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October 11: How the Comic Book Grew Up

We’re going to take a brief digression from Radioactive today, although it’s not too far off the beaten path (after all, the New York Times review described Radioactive as a “graphic novel” back in 2010), to bring you news about an upcoming talk.  The speaker is UW-Madison Associate Professor Robin Valenza, and she’ll be discussing “How the Comic Book Grew Up.”

Place: Grand Hall, Capitol Lakes (333 W. Main Street)
Date: Thursday, October 11
Time: 3:15 pm

This description from Robin:
“In the English-language tradition, comic books have spent most
of their lives as entertainment aimed at children and teenagers,
although nobody has ever pretended that adults did not read

This talk considers how the books we call comics evolved
over the past few centuries, and how they made the transition
between being something disposable (whose disposibility was
paradoxically connected to their collectability) for young
people towards being a respected literary form that now earns
pride of place in bookstores under the category  “graphic

Along the way, the talk will discuss the following: 
early forms of sequential comic art including oil paintings
meant to be viewed in succession for humorous effect, the power
of the single-panel cartoon, the appearance of comic strips in
newspapers, the voluntary and involuntary censorship that
affected the publication and sale of comics, and the annus
mirabilis —
the miracle year 1986 — in which books
previously called comics could then be called “graphic novels”
with a straight face and appear without irony on lists of the
100 best books of the twentieth century.  The way stations of
this talk are many images and texts that lie at the heart of
comics as an art form, image-text combinations that may evoke
nostalgia or provoke laughter, tears, or wonder.”

Robin Valenza is beginning her fourth year as associate
professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. 
She came to Madison from the University of Chicago, after
finishing her PhD in English literature at Stanford University. 
Before she became a literary scholar, she was a computer
scientist and electrical engineer who worked on automatic
textual transcription of audio documents.  She currently manages
an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant that brings together the
two sides of her background:  her research group is working on
how a person can comprehend a million or more books by combining
traditional reading practices — turning pages and reading
sentences one word at a time — and visualization techniques
that allow readers to see commonalities among books through the
use of color and pattern.  Reading at large scales that is —
1000s to millions of books at once, plays into her interest in
comic books and graphic novels because she has a longstanding
interest in how our perceptual systems can use color and pattern
to glean information, which is a part of our perceptual system
that comics use in great measure but that black and white print
in a conventional books do not.  

5 thoughts on “October 11: How the Comic Book Grew Up

  1. Comics should be considered an art form and in some ways even better or more complex that modern art itself. It needs serious talent rather than selling a disposition to rich gallery owners.

  2. Comic books take more time to understand but better enjoyable. Comics are creative in nature which takes brainstorming and the same will execute in the minds of children.

  3. my kids love comics and i keep on buying for them many comic books so its such a nice post about comics