While comics today are often primarily associated with the superhero stories that provide fodder for blockbuster movies, they are and have been a much more diverse body of literature, and one worthy of study. A mainstay of childhood and young adult reading, comics have incorporated many genres, including action, humor, romance, crime, horror, drama, science fiction, and fantasy. There is also a strong subversive movement, largely aimed at adults, of ‘underground’ work that uses the medium in innovative ways.
A database dedicated to this art form, Underground and Independent Comics focuses on those outside the mainstream, from the lurid 1950s horror and crime comics which prompted the restrictive Comics Code to cheekily irreverent like R. Crumb’s Zap Comix to much more heavy and insightful work like From Hell by Alan Moore. Academic works about the medium, such as Comics Versus Art by Bart Beaty, are included, as well.
Indiana University owns many books relevant to the study or enjoyment of comics history, and during the pandemic, the Hathi Trust has opened its scans to participant libraries for as long as those libraries are unable to circulate material (after logging in – select Indiana University as your partner institution – click on Temporary Access, the click ‘Check Out’ to use these books). This has created an opportunity to access materials that usually would need to be borrowed from another library.
The HathiTrust ebooks offer a much broader scope of mainstream work, across the spectrum from the diversional to the meaningful. This includes comforting comedy fare like Peanuts, Garfield, and Mutt and Jeff; or celebrated children’s comics written deeply enough to engage adults, like Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck by Carl Barks (the latter of which includes the landmark story ‘Only a Poor Old Man’, a tightly plotted adventure pitting the Duck family against the Beagle Boys and musing on the actual value of wealth).
Books that have had deeper cultural impact include Maus or In the Shadow of No Towers by Art Spiegelman, Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, and Barefoot Gen: out of the ashes by Keiji Nakazawa. There are also more recent classics like American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang and Daytripper by Fábio Moon, and of course, the superheroes that now anchor multimillion dollar movies, like Ms. Marvel, Batman, Squirrel Girl, Scott Pilgrim, and Superman (the latter volume includes Alan Moore’s famous story ‘For the Man Who Has Everything’).
There’s plenty of scholarship, as well, such as All in Color for a Dime by Dick Lupoff or Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud – or, for those interested in creating their own comics, titles like How To Draw Comics The Marvel Way. If you are interested in graphic novels, comics, and sequential art, this summer offers an unprecedented, although limited time opportunity to study major works in the art form easily on your computer. Need any help navigating these resources? You can Ask Us! firstname.lastname@example.org