New Exhibition “Comic Art: 120 Years of Panels and Pages” Explores Comics from Early Newspapers to Famous Characters

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The new exhibition “Comic Art: 120 Years of Panels and Pages” explores the visual styles of comics from the first newspaper comic strips to some of the most famous characters.

A new exhibition at the Library of Congress explores the fascinating evolution of visual storytelling styles in comic art – from panels in early newspapers to contemporary images of some of the most famous and funny characters in print. “Comic Art: 120 Years of Panels and Pages” opens Sept. 12 and will be on view for a year in the Graphic Arts Galleries of the Library’s Thomas Jefferson Building.

The exhibition draws from the Library’s extensive collection of comic art, which includes some of the earliest comics, including the first successful newspaper comic strip featuring Richard Outcault’s “The Yellow Kid,” early drawings of “Peanuts,” superheroes including Batman, Superman and the Incredible Hulk in modern comic books, and much more.

“The Yellow Kid,” first published in a panel in the New York World newspaper in 1895, is credited with sparking the rise of comics as a new American art form. By the middle of the 20th century, a growing number of diverse comic artists were examining their own life stories and commenting on culture and politics while expanding into graphic novels, fanzines and web comics. Comic art characters and narratives have also spread across film, television, books and marketing to reach even more people.

Highlights of the exhibition’s first rotation include:

  • The first major recurring comic character in a newspaper, “The Yellow Kid;”
  • An early drawing of Charles Schulz’ beloved comic strip “Peanuts” from 1952 with Charlie Brown, Lucy, Patty and Snoopy;
  • A drawing of “Brenda Starr, Reporter” by Dale Messick, whose strip represents a milestone for female characters in comics by female cartoonists;
  • An original Batman comic book illustration from 1967;
  • A cover drawing of the Incredible Hulk by artist Marie Severin, one of the few women to advance to drawing major superhero titles for Marvel comics;
  • Self-published minicomics that helped launch the career of Raina Telgemeier;
  • An extremely rare first edition of “All-Negro Comics” created by black cartoonists in 1947.

“Comic Art” will feature 45 items in the first rotation and a second rotation in spring 2020. The exhibition is on view in the Graphic Arts Galleries of the Library’s Thomas Jefferson Building, 10 First St. S.E., Washington, D.C. The exhibition is free and open to the public Monday through Saturday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.  

Two opening programs will feature contemporary cartoonists:

Conversation with Jaime Hernandez
Thursday, Sept. 12, at 4 p.m.
Room 119, First Floor, Thomas Jefferson Building

A conversation with comic artist Jaime Hernandez, co-creator of the alternative comic “Love and Rockets.” Hernandez was the winner of the 2014 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for best graphic novel/comic and the 2014 Will Eisner Comic Industry Award for Best Writer/Artist. He will be interviewed by Gary Groth, founder and president of Fantagraphics, about his work and creative process, representing Latinx experiences in comic art and changes in the field over the course of his career. A small display of materials from the Library’s collections will accompany this talk.

Cartoonist Lynn Johnston Presents, in Words and Pictures
Friday, Sept. 13, at noon
Room 119, First Floor, Thomas Jefferson Building

Cartoonist Lynn Johnston, creator of the long-running syndicated comic strip “For Better or Worse,” will discuss her career and artistic process, while illustrating the presentation in real time. Tickets are available at johnston-lc.eventbrite.com.     

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“Comic Art” is part of a yearlong initiative inviting visitors to Explore America’s Changemakers through a series of exhibitions, events and programs.

The exhibition is made possible through the generous support of the Swann Foundation for Caricature and Cartoon and gifts in kind from the Small Press Expo.

An online exhibition is available at loc.gov/exhibits. Follow the exhibition on social media with the hashtag #ComicArt.

The Library of Congress is the world’s largest library, offering access to the creative record of the United States – and extensive materials from around the world – both on site and online. It is the main research arm of the U.S. Congress and the home of the U.S. Copyright Office. Explore collections, reference services and other programs and plan a visit at loc.gov, access the official site for U.S. federal legislative information at congress.gov and register creative works of authorship at copyright.gov.

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