Dave Strickler, a former USC research librarian, has painstakingly compiled an online database listing the run years and some details of every comic strip to appear in the Los Angeles Times from August 21, 1904 ("Buster Brown") to the current era. It stands, he says, as the closest thing to a guide to full runs of comics in U.S. newspapers. He's now working on a database of comic strip characters. Strickler explains why:
Joe Btfsplk is to blame for this whole thing. Joe was the dismal source of woe and depression who slunk through Li'l Abner's Dogpatch, spreading misery in every direction. I was a novice reference librarian at the University of Southern California (USC) in 1992, and pretty cocky about my research abilities when a lady called, wanting to know how to spell Joe's last name. No problem, I thought.
Joe's spelling took several hours to track down, however, and in the course of that long, dusty (eventually successful) hunt I realized that no substantive index of comic strips and characters existed, either at USC or anywhere else. USC's library held two well-known encyclopedias on comics but nothing like the exhaustive indexes available in other areas of the humanities.
Properly intimidated at the time by the publish-or-perish world of the untenured faculty librarian, I thought that such an index, a compilation of all comic strips ever published in the United States, and their major characters (to assist the next librarian who needed to spell Btfsplk) might make an interesting and academically acceptable publication, not to mention that it would chink up a gap in the reference literature.
Thanks to Dana Gabbard for the email tip.