From the Heroic to the DepravedOctober 26, 2010 | by Wendy Leopold
The exhibit, “From the Heroic to the Depraved,” was culled from Northwestern’s 25,000-item comic book collection. It features popular and little-known 20th and 21st century comic books as well as “underground comix” from the 1960s and 1970s. It also includes precursors to the comic book dating as far back as the 15th century.
Because it contains some sexually explicit language and graphics, the exhibit on the third floor of Deering Library is not intended for children. Deering Library is reached through Northwestern University Library, 1970 Campus Drive, on the Evanston campus. The free, public exhibit runs through March 24.
Among the exhibit standouts are Marvel Comics’ Amazing Adult Fantasy #15, which introduced Spider-Man in 1962, and Amazing Spider-Man #1, which launched Spider-Man’s own series in 1963. The exhibit features work by R. Crumb, the most famous of the “underground comix” artists, as well as lesser known underground titles such as “It Ain’t Me Babe,” “Wimmin’s Comix” and “Girl Fight.”
“The comic book archive contains amazing material that touches on race relations, gender, politics, the Cold War and other topics of interest to popular culture scholars,” says librarian Jason Nargis. “And unlike collections in private hands that are all about keeping issues in pristine condition, we want people to use our comics,” adds Benn Joseph, who, with Nargis, curated the exhibit.
Northwestern’s comic book archive began in the early 1970s when a student donated some 1,000 comics to the University’s Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections. In 1973, Marvel Comics publisher Stan Lee -- co-creator of Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk and X-Men -- waived his standard fee to officially dedicate the collection. It has since grown exponentially.
“Say ‘comic books’ and many folks think of a costumed superhero, but comic books and our collection go far beyond that,” says Nargis. He and co-curator Joseph hope the exhibit will encourage comic book enthusiasts and scholars to view and make use of Northwestern’s extensive comic book collection.
Interspersed with comics featuring Dick Tracy, Wonder Woman, Batman and Sabrina the Teenage Witch are examples of comic books’ early ancestors as well as some of their more “depraved,” underground descendants. Among the ancestors: a reproduction of a Paupers’ Bible from the late Middle Ages complete with speech scrolls (a predecessor of the modern “speech bubble”) and “A Harlot’s Progress” by 18th century artist William Hogarth depicting the downfall of a country lass on her move to the city.
For more on the Northwestern University Library exhibit or exhibit hours, call (847) 491-7641 or visit http://www.library.northwestern.edu/highlight/2010/october/holy-primary-source-materials-batman-its-comic-book-collection.