McGinn: Comics superhero has local ties

Wittenberg grad cofounded the Grand Comics Database website

But after winning the original, April 1957 cover art to a Brazilian “Tom & Jerry” comic book a few years ago on eBay with a magnificently timed, last-second bid — hey, some of you buy giant, inflatable Brutus Buckeyes for your lawns; I’ll waste my money the way I want — I went directly to one website in order to learn more about this curious artifact.

Part of me wanted to learn anything I could about foreign versions of American comics.

Another part wanted to have some cold, hard facts to rattle off to my wife when telling her how I’d just blown $75 on eBay.

So I went to the Grand Comics Database at www.comics.org, a nonprofit, volunteer project to catalog every comic book ever made in every corner of the world.

I had no clue the site had been started by a former Springfield resident and Wittenberg University grad.

It remains one of the few places — that’s not in Portuguese, anyway — that I’ve managed to find much of anything pertaining to Editora Brasil-America Limitada, the company that published Tom and Jerry comics under the odd title “Papai Noel” (“Santa Claus”) from 1952 to 1961.

The company reprinted all sorts of American comics, in fact, each with original, slightly off-model cover art, and was responsible for what had to have been the single-greatest Batman comic of all-time in the ’60s and ’70s — “Batman Bi.”

With that said, the Grand Comics Database, or GCD, is one of those sites that actually fulfills the promise of the Internet as a godsend to the human race.

And here you thought the Web was just for free porn and the ability to download a leaked version of “The Avengers” movie.

“It was my idea to index every comic ever made,” said Tim Stroup, the former Springfielder who cofounded the GCD in 1993. “You might as well aim big.”

So far, the GCD has indexed 989,239 comic book stories, 370,600 cover images and 6,849 publishers in a database that easily can be searched by character, series name, writer, penciller, inker and so on.

A complete entry features the cover image, creator credits, a story synopsis and where the story has been reprinted in the years since.

The latter is especially useful considering most of us don’t have a spare $1 million for an original “Action Comics” No. 1.

“The site is just a phenomenal resource,” said Matt Smith, a Wittenberg communication professor and Springfield resident who’s coauthored two textbooks for the fledgling field of comic arts studies. “The publishers themselves have imperfect record-keeping.”

And, yeah, he was surprised last fall to learn of the site’s local connection.

“Not that Wittenberg grads don’t make a difference in the world,” Smith said, “but the proximity to my own interests is stunning.”

Early cyber days

Starting as a usenet group in those prehistoric days of the early ’90s — Stroup has been using email since 1984 — the roots of the GCD lay in hand-written notebooks Stroup kept for years.

“I wanted to know what I had,” Stroup said. “Once comic book conventions came along, you didn’t want to buy a duplicate.”

After all, the man has amassed a collection of 60,000 comics since the ’70s.

“That’s what my database says,” he said.

Now in his mid-50s, Stroup has led a fascinating life.

He’s been a McDonald’s manager and a biologist worthy of the 23rd century.

As cofounder of Cold Cut Distribution in the ’90s, he ran a company that was on the cutting edge of indie comics and, with “Sailor Moon,” foresaw the rise of Japanese manga in this country.

The son of a Lutheran minister, the Stroups lived in Springfield for just a few years in the late ’60s, but Tim Stroup returned in 1975 to attend Witt.

“I always felt Springfield was home,” he said. “There’s a point in your life where you become aware of the world. That happened to be Springfield.”

Well, that, and, “That’s where I got my first comic books.”

He graduated with a business degree in 1979 and became manager of a local Mickey Dee’s that, through no fault of his own, ended up burning to the ground.

During that time, Stroup also attended Springfield’s first comic con — he thinks Marvel writer-artist Jim Starlin was the guest of honor — put on by the city’s first dedicated comic shop, Fuzzy Papers.

The shop’s owner, Larry Nibert, served as Stroup’s best man at his wedding in 1982.

But all his years reading comics — and the cosmic adventures of Starlin’s “Captain Marvel,” in particular — eventually led to a career-changing fascination with space.

“You’re not going to get there with a business degree,” Stroup remembers telling himself.

With a new master’s in plant physiology from the University of Cincinnati, he went to work — and this sounds so “Star Trek” — in Lockheed’s Closed Ecological Life Support Systems division in California.

In other words, he thought up ways to grow oxygen-producing, life-giving plants in outer space.

But something much more earthly nagged at him.

Simply put, he wanted to know how many comic books were out there.

“Being a biologist, having the science background,” he said, “I wanted proof.

“It was real obvious to me that the best index would be something electronic.”

Anyone can now contribute to the site; contributions are filtered through a set of editors.

Whatever breakthroughs he might have achieved in galactic hydroponics, the GCD serves as his greatest gift to mankind — at least until we colonize Mars.

For one thing, the site establishes credit to the many artists and writers of the ’40s and ’50s whose work was anonymous.

“It’s like any cultural artifact,” Stroup said of comics. “It tells us about ourselves. The database makes it easy to go back.

“People always want copies of the newspaper that came out the day they were born. Now you can find out the comic book that came out.”

Contact this reporter at amcginn@coxohio.com.

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