Archive for November, 2011

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Comics: Entertainment or Social Critique?

Are comic books a good vehicle for social critique? Is Superman’s romance with Lois Lane trying to tell us something about our own relationships? Can comics promote racial inclusion?

As a spinoff of the recent symposium on graphic language, Special Collections and University Archives presents The Comics Continuum, an exhibit from our collections available for perusal, research and teaching to the university community and beyond. The exhibit is open on the 3rd floor of the Main Library through the end of November 2011. While viewing the exhibit, please see the labels for any collection numbers (MsCs) that you may be interested in browsing. Once you are done with the exhibit, we encourage you to move beyond the glass cases, come in Special Collections, and request to look at some of our comics collections in the Reading Room.

For more on our specific collections of comics and graphic narrative art, see

http://www.lib.uiowa.edu/spec-coll/resources/guides/ComicBookCollections.html

 

Here are some of the items you can see in our exhibit.

 

As a genre, comics have the potential to treat political and social issues in ways that promote free and open discussion. The realization of this potential has been shaped by factors such as the contemporary social movements, the vision of the graphic artist, the imperative for business profit, and the expectations of fan communities of entertainment value or social commitment. One of the most important issues of the post-World War Two United States, race relations were treated by comic books with varying degrees of seriousness and sophistication.

 

Some, like this 1969 issue of the underground Mom’s Homemade Comics, poked fun at liberals for their ambiguous openness to racial inclusion and relationships.

Moms Homemade Comics 1969Moms Homemade Comics 1969

More mainstream comics such as this May 1971 issue of [Lois Lane] Superman’s Girl Friend used the events of the radical American Indian sovereignty movement to explore issues of motherhood and interracial solidarity.

Supermans Girl Friend 1971

 

One of the first African American characters to become a superhero was Dr. William Barrett Foster, who, according to his origin blurb, “pulled himself up out of the Los Angeles slums,” to earn several doctorates  and work as director of one of the nation’s most prestigious research labs before becoming a 15-foot tall crime-fighting giant. As in this February 1976 issue of Black Goliath, Dr. Foster’s transformation into a superhero potentially resonated with American anxieties about urban “race riots,” and with the problems of social mobility and the black middle class.

 

Black Goliath 1976

 

 

 

Mom’s Homemade Comics No. 1, 1969 (ATCA Comics, MsC 780) – http://www.lib.uiowa.edu/spec-coll/MSC/ToMsC800/MsC780/ATCA%20Comics.htm

[Lois Lane] Superman’s Girl Friend No. 110, May 1971 (Comic Books of the Bronze Age, MsC 883, Gift of Ken Friedman) – http://www.lib.uiowa.edu/spec-coll/msc/ToMsC900/MsC883/msc883_comicbooks.html

Black Goliath 16 No. 1, February 1976 (Comic Books of the Bronze Age, MsC 883, Gift of Ken Friedman)

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Political Cartoons Exhibit Sampler

 

How many of the issues of the 2012 presidential elections are new to our society?  What did politicians and the media say about unemployment and social security in the 1930s, the 1970s, or the 1990s? Were the elections of the last century less divisive in their language than those of today? What guidance can the past give for the future? Here is a sampler of our exhibit “A Century of Un/Civil Discourse in Political Cartoons,” on view at the Iowa City Sheraton Hotel during the symposium on political discourse November 9-10, 2011.

Visit the symposium website at http://ppc.uiowa.edu/pages.php?id=278

Browse our  online digital Des Moines Register political cartoons collection at http://digital.lib.uiowa.edu/dmrc/

 

The More Things Change…: Immigration, 1905

 

“Turn about is fair play.” By J. N. “Ding” Darling, Sioux City Journal, June 28, 1905.

Rendered in the cartooning style of the 19th century, Darling’s observation that the exclusion of Chinese immigrants from the U.S. may ruin trade relations with that country rings true today, when China is seen by Americans as a conniving owner of U.S. debt, but also as a power whose intervention could help the world economy out of the recession.

 

Women and the Political Conversation, 1920

“Be careful how you distribute your weight, Madam. You might upset it, you know.” By J. N. “Ding” Darling, Des Moines Register, October 26, 1920.

Darling’s cartoon masterfully captures the idea held during the culmination of the suffrage movement that women would vote as one bloc in electoral politics, and may fundamentally alter the balance between the major parties. Did this fear come true?

