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Comics as a teaching tool
MASC exhibit encourages another look at comics
Monday, Dec. 13, 2010
By Hope Belli Tinney , WSU Today
Photos by WSU Today
PULLMAN-WSU Librarian Lorena O’English spends much of her professional life online immersed in scholarly publications or searching databases, but she wanted to do something completely different for her sabbatical. So she studied comics.
She thought studying comics would also be a break from her main area of expertise — social science research — but instead it drove home the point that comics offer tremendous opportunities for studying social sciences, and just about any other field you can imagine.
Comic Society: Reflections, currently on display at the Manuscripts, Archives and Special Collections exhibit space, began taking shape during O’English’s six month sabbatical that ended in June.
Her goals were to publicize WSU’s circulating collection of comic books and graphic novels as well as the special collections; start a discussion about comics as a valuable research tool; and develop her curatorial skills by creating an exciting, dynamic exhibit. Check, check and check.
"I think many people wouldn't expect to see such rich comic collections here at the university," said Trevor Bond, interim director of MASC. "There's this whole world out there beyond Marvel comics."
Comics might not be the first thing faculty think of when they are trying to engage students in dense or multilayered material, but it could be a valuable tool.
For instance, the 128-page "9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation," is worth looking at, Bond said. "A comic book or graphic novel, if done well, can really help you through a lot of dense material."
50 years of comics
Though comic books have been around a hundred years or more, O’English focused on the years from 1960 to the present, in part because those are the periods in which WSU has the most comic resources. Along with a fairly extensive circulating collection, MASC has an extensive comics special collections, including one gifted by Paul Brians, a former WSU English professor, and the other by Lynn R. Hansen, who died in 1995.
"I think these can be a very engaging tool for someone to do scholarship with," she said.
Both the Brians collection and the Hansen collection include underground comics, or comix, but O’English said this exhibit is appropriate for a general audience. But that doesn’t mean it is all mainstream. The exhibit traces trends and countertrends as the comic genre evolves through the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s up through the present.
“Comics really do reflect pushes—or negative pushes—in our society,” she said.
O’English has already authored a book chapter and a journal article focused on comics, but creating the narrative of the MASC exhibit was a stretch, she said, because she wanted the posters to resemble large, oversize comic book pages.
“It was incredibly complicated to bring it together,” O’English said. “I didn’t know what I was getting into, as is so often the case.”
In addition to the posters, the exhibit contains dozens of comic books, comic collections and graphic novels. They are only a small sample of what WSU Libraries have to offer, she said.
“I’m hoping someone will look at the exhibit and then take it further,” she said.