Influential, passionate VCU Comic Arts Collection Specialist dies at 53

Jackson poses with the Captain Marvel comic. Photo courtesy of Bryan McNeill

Peggy Stansbery, Staff Writer

Constantly approaching her work with wonder and excitement, Cindy Jackson supported and developed a rich comic arts collection at VCU. 

Cindy Jackson started working in Special Collections and Archives at VCU as an undergraduate student employee in 1996, according to VCU Libraries’ Senior Curator Yuki Hibben, who had worked alongside Cindy Jackson since 2001. 

While working at the library, Cindy Jackson earned a bachelor’s degree in information systems and an M.A. in English at VCU. 

“From the time she was a student employee, Cindy took a special interest in the comic arts collection, and began organizing and inventorying comic books,” Hibben said. 

Cindy Jackson was hired full-time as the library specialist for the Comic Arts in 2005, where she continued to organize and inventory donations of comic books and developed a deep knowledge of the collection, according to Hibben. 

“Cindy was the center of everything comics at VCU Libraries for the past 20 years,” Hibben said. “Cindy promoted the collection and worked with faculty to incorporate its use in classes and research.” 

Beyond her “extraordinary knowledge of comics,” Cindy Jackson treated everyone with “kindness and respect” and valued working with students, Hibben said. Cindy Jackson loved learning about students’ successes, working with the student organizers of the Richmond Indie Comics Expo and helping graduate students with their theses and dissertations on comics. 

“It didn’t matter if she was helping a freshman find a book or a scholar writing a book, she gave everyone the same warmth and attention,” Hibben said. “One of my colleagues described her as a ‘rare treasure of a human being’ and I absolutely agree.”

Hibben said the library plans to advance Cindy Jackson’s “good work” through continuing to build and provide access to the Comic Arts Collection. 

“Her work helped our community understand the value of comics in higher education,” Hibben said. “Thanks to Cindy and the many contributors to VCU Comic Arts Collection, it is now one of the best research collections of its kind in the country.”

VCU Libraries’ Digital Outreach and Special Projects Librarian Alice Campbell was once colleagues with Cindy Jackson while working as digital initiatives archivist in Special Collections and Archives. 

Campbell said she and Cindy Jackson connected over finding joy in “interesting things.” 

Together they would “marvel” at certain complexities around comics, such as the unusual ways organizations used comics to sell products and communicate with young people, according to Cambell. 

“She found that ‘wow’ feeling in comics,” Campbell said. “I would ask her, ‘What cool thing are you working on today?’ And she would always have something to share. Her face would light up, and her eyes would sparkle like she was giving you a gift.”

VCU communication arts professor Kelly Alder met Cindy Jackson in 2013 while teaching a cross-disciplinary comic book course with creative writing professor Tom De Haven, according to Alder. 

“The class went to the special collections and I met her then,” Alder said. “The depth of her knowledge was absolutely amazing and her enthusiasm for the medium was just as amazing.”

Alder said Cindy Jackon offered to give presentations to any comic classes he taught.

“Every time she would do a presentation she would lay out all these books they had in the holdings,” Alder said. “There would be books from as early as the late 1800s to the present and a really amazing wide selection of the types of comics being produced. She was an amazing person who helped make my class way more robust and interesting to the students.”

Alder said he learned a lot from her presentations. Cindy Jackson never gave the same presentation, she was constantly adding new things, Alder said. 

“She was always so excited about what she was doing,” Alder said. “Her enthusiasm was just always apparent and she was just great to work with. She was just a supporter of all things comics.”

Cindy Jackson’s brother Stephen Jackson said she was “devoted to the library.”

“She loved her job and this past year it was just excruciating for her not to work with the collection she had worked on for 20 years,” Stephen Jackson said.

Stephen Jackson said he is thankful for all those who cared about his sister. He has received flowers, cards and emails from various people from the VCU community saying they had enjoyed her work at the library, including her articles and presentations highlighting the collection. 

“I hope they can find someone who will love the collection that she worked so hard on — because that’s her,” Stephen Jackson said. “She just really thoroughly enjoyed her job and worked so hard on it.” 

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