This Williamsburg man donated his comic book collection to W&M Libraries

A selection of materials from the Wright Collection, which contains over 3,100 items. (WYDaily/Courtesy of W&M Libraries)

In the fall, William & Mary Libraries received a valuable collection of comic books and other graphic art depicting African Americans, donated by Richard Percy Wright, an avid collector who lived in Williamsburg, Virginia.

“We are eternally grateful that Mr. Wright contacted us to donate his collection,” said Carrie Cooper, Dean of University Libraries. “His collection will contribute to the depth of our collections on African American history and culture and enhance research and scholarship around this subject.”

Wright died in November.

Wright first contacted W&M in a letter he wrote to Cooper. He explained that he was looking for a permanent place for his collection.

Wright knew he wanted his collection to reside in a place that would take care of it and where people would have the opportunity to use it.

“Mr. Wright had done his homework. He had been researching local universities, trying to decide where his collection would go best,” Cooper said. “He heard about our Hip Hop collection and found out about the courses W&M teaches on African American history and culture and decided that Swem Library would make a good home for its collection.”

Excited about the letter, Jay Gaidmore, the library’s director of special collections, contacted Wright. Their first meeting gave Gaidmore insight into Wright’s relationship with libraries.

Richard Wright.  (WYDaily/Courtesy of W&M Libraries)
Richard Wright. (WYDaily/Courtesy of W&M Libraries)

“He told me about how he grew up in the Bronx and how the library became his refuge,” Gaidmore said.

Wright began collecting comics depicting African Americans in 1986. His collection grew to over 1,000 comics over the next 30 years. It contains the early Tarzan, Avengers, X-Men, and the Fantastic Four, featuring the first appearance of Black Panther. In addition to comic books, the collection contains a variety of other materials that depict African Americans in pop culture, including books, magazines, newspapers, original artwork, sheet music, cartoons, photos and reference books, bringing the total number of items in the collection to over 3,100.

“His collection is impressive in its richness and depth. It is also unique because it includes her research notes,” said Library Archivist Meghan Bryant. “Mr. Wright has created an inventory of his materials, which is wonderful to have while we process the collection.

A page from The Fantastic Four featuring the first appearance of Black Panther (WYDaily/Courtesy of W&M Libraries)

Once processed, the collection will be available to researchers and students visiting the Special Collections Research Center at the Swem Library.

“I expect the collection to be useful for a variety of subjects, including film studies, race and racism studies, art and illustration, African-American writers and publications, ephemera and publicity studies and collectible stories,” Bryant said.

Tami Back is director of communications and strategic planning at W&M Libraries.

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