If you’re ever in Washington, DC, stop by the James Madison Building at The Library of Congress and see what has been touted as the largest publicly available Comic Book Collection in the United States. Most of the current comic books at the Library of Congress have been acquired through copyright deposit, but a small selection of foreign titles are also available. In addition, a recently-signed agreement with the Small Press Expo (SPX) allows the Library to collect independent comics and cartoons that are not available through copyright deposit.
Library of Awesome
Last summer the Library of Congress celebrated the role of comics and graphic novels in promoting literacy, as collectibles, in the arts, advertising, sociology, popular culture, and history with “The Library of Awesome”—a pop-up display of more than a hundred items, including famous comic book issues, drawings, original comic strips, and other miscellanea. Related programming included a costume contest; a panel discussion about the original art and collections held at the Library; and interviews with Lynda Carter, star of the 1970s “Wonder Woman” TV series, and with former publisher and president of DC Comics Paul Levitz and DC writer and artist Dan Jurgens.
If you missed this event, you can still view some portions on YouTube:
- A tour of the pop-up exhibit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lSasZV51s0E&t=30s
- Interview with Lynda Carter: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kbzuiRG5ODo
- Interview with Paul Levitz and Dan Jurgens: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wnziMLaIYJI
Current exhibitions at the Library of Congress include Drawn to Purpose: American Women Illustrators and Cartoonists, which highlights the contributions made by North American women to the art forms of illustration and cartooning; and Herblock Gallery, an ongoing, periodically changing display of editorial cartoonist Herbert L. Block’s original drawings.
Several older online exhibits related to comics and cartooning can be viewed in the Library of Congress exhibitions archive (the curators seem especially fond of their collection of political cartoons by Herblock):
- Al Hirschfeld — Beyond Broadway (November 9, 2000–March 31, 2001)
- Arthur Szyk: Artist for Freedom (December 9, 1999–May 6, 2000)
- Blondie Gets Married! Comic Strip Drawings by Chic Young (June 22–September 16, 2000)
- Cartoon America (November 2, 2006–January 27, 2007)
- Down to Earth: Herblock and Photographers Observe the Environment (September 22, 2012–March 23, 2013)
- Enduring Outrage: Editorial Cartoons by HERBLOCK (July 17, 2006–January 20, 2007)
- Herblock! (October 13, 2009–May 1, 2010)
- Herblock’s Gift: Selections from the Herb Block Foundation Collection (March 12–June 28, 2003)
- Herblock’s History: Political Cartoons from the Crash to the Millennium (October 17, 2000–February 17, 2001); see also the accompanying exhibition catalogue, available in the Eagle Commons Library
- Humor’s Edge: Cartoons by Ann Telnaes (June 3–September 11, 2004)
- Monstrous Craws & Character Flaws: Masterpieces of Cartoon and Caricature (February 25–July 6, 1998)
- Oliphant’s Anthem: Pat Oliphant at the Library of Congress (April 29–August 15, 1998)
- Pointing Their Pens: Herblock and Fellow Cartoonists Confront the Issues (March 21, 2015–March 19, 2016)
- Stagestruck!: Performing Arts Caricatures at the Library of Congress (November 5, 1998–April 3, 1999)
- Timely and Timeless (September 15, 2011–March 10, 2012)
LC Magazine, Vol. 6, No. 5: Sep.–Oct. 2017: Comics! An American History
Shortly after the Library of Awesome event, the Library of Congress’s official newsletter, LC Magazine, devoted an entire issue to celebrating various aspects of the comics industry. In addition to three full-length feature articles, each of the regularly appearing columns in the September–October 2017 issue pertained in some way to comics. We have a paper copy of this issue available for checkout at the Eagle Commons Library in Sycamore Hall under call number LC 1.18:2017/5, and an electronic copy can be read online for free at http://www.loc.gov/lcm/pdf/LCM_2017_0910.pdf
These were the main feature articles:
“The Greatest Comic Book Villain?”
Article on Dr. Fredric Wertham, crusader against comics, whose book Seduction of the Innocent led to a series of congressional hearings, nearly destroyed the comic book industry, and resulted in the stultifying Comics Code Authority. The Library of Congress acquired Wertham’s papers in 1987. You can find a guide to the contents online at http://lccn.loc.gov/mm87062110
“Presidents, Rock Stars, and Other Heroes: Real People in Comics”
Not all comic books are about superheroes and other fictional characters. This article by Wendi A. Maloney, a writer-editor at the U.S. Copyright Office, describes some real people who have been depicted in comic book form. Many real people have made cameo appearances in fictional stories, and several others have been featured in their own non-fictional stories. Once of the most well-received graphic novels of recent years is the autobiographical March trilogy of U.S. Representative John Lewis. This work in turn was inspired by the 16-page, 1957 comic Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story, which helped guide and encourage many non-violent civil rights activists in the 1960s and is still relevant today.
“The American Way: How Comic Books Reflect Our Culture”
This article by Mark Hartsell, publications editor at the Library of Congress, demonstrates how the characters and stories in popular comics provide insight into American attitudes toward such issues as race, ethnicity, and gender and reflect the evolving value systems of American society.
These are a few of the stories that appeared in the shorter columns (called “departments”), each of which focuses on a specific aspect of the Library’s collections:
- In the First Drafts department, the brief article “Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man” discusses Steve Ditko’s original drawings for “Amazing Fantasy #15,” the 1962 comic book that introduced Spider-Man to the world. If you want to see all 25 of these pages you’ll have to make a trip to the Library of Congress, but you can see eleven of them online at http://loc.gov/item/2016687393/
- In the Expert’s Corner section of this issue, Sara Duke’s article “Stroke of Pen, Brush of Ink” explains how original artwork such Ditko’s can reveal much about the process of creation and collaboration.
- In the Curator’s Picks department, Serials Reference Specialist Megan Halsband shares some of her favorite comics featuring women characters as well as women authors and illustrators. Here you’ll find such strong female role models as Wonder Woman, Little Lulu, and a princess who rescues herself.
- Also on theme of women, the “Trending at the Library” column comments on Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden’s interview with Lynda Carter, who played Wonder Woman on television in the 1970s and spoke recently at the Library of Congress about how her character has inspired and empowered girls and women. She also presented to the Library a signed copy of the screenplay from the 2017 Wonder Woman film.
- The last column in this issue, aptly titled “Last Word,” uses a stirring exhortation by U.S. Representative John Lewis, author of the March trilogy, as a springboard to a brief meditation on how comics can inspire and connect us by providing a profound window into the problems and possibilities of the human condition. You can watch a video and read a transcript of John Lewis’s inspiring presentation at the 2016 National Book Festival at http://go.usa.gov/xRQgT
Would You Like to Know More?
If you would like to learn more about the Library of Congress collections, or about the many comic books and graphic novels available in the UNT government documents collection, please visit the Eagle Commons Library in Sycamore Hall, where our friendly and knowledgeable staff is ready to assist with your research needs.
Article by Bobby Griffith.
Photo of James Madison Building by Carol M. Highsmith, photographer, courtesy of Library of Congress.
Cover of Herblock’s History exhibition catalog scanned from this item in the UNT Libraries Government Documents collection.