In another time, it fell to the book industry to bring out obscure histories and guidebooks to little-known countries, to odd little manuals for forgotten skills, and to select directories of organizations that most of us never even thought about. Publishers, bless their hearts, frequently published for the benefit of the researcher and the historian, even when the business side of the publishing house knew full well that such strange little books wouldn't pay for themselves.
Today, of course, some publishers still produce these necessary money-losers. However, economic realities of the past two decades have made many in the book world less able or willing to commit resources to such lofty pursuits. Fortunately for journalists and other researchers, just about the time the book world was losing its stomach for losing money, the World Wide Web was finding a very important niche for itself: The same esoteric information could be published online at a fraction of the production costs. At the same time, the data can be more widely available online through search engines and directories than it ever was in more pricey, yet perishable print.
So at its best, the Web -- among its many other functions -- is the grand home for documenting the obscure, without the enormous costs associated with producing a book, newspaper, or magazine. For journalists researching stories, these online resources can be golden.
A case in point is Don Markstein's simply amazing Toonopedia, a vast repository of information about comics, past and future. Now, honestly, unless you're a comic book collector or a cartoonist, you're probably not going to put this on your frequent filer's list. However, if you're working on a story that deals with pop culture, that focuses on a particular time period, or that touches on classic villains and superheroes, Don just might become your own personal hero.
The site serves up illustrated entries on nearly every comic strip, cartoon, and comic book you can think of, from the world famous "Blondie" and "Peanuts" to those ultra-obscure strips, such as "The Pie-Face Prince of Old Pretzelburg." To check in with Don's data, visit the site at http://www.toonopedia.com
, where a simple, straight-forward introductory page can be scrolled to a huge alphabetized list of comics. Simply click on a link to open a page, which usually is topped with an illustration followed by cleverly written original text about that particular comic.
After reading several of the Toonopedia entries, it'll be no surprise that the site's manager makes his living as a writer and editor. Most of his work has been outside this particular area of interest, he notes in an "About the Author" file, but he also has done a fair amount of work in and around cartoons. He has edited several comic-oriented publications and has even written comic books himself for the Walt Disney Co.
Other considerations for using Toonopedia in your writing and editing:
1. Besides the long, linked list of titles for comics on the introductory screen, the site also offers a selection of alternative navigation options at the top of the screen, including "The People Behind the Toons," a growing collection of artists' bios from Charles Addams and Mel Blanc to Bill Mauldin and Thomas Nast.
2. Also of interest is the link to "The Companies That Produce the Toons," which connects you to sketches of firms such as DC Comics, Dell, Warner Bros., Terrytoons, and, of course, The Walt Disney Co.
3. And if you write about Toonopedia in a feature or in your news columns, be sure to direct your readers to the "Other Stuff" link, where they will find services such as a glossary of toon terms, a "Today in Toons" feature, a guide to finding toons online, and links to related sites.
To see Bowen's last 10 columns, click here
. Previous columns may be purchased in our paid archives
. Search for "Bowen" in the "Author" field.