By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department
Good morning class, and welcome to Superhero 101. With the massive surge of movies, books, and television about and starring spandex clad gladiators from the last century we cannot help but look back to the origins of the archetypal superhero. Most modern comic book enthusiasts think of comics and their associated heroes as falling into the eras of The Gold, Silver, Bronze and Modern ages, with the superhero archetype we all think of (i.e. Superman, Wonder Woman, Captain America) beginning in the Golden age. While I agree with the ages and their application in the history of comics, I believe the heroes go back so much farther. I would go even as far as to say that our older heroes are still as popular now as they were in their nascent era. So let us begin learning how the heroes of humanity’s past are the heroes of today’s children.
Okay, that’s what it would say at the top of the syllabus if there was a university crazy enough to give me carte blanche to design a course of my choosing. I’m not sure what department would end up with a course like that; history, literature, and anthropology all have good claims on the subject matter. (I’d probably choose anthropology.) I started to think about this back in 2005, when another set of books came out claiming to be the next Harry Potter. It was something to do with Mount Olympus in New York and some unfortunately named kid. Percy Jackson brought Greek mythology back to the American consciousness with a vengeance. I remarked to a coworker in the children’s department that it was like someone had mixed Dauliere’s mythology with comic books, and then I realized there was nothing to mix, that the original sequential pictures were drawn on the side of black-figure pottery. The more I thought about it, the further back I could push that genesis moment in drawn super heroes, back past Homer, beyond Gilgamesh, back to the paintings in Chauvet and Lascaux and the Löwenmensch. Those giant figures on cave walls and anthropomorphized animals showed a belief in a being better than an average human, a super man.
The real origin we can trace the ideas back is to the stories that have come down to us along with artistic renderings. Gilgamesh is probably the earliest recorded super hero. He was stronger and braver and more cunning than an average person. This was because he was two thirds god (yeah, I can’t make the math on that work either), but he wasn’t a god himself. Even the Old Testament refers to a race of giants like Goliath, that were the children of fallen angels and human women, but they were not very heroic. Yet still that was the de facto origin story for most of the Stone Age and Classical Age heroes, some combination of divine ancestors mixed with human to make for an invulnerable hero (Achilles), a super strong one (Heracles), or some mix of characteristics (Theseus, Perseus, Etc. ). There are even examples of plain guys with nothing but their physical prowess and sharp wits like Batman, oh, sorry , I mean Odysseus. The superhero of today would fit fine in ancient Greece and Rome if he just swapped his tights and alien parents for a toga or chiton and a more deified lineage.
The medieval world and its dominating monotheistic religions brought an end to all this human/deity philandering. Heroes now were men and women who were blessed by God like Robin Hood, Pwyll of Dyfed, and King Arthur or sorcerers of sketchy origin like Merlin. Real life heroes began to be magnified to supernatural proportions. Joan of Arc, El Cid, Roland, Boadicea, and Charlemagne all have fantastic elements woven into their stories. Off in the cold north of Europe the Vikings still had the demigod heroes of the early sagas, but even these saw a Christianization as people adopted the religion but didn’t want to give up their old fireside stories. Hero tales are not the sole property of the west in the middle ages. Sinbad the mariner was sailing the Arabian Sea while the brothers of the peach orchard, Guan Yu, Liu Pei, and Zhang Fei, were fighting to unite China.
Since the Medieval era, we have been going through our past for inspiration. There have been resurgences in interest over and over in the classical mythos as well as the Arthurian legends. Scholars debate the historicity of Troy and Camelot. Writers like Tennyson and Keats borrowed the themes for new works. It wasn’t until early last century that we began something new. Superman, Captain Marvel, Captain America and Wonder Woman each debuted and added new heroes to our mythology. This coincided with a rise in science fiction stories in the popular publishing world. Now we have science fiction retellings of the Odyssey, movies of Sinbad, video Games of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, and graphic novels that tell the 4000 year old story of Gilgamesh and Troy. Children today are learning the same lessons as the kids of millennia past from the same characters. We have made our own heroes but we have built them on a timeless framework that goes back to the beginning of humanity and we have brought along a best of collection of the heroes of the past.
