurd’s involvement in setting up the races and has many other photographs of concrete canoe racing in the early 1970s.

Brothers in conservation: Frederic and Aldo Leopold

Leopold family portrait. Frederic is on the lower right, Aldo on the upper left. Brother Carl and sister Marie are also shown with their mother Clara. Frederic Leopold Papers, MS 113, Box 6, Folder 1.

Leopold family portrait. Frederic is on the lower right, Aldo on the upper left. Brother Carl and sister Marie are also shown with their mother Clara. Frederic Leopold Papers, MS 113, Box 6, Folder 1.

If you are familiar with conservation or American nature writing, you have probably heard of Aldo Leopold. Author of A Sand County Almanac, he has been called the father of wildlife management. Born in Burlington, Iowa, in 1887, he worked for many years for the U.S. Forest Service before accepting a position at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in Game Management, the first such position in the country.

But you may not have heard of his younger brother, also a conservationist, Frederic Leopold. Frederic was born June 16, 1895, nine years after Aldo, and he grew up looking up to his eldest brother. Their father was an outdoorsman and would take his sons on trips into the country, teaching them to identify birds and plants and to observe nature. Frederic writes of his older brother’s already developed sense of ethics while hunting:

Frederic Leopold, undated. From Frederic Leopold Papers, MS 113, Box 6, Folder 2.

Frederic Leopold, undated. From Frederic Leopold Papers, MS 113, Box 6, Folder 2.

“…Aldo never shot sitting game with anyt[h]ing but a 22 rifle. His first scatter gun was a single barreled one to teach him to aim each shot with care because he would have only one chance.

“Game birds were shot on the wing. In case a downed bird was c[r]ippled, every effort was made to find that bird before going on hunting.” (from “Historical Development of the Land Ethic,” speech given to Student Wildlife Conclave, Ames, Iowa, March 9, 1974, MS 113, Frederic Leopold Papers, Box 7, Folder 14).

Wood duck nesting in one of Leopold's duck houses, 1966. Box 6, Folder 9.

Wood duck nesting in one of Leopold’s duck houses, 1966. Box 6, Folder 9.

As an adult, Frederic worked for the family business, the Leopold Desk Company, first serving as vice president under his brother Carl, and later taking over as president. With the example of his conservationist brother Aldo, however, it is not surprising that he was also active in conservation efforts and wildlife ecology. Specifically, he became concerned with the survival of the wood duck, which had become threatened with extinction during the early part of the 19th century. He designed wood duck houses and spent almost forty years studying the mating and nesting habits of wood ducks, many of which made their home in his Burlington backyard. In 1951 he published “A Study of Nesting Wood Ducks in Iowa” in the scientific journal The Condor.

Page from vol. 1 of Frederic Leopold's wood duck nesting records, 1951. MS 113, Box 9, Folder 1.

Page from vol. 1 of Frederic Leopold’s wood duck nesting records, 1951. MS 113, Box 9, Folder 1. (Click for larger image.)

Frederic received recognition throughout the state of Iowa for his important contributions to conservation, including an Honorary Doctor of Science from Iowa Wesleyan College, the Iowa Wildlife Conservation Award in 1966, and the Iowa Academy of Science Centennial Citation in 1975.

The Frederic Leopold Papers (MS 113) here in Special Collections document Frederic’s wood duck studies, travels, and relationship to his brother Aldo and other family members. More information on Aldo can be found by consulting the Aldo Leopold Archives in the University of Wisconsin Digital Collections.

CyPix: Sketch of a Pest

Possibly the pupa of a Southern Corn Rootworm (aka Spotted Cucumber Beetle), D. undecimpunctata howardi. (MS 119, box 17)

Click to see the pencil sketch used to make this image. (Dwight Isely Papers, MS 119, box 17)

Over the course of his career Dwight Isely was a USDA Bureau of Entomology researcher, an Associate Professor of Entomology at the University of Arkansas, and Associate Director of the University of Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station. His historical marker at the University of Arkansas refers to him as the “father of insect pest management in the United States.”

At left is a drawing attributed to Isely which portrays the pupa of one of the beetles he studied, perhaps the Southern Corn Rootworm (aka Spotted Cucumber Beetle), D. undecimpunctata howardi.

Isely’s papers document his research activities through lecture notes, chart recorder papers, lab notebooks, correspondence, and publications.

