Trending: Let’s Celebrate Comics!

Did you know that today is National Comic Book Day? To celebrate, we are sharing a contribution by Michael Cavna of the Washington Post to the September–October issue of LCM, the Library of Congress magazine. The entire issue, available here, showcases the Library’s collection of some 140,000 comic books. Cavna, an Eisner Award-nominated columnist and cartoonist, writes the “Comic Riffs” column for the Post.

Self-portrait by Michael Cavna for the Library of Congress, 2017. Used with permission.

She had come because of a comic book. She left stirred by the words of an American hero.

A young woman attended a comics-convention panel I moderated several years ago to listen in person to Rep. John Lewis, the civil-rights hero turned first-time graphic-novel memoirist.

Lewis had just published “March: Book One,” the first in an illustrated trilogy about how nonviolent protest was used to combat segregation in America. One of the graphic novel’s central messages, as illustrated by the 1965 Selma march, was about having the courage to stand up for one’s deepest convictions.

On this day, the woman came to the microphone and asked: “As a person in a same-sex relationship, should I move to D.C. so I can get married legally, or stay in Virginia and challenge the law?”

“You must fight!” Lewis exclaimed from the stage without a second’s hesitation. “You must stay. Stand up! Speak out! Speak up for what’s right!”

The room went silent, in awe of his resonant moral clarity. Then came the cheering. All because a comic book that speaks directly to American democratic ideals had been the source of inspired social connection.

America has contributed at least three unique inventions to the world’s culture: baseball, jazz and the newspaper comic strip. All three foster both the teamwork of shared production and the spark of an individual’s original genius. Yet to the reader, a comic panel is not only a window into the imagination of the creator, it is also a mirror that reveals something about ourselves.

Consider Ben Franklin, that father of American cartoon satire who sponsored such images as the iconic 1754 “Join, or Die” cartoon used in the Revolutionary cause. Think of cartoonist Thomas Nast, whose work toppled political corruption at Boss Tweed’s Tammany Hall.

Consider the social commentary of Richard F. Outcault’s Yellow Kid, establishing the funny pages as a national pastime. And then, with World War II on the horizon, the superhero comic-book boom was launched largely by Jewish creators who could identify with a cultural outsider like Superman.

“Peanuts,” Charles Schulz’s profound window into the adult psyche told through young archetypes. Art Spiegelman’s towering “Maus.” Will Eisner’s “A Contract With God.” Walt Kelly’s “Pogo.” Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s creation of the Marvel Universe. Garry Trudeau’s satirical “Doonesbury,” spanning Nixon to Trump. Each of those creations is an essential link in our nation’s long comics evolution.

Which brings me full circle to Rep. Lewis. At the 2016 Library of Congress National Book Festival, I introduced Lewis, who had helped open the National Museum of African American History and Culture that very morning. And on that magical evening, Rep. Lewis used the platform of comics to speak in soaring oratory to the resilient promise of American equality.

The Library of Congress must continue its efforts to make the preservation and curation of graphic art a central mission. Because panel by panel, comics tell a story as profoundly as any other art form. They are a national treasure.

Trending: Wonder Woman of Tennis . . . and More

Tens of thousands of tennis lovers will happily brave big crowds and warm temperatures this week to cheer their favorite stars in the U.S. Open. Held in New York City, the international tournament concludes the annual Grand Slam circuit. Many Grand Slam champions are household names for years, whether for their history-making achievements, athletic prowess […]

May It Please the Court: “Drawing Justice: The Art of Courtroom Illustration”

(The following is an excerpt from an article by Sara W. Duke from the May/June 2017 issue of LCM, the Library of Congress Magazine. Duke, curator of popular and applied graphic art, writes about how courtroom illustrations capture the styles of the times in which cases are heard. Read the entire May/June issue here.) “Drawing Justice: […]

National Garden Week: How Does Your Garden Grow?

(The following is an article by Erin Allen from the May/June 2017 issue of LCM, the Library of Congress Magazine. Read the entire issue here.) April showers bring May flowers, but it’s the summer months that give green thumbs a chance to cultivate, nurture and experiment. National Garden Clubs Inc. has proclaimed June 4–11, 2017, […]

Form Follows Function: Diverse Collections Require Diverse Modern Storage

(The following is an article by Jennifer Gavin from the May/June 2017 issue of LCM, the Library of Congress Magazine. Gavin is senior public affairs specialist in the Library’s Office of Communications. Read the entire May/June issue here.) The phrase “form follows function,” long associated with the design movement, isn’t a bad starting place when […]

My Job at the Library: Building the Architecture, Design and Engineering Collection

(The following is an article from the November/December 2016 issue of LCM, the Library of Congress Magazine, in which Mari Nakahara, curator of architecture, design and engineering in the Prints and Photographs Division, discusses her job. The issue can be read in its entirety here.) How would you describe your work at the Library? Like […]

Inquiring Minds: African-American Soldiers in World War I

The following is an article from the March/April 2017 issue of LCM, the Library of Congress Magazine, in which Adriane Lentz-Smith discusses her research at the Library of Congress into the experiences of African-American soldiers in World War I. Lentz-Smith is an associate professor at Duke University, author of “Freedom Struggles: African-Americans and World War […]

World War I: Online Offerings

(The following was written for the March/April 2017 issue of the Library of Congress Magazine, LCM. You can read editions of past issues here.) With the most comprehensive World War I collections in the nation, we are uniquely equipped to tell the story of America’s involvement in the Great War through our website. Today we launched a […]

Experts’ Corner: Presidential Podcasts

(The following article is from the January/February 2017 issue of the Library of Congress Magazine, LCM. You can read the issue in its entirety here.) Library of Congress historians Julie Miller, Barbara Bair and Michelle Krowl contribute their knowledge of the presidents to a new podcast series. In 2016, The Washington Post presented a podcast series called […]