Superheroes and villains haven taken over the University of Alberta’s Bruce Peel Special Collections Library as part of the library’s latest exhibit “I’m No Superman.”
The collection was donated by the family of Gilbert Bouchard, a local writer and artist who took his life in 2009. Bouchard left a small piece of comic history following his passing — 3,700 single-issue comic books and hundreds of graphic novels.
Andy Grabia, community relations web development manager at the U of A, was so awed by the vast collection that he was enticed to curate an exhibit to show off 150 of the collectibles in order to commemorate Bouchard’s legacy. Grabia voluntarily took on the project mainly because of his love of comic books.
“What’s fascinating about the collection is that its value to the U of A isn’t going to be monetary,” Grabia said. “These aren’t comic books that are really old or really rare. These are comic books that represent a certain period of time, pretty much from the ‘90s to (Bouchard’s) death, and then a really diverse selection of writers and artists.”
Grabia said the collection also has appeal for academics and students, as it displays first-edition comics written by some of the best writers and artists today.
“For me it was an amazing experience to go through this, and especially as a fan,” Grabia said. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is here, and it’s in its original issue.’”
Grabia never knew Bouchard personally, but was drawn to him through his comic book collection, prompting him to further investigate the man behind the comics.
Through conversations with Bouchard’s family, colleagues and best friend, Grabia found that Bouchard was a man with broad interests, who was knowledgeable not only in the arts and culture scene, but in politics and human rights.
Garbia described Bouchard as being generous with his knowledge and resources, particularly with his comic books. Bouchard’s collection could have exceeded the current amount, but he had a tendency to give his comics away.
“The comics are in good condition, but they’re not in great shape because he believed in reading them,” Grabia said.
“He didn’t just buy them and tuck them away and no one saw them. He read them, and when people came over he would encourage them to read them, or he would send them home with those comics.”
Bouchard’s preference for DC comics is evident at the exhibit, which includes the likes of Superman, Batman and the Green Lantern.
He preferred larger-than-life heroes over Marvel heroes like Spiderman and Captain America, who tended to merge everyday life with the life of a superhero, which Bouchard was less interested in.
In a catalogue created specifically for the exhibit, Bouchard referred to the DC comics heroes as “paragons of virtue, true shining beacons of humanity, what all men should strive to be.”
As a devoted comic fan, Bouchard also enjoyed creating dialogue that answered questions regarding comics.
“If he was writing about something that was traditionally low culture, like comic books, he would try to explain it to the other side — why it has literary merit or why the artwork was valuable. That came across really strongly,” Grabia said.
Although Grabia is grateful for being able to take on the project, he does have one regret.
“I wish I would have got to know him,” Grabia said. “At the same time, I do feel blessed that I’ve gotten this close and that I know him a little better.”
The remnants of chivalry still linger today, especially in the dating world.
Talk on “commitment,” “excellence” and “unity” dominated Friday’s Board of Governors meeting, as members continue to address financial pressures and determine their next steps in the wake of the budget cut.