Special Collections and University Archives also holds the papers of Duane Isely (Dwight Isely’s son, RS 13/5/56), in addition to Iowa State University entomologists Robert E. Lewis (RS 9/12/51) and J. L. Laffoon (RS 13/25/57) .

Farms in Crisis: The Center For Rural Affairs Tackles 1980s Rural Life

Thirty years ago, rural America was in the midst of a farm crisis, one so significant that it’s often simply referred to as “The Farm Crisis.” During this time, things were so bad that many farmers left their profession and sold their farms. For some, the whole situation was more than they could handle. Those that stuck it out endured a long, hard struggle, one that is far from forgotten in the rural Midwest. The Center for Rural Affairs Records, MS 413, now available for research, contains subject files on the farm crisis and illustrates the work that the Center did to help those affected by the crisis.

How did it all start? It seems there were many causes, not the least of which was a “boom and bust” economic cycle. In the early 1970s, an economic boom in agriculture occurred, and by late in the decade signs of a bust became evident. Loan interest rates skyrocketed, less demand from foreign markets helped drive crop prices down, and as a result many farmers couldn’t pay back the loans they were able to take out so cheaply in the ’70s. The impact on the agricultural community was huge, with farms being sold or abandoned and many people moving to urban areas to make a living. The stress on farmers and their families was horrific. It was the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, but only the agricultural community bore the brunt this time.

MS 413, Box 73, Folder 22

Farm Crisis Manual, published by Rural America. CFRA contributed a great deal of research and material related to Farmers Home Administration (FmHA) to this manual, undated. MS 413, Box 73, Folder 22

The Center for Rural Affairs (CFRA) was established in 1973 as a non-profit organization to advocate for rural interests in politics and to improve the welfare of rural Americans. Naturally, the farm crisis fit right in to their work (and provided new challenges). CFRA conducted research on how to help farmers get through these tough times and worked hard to change policies that had led to the bust, such as those regarding tax subsidies and cheap credit. Not everyone followed the organization’s recommendations on how to get through the crisis, but CFRA labored to guide farmers and policy makers through it nonetheless. While all of this was occurring, CFRA was working on various other projects, which you can read about in the previous link as well as here. CFRA has kept quite busy over the years with various agricultural issues, and their passion is evident throughout their manuscript collection.

MS 413, Box 100, Folder 29

A letter to FmHA from CFRA commenting on proposed changes to the FmHA property management regulations, 1984. MS 413, Box 100, Folder 29

More information on the work that CFRA has done can be found in the collection, along with more information on the farm crisis and many other matters pertaining to agriculture and rural America. Special Collections and University Archives has many other resources on the farm crisis, which can be found in this collections guide. In addition, we have a copy of Iowa Public Television’s 2013 documentary “The Farm Crisis,” also available for viewing here. Stop in and have a look at our resources!

The Business of Doing Business: Retail and Dry Goods in Iowa

Before the proliferation of larger cities, malls, and online shopping, how did Iowans buy goods? Here in Special Collections we have several collections that can help answer that provide insight on the history of retail in Iowa.

"This is the outside of our store... this letter is to invite you to come inside." Marketing letter from The Tilden Store Company  of Ames, Iowa. (click for full letter and map). (MS 75, box 2 , folder 7)

“This is the outside of our store… this letter is to invite you to come inside.” Marketing letter from The Tilden Store Company of Ames, Iowa. (click for full letter and map). (MS 73, box 2 , folder 7)

The Tilden Store in Ames was a staple shopping for 102 years (1869 – 1971). It provided dry goods, shoes, and groceries, eventually becoming a modern department store. Located on Main Street in downtown Ames, the store was the “largest locally-owned store of it’s kind.Downtown Ames is still a place to find many locally-based retailers.

"Color Scheme and Fabrics for the Tilden Store Co., Ames, Iowa" by Alvin L. Weidt Designers Associates, Minneapolis, Minnesota. (undated). (MS 73, box  4, folder 11)

“Color Scheme and Fabrics for the Tilden Store Co., Ames, Iowa” by Alvin L. Weidt Designers Associates, Minneapolis, Minnesota. Undated. (click for larger view) (MS 73, box 4, folder 11)


Many of the early retail stores stocked locally or regionally produced goods. One example is the Moingona Pottery Company (see image below), which provided stoneware and crockery to several dry goods and retail stores in Iowa.

Stop by Special Collections and University Archives to see these materials, ledgers, correspondence, receipts, photographs and more.