 

The More Things Change…: Recession, 1933

“If we're going to get anywhere somebody's got to pull that oar.” By J. N. “Ding” Darling, Des Moines Register, August 27, 1933

Historians now explain that the Great Depression was exacerbated by a dramatic drop in people’s willingness to buy goods. Through his cartoon, Darling argued that the road to recovery lay in combining the strikes of the oar of the government’s employment policies with an encouragement of John Q. Public to start buying again with his consumer paddle. This dynamic may be familiar from our own crisis of consumer confidence as a response to the collapse of the credit system.

 

The More Things Change…: Raising the Debt Ceiling, 1941

 

“The new safety mark for waders.” By T. Brown, Wall Street Journal, February 24, 1941.

Brown’s cartoon cautioning Congress against raising the debt ceiling lest the whole nation submerge anticipated FDR’s fight with Capitol Hill two years later, in which the president had give up his plan of capping personal incomes with a tax in return for Congress raising the debt limit.

 

The More Things Change… Government that Governs, 1956

“Hope he leaves that bull outside.” By Frank Miller, Des Moines Register, January 5, 1956.

The More Things Change… Jobs, Jobs, Jobs, 1975 

“But one is still looking down.” By Frank Miller, Des Moines Register, July 18, 1975.

Women and the Political Conversation, 1972

"Wearin' pants and boots and smokin' pipes and runnin' for President!" By Frank Miller, Des Moines Register, 1972

Frank Miller’s cartoon at the same time marked the historic occasion of Shirley Chisholm’s 1972 “Unbought and Unbossed” campaign, a black woman making a bid for the U.S. presidency, and poked fun at those in the Democratic Party and across the U.S. who social progress had passed by. Miller dedicated this copy to Louise Noun, co-founder of the Iowa Women’s Archive, who he considered worthy of voting for if she ever ran for office.

 

Un/Civil Discourse in U.S. Political Campaigns, 1984

“Pssst ... remember I'm behind you 1000%.” By Brian Duffy, Des Moines Register, August 23, 1984.

In the person of Democratic VP candidate Geraldine Ferraro, the 1984 presidential elections saw the first woman on a major party’s presidential ticket. By late August, Brian Duffy felt that her running mate Walter Mondale had abandoned Ferraro to the attacks of Republican VP candidate George Bush and the feeding frenzy of the media over her past campaign finances and tax filings.

 

Un/Civil Discourse in U.S. Political Campaigns, 1996

 

“There you go again ... scaring the elderly!” By Brian Duffy, Des Moines Register, October 20, 1996.

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The More Things Change… Political Cartoons Exhibit Highlights Un/Civil Discourse over the Past Century

"Enough of this!" By J. N. "Ding" Darling, Des Moines Register, January 25, 1908

"Enough of this!" By J. N. "Ding" Darling, Des Moines Register, January 25, 1908

 

How many of the issues of the 2012 presidential elections are new to our society?  What did politicians and the media say about unemployment and social security in the 1930s, the 1970s, or the 1990s? Were the elections of the last century less divisive in their language than those of today? What guidance can the past give for the future?

As part of the University of Iowa Public Policy Center’s “Conflict and Civility in Political Discourse: Where Is the Line?” symposium, Special Collections & Iowa Women’s Archives are teaming up with the Herbert Hoover Presidential Museum & Library to bring you an exhibit of “A Century of Un/Civil Discourse in Political Cartoons.” Assembled from thousands of political cartoons published in the Des Moines Register and other national newspapers over the course of the 20th and early 21st century, the exhibit will show how themes like unemployment, social security, government waste, electoral acrimony, immigration and the position of women were treated by perceptive and provocative cartoonists like J. N. “Ding” Darling, Harold Carlisle, Frank Miller and Brian Duffy. For good measure, the physical exhibit will be accompanied by a screen slideshow with additional cartoons.

 

The symposium will be held November 9-10 at the Sheraton Hotel of Iowa City. For more information, go to the symposium homepage at http://ppc.uiowa.edu/pages.php?id=278

 

Would you like to browse more of our political cartoons from home? Please go to our online digital Des Moines Register political cartoons collection at http://digital.lib.uiowa.edu/dmrc/