Librarian combines loves of comics, games

When David Carter was an undergraduate student at UM in the late 1980s, he took a job in the engineering library.

He was an engineering student at the time, and the library job would help pay for the comic books he had been collecting.

“Unbeknownst to me, that (library) job put my career on a completely different path,” he said.

The path has led Carter to his current position as video game archivist for the Computer and Video Game Archive and comic book librarian, something that combines two childhood loves into one fulfilling career.

David Carter, shown in Canyonlands National Park in Utah, serves as a video game archivist for the Computer and Video Game Archive and a comic book librarian.  (Photo courtesy of David Carter)
David Carter, shown in Canyonlands National Park in Utah, serves as a video game archivist for the Computer and Video Game Archive and a comic book librarian. (Photo courtesy of David Carter)

“I was a kid in the 1970s and 1980s in suburban Pontiac. What else was I going to do? she asked her jokingly. “I never thought one would make a career out of such things. I always say that 12-year-old Dave would be very impressed with what 50-something Dave was doing.”

Interestingly, Carter’s exposure to and passion for computers began with taking piano lessons. When they were pre-teens, he and his sister took lessons from a family friend, and while her sister was giving her lesson, Carter was allowed to use that family’s Apple II computer.

While he initially only played games like “Lemonade Stand” on the console, he became intrigued by programming, went through the Apple manual that came with it, and taught himself to code.

His interest and love for comics and comic strips started even earlier. Carter had a crush on the Peanuts comic strip and had a copy of “Good Ol’ Charlie Brown,” a collection of a couple hundred comic strips published between 1955 and 1957, which he read so often that he tore himself to shreds.

He has a reprint of that book, as well as the complete 26-volume collection of “The Complete Peanuts,” hardcover books in the series from the first strip in 1950 to the last in 2000.

“I had a stuffed Snoopy, I watched all the Peanuts cartoons on TV, like ‘Charlie Brown Christmas,'” he said. “Peanuts was probably my first love of comics as far as that goes.”

He soon gravitated toward superhero-based comics after seeing “Super Friends” on TV and having his father buy him three comics while he was sick in bed. One of the three books was a Superman comic, and that helped inspire his unique name, superman, when he was a student at UM.

“I got it in 1989. They said pick something you’ll remember and it has to be eight characters or less, not knowing it’s going to be attached to email and follow me through my career,” he said. “It was a bit embarrassing when I was trying to look for a job after graduate school, but I’m not embarrassed anymore because it fits in with my job and it’s very memorable. No one ever forgets my email address.”

He’s not too picky about the comics he reads—Carter said he likes “comics because of how funny they are”—and eventually amassed a collection of more than 40,000 books.

You’ve narrowed down the collection a bit, but you still need to use a storage locker to hold most of your books.

“I’m trying to get rid of them, but I can’t just get rid of them because that’s like cutting off my arm, even though I know I’ll never read 95% of them again,” he said. “There are some that have sentimental value, some that I could read again, some that I haven’t read yet, and then there are the ones that I need to get rid of for one reason or another. But they keep making new ones.

“I’m trying to break the collector mentality, but it’s hard to do.”

Carter does not have a similar collection of video games. In fact, he has a PlayStation 3 game console, but only a handful of games that he rarely plays. When he feels the need to play a video game, he gravitates towards racing or music-themed games or abstract shooters, like “Geometry Wars” or “Asteroids.”

“So I like to drive things, pretend I’m a rock star and shoot droplets,” he said.

Pretending to be a rock star takes Carter back to his days playing bass in various garage bands. He said that he only had one paid gig during his playing days, so a music career was unlikely. For several years prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, he sang with the Ann Arbor Civic Chorus, but has yet to return to the group.

“Maybe one day,” he said. “Music was always something I liked.”

His other interest in gaming stems from his days as an undergraduate at UM and living in Bursley Hall, which had a small arcade with pinball machines. After eating in the cafeteria, Carter and his roommates and friends would spend about an hour in the game room playing pinball.

“It was every day, so after four years of that, I got pretty good at pinball,” he said. “In Kalamazoo, there’s a ‘Pinball at the Zoo’ thing where collectors bring their pinball machines, you pay $17 and you can play pinball all day. Before the pandemic, I would get together with some friends from college and we would hang out in Kalamazoo and play pinball.

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“I’m still not bad. She may not have the exact skills that she had when she played every day, but it’s like riding a bike.”

If the need to play a video game arises, Carter can always launch any of the thousands of games for the 70+ gaming systems that are available from the Computer and Video Game Archive. The CVGA reopened in late August in its new home on the fourth floor of the Shapiro Library after a three-month move from the basement of the Duderstadt Library on the North Campus.

Carter said the move was partially prompted by comments from an assessment report that indicated most of CVGA’s use and potential use was in LSAs. The preservation of old video game consoles is important, he said, to understanding the history of our culture.

While many online archives focus on emulating game systems, the CVGA is more focused on preserving the original games and consoles.

“Playing an emulated Nintendo game on your computer keyboard is not the same as playing it on a real Nintendo with that little square controller on a 1982 cathode ray tube TV, which is an experience we can bring to people” , said.

Questions and answers

What memorable workplace moment stands out?

So many, but probably one of many class sessions at CVGA where students were tasked with playing games on systems they hadn’t played before.

What can’t you live without?

Well, food, water and shelter obviously; but for the purposes of this question and answer session, I’ll say ice cream. And comics.

Name your favorite place on campus.

I like the engineering fountain and the reflecting pool on the North Campus.

What inspires you?

Help people find information. Showing them an information tool that they did not know existed and that facilitates their academic life. Librarians live for that!

What are you currently reading?

“Game Wizards: The Epic Battle for Dungeons & Dragons” by Jon Peterson, and “The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue” by VE Schwab

Who had the biggest influence on your career path?

Probably Jim Ottaviani and Joe Janes, who showed me non-traditional paths into libraries and guided me early in my career.


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