[A sampling of orders placed with Moinonga Pottery from several retail stores in Iowa. 1876.] (MS 95, box 2, folder 15)

[A sampling of orders placed with Moingona Pottery from several retail stores in Iowa. 1876.] (click to enlarge) (MS 95, box 2, folder 15)

A sampling of related materials:

  • Garst Family Papers (MS 579)
  • George W. Chandler Papers (MS 95)
  • Hanyan Family Papers (MS 4)
  • Peterson Clothing/General Store Records (MS 603)
  • Schroeder, Allen Leo. The Stoneware Industry at Moingona, Iowa: An Archaeological and Historical Study of Moingona Pottery Works (13BN120) and Flint Stone Pottery (13BN132). Iowa State University, Thesis, 1979. (ISU 1979 Sch76)
  • Tilden Store Company Records (MS 73)
  • Tilden Store Company” in the Farwell T. Brown Photographic Archives at the Ames Public Library

From Cow to Glass: Dairy Marketing in Iowa

“You Lucky Iowans” A Dairy Month ad from the American Dairy Association of Iowa and the Iowa Diary Industry Commission, 1962. (MS 65, box 6, folder 8)

“The very foundation of June Dairy Month begins with the dairy farmer himself. Without the dairymen, neither milk nor dairy dollars would flow through the channels of trade.”

Dairymen Work Together to Build Dairy Markets, in “Radio Scripts,” MS 65, box 6 folder 8.

June is Dairy Month, which gave me an opportunity to see what material we’ve got in the stacks on dairy marketing in Iowa. The records of the Iowa State Dairy Association (MS 65) reveal how much work it takes to market dairy. Filled with sample event calendars, restaurant table displays, decoration ideas, recipes, and advertisement layouts, the annual promotional packets are excellent sources for understanding how the dairy industry sought to encourage dairy use each summer.

Here are some examples of suggested interviewees and interview prompts from the 1962 June Dairy Month promotional materials (MS 65, box 6, folder 8):

MS65B6F8-Banker MS65B6F8-nurse

Most Iowa dairy farms are still relatively small family operations. Despite this, Iowa farms produced 4,646,000,000 lbs of milk last year!

“Mrs. McCoy” enjoying the 1964 Dairy Month festivities in Marion (Linn County), Iowa. (MS 65, box 7, folder 1)

If you’re a milk drinker, you can enjoy the following refreshing beverage, courtesy of a recipe shared at a Dairy Month event (MS 65, box 13, folder 13):


1/4 c. instant vanilla pudding mix

3 tbsp orange juice concentrate

2 c. milk

Blend, chill, and enjoy! (I assumed that this was the next step – it wasn’t in the original recipe!)

For more on Dairy Month, see last year’s blog entry and be sure to check out the other dairy marketing materials in the Iowa State Dairy Association Records.

An Iowa woman heads to the “wilds of Arkansas” in 1850

Two of St. John Cook's journals on top of large paper onto which the journals were recopied in larger handwriting, MS 314, Box 1 Folders 2 and 3.

Two of St. John Cook’s journals on top of large paper onto which the journals were recopied in larger handwriting, MS 314, Box 1 Folders 2 and 3.

I almost didn’t write this blog post. Instead, I was lost in the pages of Lucia St. John Cook’s journal, as she described her adventures traveling from Iowa to Arkansas in 1850 to teach school for five months. What was so fascinating about reading her journal? Perhaps it was her lively, intelligent, and opinionated way of writing (Sun. Went to meeting today, heard Mr. Banks preach from the text, Behold how great a matter a little fire kindleth. A good subject but not very well handled. I have not the most exalted opinion of that man. He is literally only Mrs. Banks’ husband. — Louise A. Carson and Lucia St. John Cook Papers, MS 314, Box 1, Folder 3, all quotations punctuated for readability) .

Or perhaps it was her very human, very relatable internal debate about whether to return home after completing her five months in the south and her reluctance to abandon her friend, committed there for a year (Three weeks has passed very quickly yet is seems as though it had been two months since I saw Louise. Bless her heart. I wish she were not obliged to stay here a year. We would then go north when my five months were expired. As it is I do not know what to do. I am very anxious to go north but I do not like to leave her. I wish I had someone to tell me what is right and best. –ibid.).

Certainly, her journal also gives a glimpse into the particularities of living in a specific time and place in history.