Sources and Suggested Reading:
- The History of Art by H. W. Janson (709 JAN)
- Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman by Marc Tyler Nobleman (J 741.5 NOB)
- D’aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths by Ingri D’Aulaire (J 292 DAU)
- The Epic of Gilgamesh by Kent H. Dixon (892.1 DIX)
- The Hero With a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell (201.3 CAM)
- Romance of the Three Kingdoms by Luo Guangzhong (895.13 LUO)
- The Song of Roland by Anonymous (YA 841.1 CHA)
By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department
People amass stuff. We are all hoarders of one type or another; we just prefer to be called collectors or connoisseurs. We tuck our prized collections away in corners of closets, in attics, in garages and occasionally in storage facilities because we cherish these items. We want to keep them as mementos, memories or keepsakes to show our descendants and maybe have those people love them the same. The question is: are we storing them properly? We want to save these pieces of who we are for the future, but are they going to make it to the future? Libraries have been worrying about this for ages and there are many great places to find Information on preserving your collections. Actually, there is too much information out there so here we will pull together the most important as well as the easiest steps for preserving your materials such as books, newspapers, magazines, comic books, film, slides, negatives, magnetic tape (both audio and video), records and even a little on documents and art.
This is a library blog so books come first. The easiest and first step in preservation is careful use. Make sure your hands are clean, that you are reading in a clean area free of food or drink and that you are not forcing the book open to 180°. Never use glues, rubber bands or adhesive tape on books. Never dog ear the pages or mark you place with paperclips or acidic inserts. When storing your books, try to put upright books of similar size together so that they support each other and don’t allow them to lean at an angle. Books should be kept in a cool room with low humidity (<35%) and as little exposure to direct, harsh light as possible. Avoid vents and registers as well as rooms like attics which experience extreme temperature changes. Clean your books and cases regularly. Finally when you remove a book from the shelf, grab the book on both sides of the spine at the midpoint. Do not grab it from the top.
Saving the newspaper is a great way to remember a great moment in your, or humanity’s, history. Whether it is a paper from your child’s birth, VE Day, the moon landing or the election of the first African American president, newspapers show a segment of time contemporary to the event. Once again, the rules of cleanliness are paramount. No dirty hands or coffee cups here. Newspapers to be preserved should be opened flat on a surface large enough to support the entire paper. Do not fold the paper against any existing folds. When folding the newspaper back to store it always use the existing folds and keep the edges aligned as much as possible. Newspapers should be stored flat and in protected boxes with some kind of supporting material. Like comics and magazines, these boxes and boards should be acid and lignin free. Storage space should have the same conditions as that needed for books.
For the most part the documents that we have now that we want to preserve are those that have already come down to us from generations past. Many of these are already preserved, but even more are not and have already begun to deteriorate. Think about these things and what they are and represent. Discharge papers from the civil war or world war two, your great grandparent’s marriage license, an ancestor’s immigration papers. These are great things to have, but remember that someday, you may be someone’s great grandparent. Now is the time to preserve your documents, before they start to degrade. The basic rules for books still apply to documents (as well as manuscripts, drawings, prints, posters, and maps). In addition, you want to make sure any marks or inscriptions that you make are done in pencil only and on a clean surface to avoid pressing dirt or other contaminants into the paper. Paper items should be stored flat and supported like periodicals, unless the size of the object makes this prohibitive. At that point rolled in an archival tube is the safest storage option.
MAGAZINES & COMICS
One of the reasons that those Superman, Batman and Captain America comics from the 1930s and 40s are so valuable is that there are not many surviving. Everyone has heard the old, “I’d be a millionaire if my Mom hadn’t thrown away my comic collection” shtick, but this is far from true. These were comics. They cost 10₵, because they were made cheaply. No one expected them to be kept for seventy or eighty years. Modern comics are better, but still need preserving. The rules for books apply here as well, with a little modification. Never bend a comic back upon itself. It weakens the spine and you may be beaten by nerds. Comics should be stored in supportive enclosures. That means polybags, backing boards and archive boxes. You want to make sure the boards and boxes are ph. neutral and lignin free. Otherwise the very things protecting you comics can be causing their slow disintegration. Magazines should be treated in exactly the same way although those with glued bindings (similar to what you see on National Geographic) should be treated like books for the purpose of reading them. Do not open these to a flat position.
