Collectors are often way ahead of the curve when it comes to pop culture materials whose significance is not always readily apparent. Their foresight can lead them to the acquisition of items that will become quite valuable but every so often, we meet a collector who has the means to seek a way to keep their lifework together.
For several years, the Academy Library has been working with ASIFA-Hollywood, first to organize and place their own collection with us. They were also supportive of our work on the Richard Williams’ film commonly known as The Thief and the Cobbler. In early 2019, they put us in touch with a collector named Joe Peacock.
Peacock began assembling materials related to the Japanese anime Akira (Katsuhiro Otomo, 1988) when he purchased a VHS tape released by Streamline Pictures in the U.S. in the early 1990s. The company included an original animation cel with each copy it sold as a way to incentivize sales. The cel that Peacock received as a teenager was the first piece that would over the next twenty years become the largest private collection of Akira materials in the world.
As an adult, Peacock set a goal to share his collection with the public, and eventually curated and travelled the “Art of Akira” based on works in his collection. But as 2019 approached, Peacock had begun to look for a permanent home for his collection, one that would keep it together, ideally for the purpose of education.
Soon enough I was meeting with Peacock to create a working inventory of his collection, perform an initial condition assessment, and pack it for shipping. Much of our work relied on a two-volume Japanese publication, The Continuity of Akira, which reproduces all the film’s storyboards in the order developed by the filmmakers. Peacock had used this publication to help him organize his holdings, a decision that is reflected in the subseries we are using in our arrangement.
Internally at the Academy, there were questions and interest about the collection from our programming department and our museum curatorial staff. Packing was done knowing this and so we were very quickly able to locate, examine, and digitize some key pieces soon after the collection arrived. Less than three months later, the Academy hosted a public screening of Akira to announce the gift and celebrate the 30th anniversary of the movie. We exhibited about a dozen items at this event and had just begun processing the collection to facilitate access to it. Then 2020 happened.
In the early months of the pandemic, we relied on extensive photographic evidence, the packing inventory, and some detailed conservation notes to help answer questions. Once our conservation staff members had access to our offices, we used Zoom to locate and identify objects they needed to review. One piece, in particular, posed a time-sensitive challenge: relaxing cellulose acetate that had been folded in on itself.
Ironically, just before the shutdown, ASIFA-Hollywood funded a grant for work on this project. We have invested in some equipment for the library’s conservation lab, including a small humidity chamber to facilitate paint reattachment and plastic support “relaxation.” These new tools give us the ability to perform treatments on the library’s other animation works as well.
Twenty months after we last saw everyone in Manchester, we are restarting our plans for this collection. For those of you visiting Los Angeles on or after September 30, 2021, look for part of this collection at the Academy Museum, and you can also check out our progress by searching our catalogue:
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Collection name=Akira materials assembled by Joe Peacock