ImageTexT: Interdisciplinary Comics Studies

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University of Florida, Smathers Libraries Comics Exhibit

Help is on the Way! Comic Books and Superheroes in Special Collections, A Display in the Exhibit Gallery, Smathers Library (East), George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida, October 25 - December 17, 2004


I have known many adults who have treasured throughout their lives some of the books they read as children. I have never come across any adult or adolescent who had outgrown comic-book reading who would ever dream of keeping any of these “books” for any sentimental or other reason.

—Frederic Wertham, Seduction of the Innocent

“What th-?” —Superman, Action Comics

The exhibit, “‘Help Is On The Way!’ Comic Books and Superheroes in Special Collections,” features comics selected from the Baldwin Library of Historical Children’s Literature. The focus is mainly on popular superheroes/comic books that appeared in DC comics published during the so-called “Silver Age” (roughly from the late 50s through the early 70s). This is an “era” of increasing interest in collecting and scholarship. The period is also of personal interest to me, since I was an avid comic book reader from the early 1960s until about the time I began high school in 1969. As I went through the collection to select items for display, I re-discovered titles, heroes, villains, and story lines that I had been exposed to when younger. It was a good experience, to be sure. The collection held in Special Collections contains more than DC’s comics—Marvel Comics are represented in the collection— but our holdings in superhero-oriented mags are strongest (in depth and breadth) in titles published by DC.

As it turns out, the heroes and magazines selected comprise to a large extent the composition of The Justice League of America. This super-group, predated by the Justice Society of America (from the DC “Golden Age”), features Superman, Batman, the Flash, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, Hawkman, Aquaman, the Atom, the Martian Manhunter, and Wonder Woman. Therefore, the display begins with Superman, regarded as the first superhero, and then moves on to Batman, Flash, Green Lantern, and so on. We try to discuss a bit of the hero’s history (in the world of comic book superheroes and in print), beginning with the hero’s first appearance in the Golden Age, revival in the Silver Age, and through the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Information about the individual comics in the exhibit includes title of the featured story, publication information about the title in which the story appeared, and (when available) the writer(s) of the story and the artist(s). Naturally, there are abundant illustrations throughout the catalog and in the exhibit because, of course, comics are a combination of words and images.

Three talented graduate students from the University of Florida Department of English provided the context by preparing an introduction to comics as a field of study, as well as an historical overview of comics from the early days to modern times. Their bibliography concludes the catalog and offers current and future devotees, aficionados, and “fanboys” further reading on the subject. Thanks go to Laurie Taylor, Cathlena Martin, and Trena Houp for their contribution to the catalog and exhibit, and for organizing the University of Florida’s Third Annual Conference on Comics (October 29-30, 2004). It was my pleasure to work with them on the project.

As with other exhibits and accompanying publications and programs, several individuals provided time and talent to help get the job done. Susan Lupi processed our comics collection and created a database that made it possible for me to select and locate items for the exhibit. Her work also facilitates the collection’s use by students, scholars, and others interested in its contents. Mil Willis and student assistants in Special Collections (Andrew Riggs, Sergio Borges, Luis Loayza, and Reza Hajikondestani) scanned covers and pages for use in the exhibit and the catalog. Barbara Hood created the catalog, shepherded the creation of the exhibit’s interpretative and illustrative material, and publicized the various programs and events related to the exhibit. Others providing technical expertise and assistance include Joe Aufmuth, John Freund, Bill Hanssen and Russ Fairman. I am delighted to acknowledge the generous financial support of the Howe Society.

The idea to showcase holdings from our comics collection came from Rita Smith, Curator of the Baldwin Library, but I was glad to take the lead on the exhibit. Some days the work progressed more slowly than others, no doubt because I made time to read (again) the exploits of Superman, Batman, the Flash, Green Lantern, and others. I invite you to visit the Special Collections Research Room in Smathers Library (East) to do the same.

Robert A. Shaddy, Chair
Special and Area Studies Collections

Exhibit 1: Main

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