Librarian combines loves of comics, games

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

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

“Unbeknownst to me, that (library) job set 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 comics librarian — something that combines two childhood loves into a fulfilling career.

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

“I was a kid in the 1970s and ’80s in the suburbs of Pontiac. What else was I going to do?” he jokingly asked. “I never thought one makes a career of such things. I always say that 12-year-old Dave would be very impressed with what 50-something Dave was up to.”

Carter’s exposure to and passion for computers began, oddly enough, through taking piano lessons. As pre-teens, he and his sister took lessons from a family friend, and while his sister was doing 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 with programming, looked over the Apple manual that came with it and taught himself coding.

His interest in and love for comics and comic books started even earlier. Carter was infatuated with the Peanuts comic strip and had a copy of “Good Ol’ Charlie Brown” — a collection of a couple hundred comic strips published between 1955-57 — that he read so often it was reduced to tatters.

He has a reprint of that book as well as the entire 26-volume collection of “The Complete Peanuts,” hardcover books of the series since the first strip was published in 1950 until 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 comic book love as far as that goes.”

He soon gravitated to comics based on superheroes after watching “Super Friends” on television and his father purchasing three comic books for him while he was sick in bed. One of the three books was a Superman comic, and that helped inspire his uniqname —  superman — when he was a student at U-M.

“I got that back in 1989. They said pick something you’ll remember and it has to be eight characters or less, not knowing that would be attached to email and would follow me through my career,” he said. “It was a little embarrassing when I was trying to look for jobs coming out of graduate school, but I’m no longer embarrassed by it because it sort of fits my job and it’s very memorable. No one ever forgets my email address.”

Not terribly choosy about the comics he reads — Carter said he likes “comics for their comic-ness” — he eventually amassed a collection of more than 40,000 books.

He has pared the collection down somewhat but still must utilize a storage locker to house the majority of his books.

“I’m trying to get rid of them, but I can’t just get rid of them because that’s like cutting off an arm even though I know I’m never going to read 95% of them ever again,” he said. “There are some that have sentimental value, some that I might read again, some I haven’t read yet, and then there are the ones I just need to get rid of for some 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 boast a similar collection of video games. In fact, he has a PlayStation 3 gaming console but only a handful of games he rarely plays. When he does have the urge to play a video game, he gravitates toward racing- or music-themed games or abstract shooter games, such as “Geometry Wars” or “Asteroids.”

“So I like driving things, pretending I’m a rock star and shooting at blobs,” he said.

Pretending to be a rock star takes Carter back to his days of playing bass guitar in a number of garage bands. He said he had just one paying gig during his playing days, so a musical career was unlikely. For several years before the COVID-19 pandemic, he sang with the Ann Arbor Civic Chorus but has yet to return to the group.

“Maybe some day,” he said. “Music was always something I was into.”

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

“It was every day, so after four years of that, I got rather good at playing pinball,” he said. “In Kalamazoo, there’s a ‘Pinball at the Zoo’ thing where collectors bring their pinball machines in, you pay $17 and you get to play pinball all day. Pre-pandemic, I’d get together with some college friends and we’d converge on Kalamazoo and play pinball.

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“I’m still not bad. I may not have the exact skills I had when I was playing every day, but it’s kind of like riding a bike.”

If the urge to play a video game strikes, Carter can always fire up any of the thousands of games for the 70 gaming systems that are available at 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 North Campus.

Carter said the move was partially motivated by feedback from an assessment report that indicated the majority of use and potential use of the CVGA was in LSA. The preservation of old video game consoles is important, he said, to understanding the history of our culture.

While many online archives are focused on emulating gaming systems, the CVGA is more centered around preserving the original games and consoles.

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

Q&A

What memorable moment in the workplace stands out? 

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

What can’t you live without?

Well, food, water and shelter obviously; but for purposes of this Q&A I’ll say ice cream. And comic books.

Name your favorite spot on campus.

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

What inspires you? 

Helping people find information. Showing them an information tool they didn’t know existed that makes their scholarly life easier. We 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 V. E. Schwab

Who had the greatest influence on your career path?

Probably Jim Ottaviani and Joe Janes, both of whom showed me non-traditional paths to libraries and mentored me in my early career.

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