I've recently become aware of Harriet Earle's comics research (by way of the podcast Drawing a Dialogue - a must if you're interested in comics scholarship and pedagogy), and I am looking forward to reading her new book Comics, Trauma, and the New Art of War. Earle notes that comics is an inherently profound medium for relating stories of trauma because of the formal structure: Here, from her essay Panel Transitions in Trauma Comics:
Traumatic narratives are not typically constructed around a linear chronology and they do not make comfortable reading. When boiled down to the very basic level, this is the aim of a traumatic text: to create in us some part of the psychological disturbance that undoubtedly plagues the traumatised within the text. The aim of the traumatic comics creator is that of his text-based cousin, though there is a different tool kit required to create the effect. In comics of trauma, the symptoms of traumatic experience are mimicked in the formal techniques of the comic. However, the comics creator has a range of devices open to him that the traditional writer does not and, as I previously suggested, the most important and visible of these is to be found in the gutter.
I immediately thought of the possibilities for pairing comics with LOC imagery of traumatic events - a time-honored approach - but with a focus on how the different media relate the violence and trauma of the events. In particular, the effect in question is possible because of the gutter in comics, i.e. what is left out. The question can be applied to the single-image sources as well - what is left out of this picture? What can we learn through that absence? And how do the different methods of narrative research affect us?
One good example would be using a sequence from John Lewis and Nate Powell's graphic novel March in concert with LOC images from the March to Selma. The different media of the event provoke very different responses. Consider this proposal as an addendum to Stephen Wesson's blog post on Teaching Selma.
Another possibility would be Kyle Baker's graphic novel Nat Turner, paired with the strange image of the "Horrific Massacre in Virginia".
I was thrilled to find the all-cartoon issue of the New York Times Magazine in my Sunday paper yesterday. It immediately made me think about the TPS Program, and the UArts course on Comics and Graphic Novels as primary sources. While our course focuses on using comics as primary sources, the NYT Magazine had cartoonists mine the Metro section of the paper, and interpret articles they found as cartoons.
Can you imagine doing this project with a group of students? You could explore current events, or examine history through reading newspaper accounts, and then create your own graphic versions. What do you think student would gain through such an exercise? What skills would they need to employ to create a two page cartoon of a newspaper article?
I teach a class for TPS on integrating comics into the K-12 classroom, and I've written here before about the Yellow Kid. The Library of Congress proper is an incredible repository of early comics, but the online resources are somewhat limited. This is due, it appears, to various copyright restrictions on the material.
But if you are looking for examples of early comics (1895-1920, say) I have found a new resource in the LOC: the original newspapers. The library has recently been uploading more high resolution scans of turn-of-the-century papers, inadvertently skirting those restrictions and providing fascinating context in the process.
The comics pages were developed to boost sales, so they were often featured at the front of the paper. This makes it easy to see which papers have a comics supplement - it's the first page, and it's in color. At the time, the term comics simply denoted humorous content, so not all records matching this description contain what we now think of as comics, but if you're willing to do a little digging, there are gems. I've attached page 4 of the American Humorist from Nov 7, 1897, the Colored Comic Weekly of the New York Journal and Advertiser, which features a half-page Yellow Kid cartoon.
The cartoon features the Kid (comics' first big star - see my other posts!) celebrating (mocking?) the end of the 1897 presidential election with the other residents of his New York City tenement. It's a late effort, and a good one. The important comics historian RC Harvey wrote an updated roundup of the Yellow Kid's career in the Comics Journal last year highlighting the importance of the previously unheard-of Hearst editor Morrill Goddard. It's an excellent read and can be found here: http://www.tcj.com/outcault-goddard-the-comics-and-the-yellow-kid/
But the point of my posting is this - I found it completely by accident. Note that the record does not contain any tags or notes indicating that this is a perfect scan of a primary source featuring the most important comic character of the 19th century. I did search "comics" in loc.gov, but the search tool only recognizes standard text, not drawings or the banner advertising the "Comic Weekly". The word "comics" happens to appear elsewhere in the paper (the classifieds, ha).
Note that I'm not trying to call anyone out here. These records were clearly scanned as newspapers - that they may contain important comics or anything else of interest was clearly incidental at the time.
The takeaway here is that there are new, fascinating gems of early comics at loc.gov as full, contextual, primary sources! You just have to know where to look.