One of the most coveted comic books in history now resides at SF State’s library as part of a new archive collection of rare comic books.
The J. Paul Leonard Library unveiled the special new archive to SF State students on Monday, Sept. 10, including an original copy of Superman No. 1 worth several thousand dollars, according to appraisers.
The university acquired 963 comic books as an endowment from the estate of Thomas Bentley Rue, who died two years ago. One of Rue’s last wishes was to bequeath his collection to an academic institution.
At the unveiling were Rue’s widow Virginia Rue and comic book appraiser Joe Field.
The comics vary in condition, but even the worn copy of Superman No. 1 is worth “four digits,” Field said, simply because of its rareness and pop culture appeal.
Virginia Rue said the books allow readers to step back in time.
“It was a different era and you’re going to be able to get a glimpse at it,” she told a group of SF State comic studies minors.
The comic studies minor is less than a year old and saw its first five graduates walk the stage in May. The program, taught by assistant professor Nick Sousanis, explores why comics are culturally important and how they can express ideas visually.
Rue stressed that comics represent the oldest form of human communication through pictures. She praised the comic studies students for pursuing a form of storytelling that is constantly evolving.
“You are at the forefront,” Rue told the class. “You are the ones who will break the barrier between symbolic and written language.”
Virginia Rue also donated $5,000 to help the University organize and store the collection.
Most of the comics in the archive are not typical superhero tales, but depict exciting escapades similar to the television serials and movies of the 1940s and 1950s.
“We always think of superhero comics, but there were more adventure comics back then,” Field said, who is also an SF State alumnus and owner of Flying Colors Comics in Concord, California.
Field said he thought that Thomas Rue kept such a great collection in order to escape into those exploits, adding that each piece was symbolic of its owner.
“I felt like I was getting to know him. (The comic books) reminded me of someone who was seeking adventure in their life and found it,” Field said.
The collection is valued at $45,000 and contains titles such as Captain Marvel Adventures, Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories, and Detective Comics.
Thomas Rue’s mother bought many of the comics at their local drug store in Norfolk, Virginia, where Rue grew up.
The patriotic themes influenced Rue to join the military and serve overseas in both the U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force.
The Thomas Bentley Rue Collection of Golden and Silver Age Comic Art is on the fourth floor of the library, joining the rest of the University’s impressive archives.