Born Lucia Williams in 1830, this interesting diarist grew up in Illinois, where she married Rufus St. John in 1848 at the age of 18. They moved to Ohio, but Rufus died only two years later, at which point Lucia moved to Farmington, Iowa. Soon after, she and her friend Louise Carson, also from Farmington, headed south for a teaching adventure.

Lucia St. John (as she was then known) began her diary from 1850 with the following, “Started from Farmington Sept 25, for the wilds of Arkansas, rather a sad parting for I could not tell when we should meet again, if ever.

A close-up view of St. John Cook's small handwritten journal in pencil. (click for larger image)

A close-up view of St. John Cook’s small handwritten journal in faint pencil. (click for larger image)

She and her friend were heading into antebellum South, and they encountered slaves along their journey. Her observations of the women she met at this juncture and the language she uses to describe her experience reveal a woman very rooted in her own time and class. They indicate her own privilege as a white woman and make use of common stereotypes from that time of African Americans as childish and simple:

Of all the places I ever saw the one where we staid last night was the worst. There is no white woman there, nothing but negroes and an overseer. The negroes looked as though it was quite a treat to see a woman and I have no doubt it was. They are certainly true daughters of Eve for their curiosity is unbounden [sic]. Their astonishment at finding we were travelling [sic] without a gentleman was really ludicrous and many were their conjectures as to who we were. One old negro woman came into our room lighted her pipe and set herself down comfortably upon the floor and commenced asking questions, a perfect stream of them, the answers to which were however not always satisfactory. It was really quite amusing. (MS 314, Box 1, Folder 2).

One night on their journey, they were not able to find a house to stay in, so they had to camp out. She declares it “something entirely new and not altogether unpleasant.” Later, she goes on,

I am writing by the light of the moon, setting all alone while the rest of our party are camped all around me. It is just about midnight and all are asleep or trying to be but myself. The moon not being quite full does not give the most brilliant light in the world to write by but it is on the whole decidedly romantic. This is quite an episode in our lives and will not easily be forgotten. I am only sorry on Louisa’s account as she cannot put up with such hardship as well as I can, her health not being as good. (ibid)

Portrait of Louise Carson, St. John Cook's companion on her travels, whose health she worries about.

Portrait of Louise Carson, St. John Cook’s companion on her travels, whose health she worries about. Undated. MS 314, Box 1, Folder 9.

When they finally reached the end of their travels, St. John describes her first day of teaching school, on February 25, six months after leaving Farmington, Iowa: “Commenced my experience as teacher in Arkansas. Only seven scholars but probably shall have more soon. Wise ones prophesy that the school will not last a month. We shall see.” (ibid)

As she continued teaching, she discovered some differences between the North and the South:

How different the girls are educated in the south and in the north. Were I in the north I should not think of sweeping this schoolroom myself – the girls would do it, but here I should not think of asking them to do so for they would think I was going to make a servant of them. Surely it is true a northerner has no business in the south – the manners and customs of the people are so different that it is difficult to act and speak as you have been accustomed to without giving offence [sic]. I do not know but the freedom of manners with which I treat gentlemen sometimes shocks their sense of delicacy but I can’t help this. Oh this is a strange world. (ibid)

She writes more on the subject of gentlemen, including this later passage when two preachers come to call. Here she refers to Mary, a woman with whom she shared a house:

A couple of preachers staid here last night. M[ary] and I took them to be old married men and talked as gravely to them as could be but one of them took the trouble to tell Mary before he left that he was not yet married but wanted to be and that he was going to quit preaching and settle down on a farm. Pretty well. Molly, you won’t hear the last of that preacher soon. (MS 314, Box 1, Folder 3)

Can you see now why I had trouble pulling myself away long enough to write?

For more from Lucia St. John Cook, see the Louise A. Carson and Lucia St. John Cook Papers, MS 314. For other collections related to rural Iowa women see our collection guide for women.

“fascinating, inspiring, uplifting” – Birdwatching with Walter M. Rosene, Sr.

Everything out of doors is fascinating, inspiring, uplifting. It has been so to me since earliest boyhood. I roamed the fields and woods, watching, wondering, and studying the things that were going on in the various realms of Nature. Everywhere there was life and action. The birds of the air, the squirrels in the tree tops – everything was moving. Even the ground seems to be moving under foot, the ants were carrying their burdens, the tumble bugs were busy rolling their huge balls and each were bound for some destination.

– “Nature Speaks” undated essay by Walter Rosene, Sr. (MS 589, box 13, folder 7)

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