COMICS AS ART

Li­brary of Congress ex­hibit shows in­dus­try’s resur­gence

The Washington Times Daily - - NATION - BY SARAH NEL­SON

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.

PHO­TO­GRAPHS BY SHAWN MILLER

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.

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