By Katy Searcy, Children’s Department
Comics and graphic novels. When I say those magic words, there are typically some pretty strong feelings evoked: I either receive rants and raves or wailing and gnashing of teeth. I’m here for those of you who may fall into the latter category. Maybe you hate them because you feel they aren’t “real” literature, because there’s absolutely no way cartoons can contain value. Maybe you hate them because your kid won’t read anything else. Or maybe you just hate them because you don’t know anything about them. So I’m here to provide you with a crash course in comics and graphic novels with the hope that hating them will no longer be your first reaction.
Comics vs. Graphic Novels: What’s the Difference?
Comic books are periodicals that contain a single story or a collection of stories, often featuring a continuing set of characters. Comic books are a form of sequential art, following a left-to-right, panel-to-panel reading convention and containing textual devices such as speech bubbles, captions, and onomatopoeia to convey dialogue, narration, and sound. Many American comic books involve adventure stories that incorporate elements of fantasy and science fiction. Superhero characters in comic books are especially popular. Some comic series have been merged into giant collections, like The Walking Dead, so they read more like a graphic novel.
A graphic novel is a book-length story that combines pictures and text. Graphic novels do resemble comic books, but they’re typically much longer than comic books with more serious subject matter. Many graphic novels do explore adult themes, but there are just as many graphic novels created specifically for children and young adults. Graphic novels are not necessarily novels—the format includes fictional stories, informational text, essays, reports, memoirs, biographies, and even poetry told using a combination of text and images following the panel-to-panel conventions of comics.
Where Does Manga Fit?
Manga are Japanese comics. The panels and text are read from right to left, and the reader turns the page in a right-to-left fashion as well. This can catch many readers off guard, but trust me, once you start, it’s easy to catch on. The art style of manga, however, differs drastically from its American counterpart. Manga characters are hyper-stylized, typically drawn with large eyes, small mouths, and giant heads of brightly colored hair. Emotions are exaggerated and can take over a character’s entire body.
Why Should We Read Them?
- The first reason is obvious: Comics and graphic novels are fun! Why should reading be boring and miserable? It shouldn’t. Letting kids read something fun of their choosing gives them a sense of initiative and responsibility towards their own reading, and they’re less likely to view reading as a chore.
- We live in a hyper-visual culture, and the visual sequences in comics and graphic novels just make sense to kids.
- Kids use complex reading strategies when comic books and graphic novels. Readers must rely on dialogue and visual cues to infer what is not explicitly stated by a narrator, and they develop multiple literacies through the combination of pictures and text.
- Comics and graphic novels are GREAT for reluctant readers. For kids who are intimidated by large amounts of text, the combination of text and images makes the book seem more accessible.
- Personally, I read them when I want a more immersive, inclusive reading experience. I’ve found that some stories are just told better through a visual medium.
Which Ones Should I Read?
I’m glad you asked. If you’d like to know more about comics as a genre, Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud (call number YA 741.5 MACC) is a wonderful resource. Often used as a textbook in literature classes (I needed it a total of three times during my undergrad and graduate work. Three!), McCloud delves into nearly every historical and perceptual aspect of comics. As far as good comics and graphic novels to read, here is a basic list of some of my personal favorites for each age group that we have available here at WCPL.
Babymouse: Queen of the World! (J 741.5 HOL)
Squish: Super Amoeba (J 741.5 HOL)
Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute (J 741.5 KRO)
Chi’s Sweet Home (J 741.5952 KON)
Zebrafish (J 741.5 EME)
Roller Girl (J 741.5973 JAM)
Amulet: The Stonekeeper (J 741.5973 KIB)
Astronaut Academy: Zero Gravity (J 741.5973 ROM)
Brain Camp (J 741.5 KIM, 7th and 8th shelf)
Chiggers (YA F LAR)
Battling Boy (J 741.5 POP, 7th and 8th shelf)
Drama (YA F TEL)
In Real Life (YA F DOC)
Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life (YA F OMA)
This One Summer (YA F TAM)
Runaways (YA F VAU)
The Shadow Hero (YA F YAN)
Fun Home: An American Tragicomic (741.5973 PEC)
Over Easy (741.5973 PON)
Saga (741.5973 VAU)
Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? (92 CHA)
Blankets (F THO)
Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud