COMICS AS ART
Library of Congress exhibit shows industry’s resurgence
Among the weighty tomes and dusty manuscripts in the Library of Congress, Wonder Woman twirls to transform into her signature outfit, bracelets and tiara on her way to fly her invisible plane.
Clips of the 1970s TV show reflect on the dozens of comics presented underneath, in stark contrast to the dimly lit, immaculate library. The array provides a sample of the 100 comics to be displayed in the upcoming pop-up exhibit “Library of Awesome,” a collection celebrating the role of comic books in history and pop culture.
The exhibit is the largest public comic collection in the world, with some comics dating back to the 1930s.
Displays include famous editions of characters such as Wonder Woman and Superman, and some of the original artwork for Spider-Man. It also includes what many consider the first American comic book, Famous Funnies from 1934.
Posters of generic robots and flying superheroes take the place of curtains to cover the floor-to-ceiling windows of the library wing. Life-size cutouts of the superhumans stand in the corners of the room.
For Sara Duke, curator of popular and applied graphic art for the Library of Congress, the exhibit represents the recent resurgence of comic books.
“The industry has exploded,” Ms. Duke said. “This resurgence means another generation gets to fall in love with it.”
Reference librarian Megan Halsband attributes the resurgence to the public’s desire for entertainment from their youth.
“There’s a large market for nostalgia right now,” said Ms. Halsband, 36. “Filmmakers and TV creators are looking at what they used to look at.”
Ms. Duke also attributes the increased amount of comicbased films to the Walt Disney Co.’s $4 billion purchase of Marvel Entertainment, which she says is a win-win for everyone.
“Comics are often about justice and working for a safer world. In chaotic times, people turn to that,” she said.
For the future, Ms. Halsband hopes to expand the collection by gathering more independent and self-published materials, particularly more autobiographical comics that reflect the experiences of people of color, women and LGBTQ communities.
For Ms. Duke, expanding partnerships with more independent publishers provides a larger scope of the comic book world, such as what the library found in the comic “Love and Rockets,” a story about immigration by the cartoonist Hernandez brothers.
While some comic book companies are turning to strictly digital subscriptions, there is a small concern over archiving comics in the future. Preserving the internet, Ms. Halsband said, is a big task.
But she is confident about the direction the comic industry is taking. She said print comic books will always exist, for too many collectors desire carrying a physical copy. She also expressed optimism about the wider public appeal of the industry.
“There’s a lot more awareness of comics,” Ms. Halsband said. “People feel more comfortable saying ‘I love comics.’” Ms. Duke agreed.
“In the past, more people read Superman than ‘The Great Gatsby,’” she said. “Now kids know the stories through the movies, and we in the field know them through the original artwork. It’s nice to see things get retold.”
The “Library of Awesome” exhibit will be on display Wednesday through Saturday in conjunction with Awesome Con — an annual D.C. convention of comics and pop culture — at the Washington Convention Center.
Long before she was the lead character in the most popular film in the country, Wonder Woman was a comic book. Tales of her exploits, some from the 1930s, are part of the new “Library of Awesome” pop-up exhibit on display at the Library of Congress.
The “Library of Awesome” exhibit showcases how comic books have contributed to both popular culture and American history.