CU exhibit celebrates legacy of comic books, graphic novels

University of Colorado art senior Julia Lamberton is happy comics and graphic novels are making such a comeback in popular culture.

In the past, Lamberton collected comic books solely for art.

“But now I’m getting more into the history of it,” Lamberton says. “They are fascinating, especially the older ones. I really like that they’re getting more popular, more notice and more credit.”

“Graphia: Comics, Graphic Novels and the Humanities on the Front Range,” the University of Colorado English Department’s new exhibit at the University Memorial Center Art Gallery, features a collection of antique comics from Front Range collectors.

Collections from Wayne Winsett, owner of Boulder’s Time Warp Comics; Chuck Rozanski, owner Denver’s Mile High Comics; Boulder High teacher Jim Vacca; and some young local artists are on display through Feb. 13.

A Superman comic from an issue of the 1941 Minneapolis Sunday Tribune and Star Journal is presented, having appeared just years after the fictional cultural comic icon was born.

Among other Aged, valued comics on display include Penny in “Poor Little Rich Girl” from DC Comics, 1970; “The Savage Sword of Conan” from Marvel, 1932; and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in “Up on a Roof,” from Kevin Eastman, 1984.

CU staff member Derrick Watson says he grew up with comics as a child.

“Some of the Superman comic books and cartoons on display remind me of my childhood,” Watson says. “Now kids watch all this stuff on television. When I was growing up, we had cartoons, but we got into the comic books … this takes me back to that childhood.”

In the recent past, movies such as “V For Vendetta,” “Sin City” and even “A History of Violence” have offered the graphic novel genre a comeback.

CU associate professor William Kuskin, who organized the exhibit, sees the link of comics to literary pieces.

“I think, overall, English has narrowed itself and it’s a sad truth,” Kuskin says. “Comic books are almost an absurd way of opening up a conversation about what the value of literature and what role literature serves in our community.”

Kuskin, who wrote the prose for a couple comics with a Mississippi illustrator, Matthew Slade, explains that comics begin as prose, incorporate illustrations and are morphed onto the page with exploding art.

“In the past, books were the only mode of telling stories,” Kuskin says. “Radio, film, video, now the World Wide Web, all of these things kind of encroached on what used to be literature’s monopoly.

“So I see comic books and graphic novels as a kind of response, as if to say, ‘There are many ways of telling stories, there are many ways of writing or elaborating on fiction.’

“So let’s go back to the book, let’s go back to our basics.”

Lamberton says she likes that Kuskin is incorporating this art form into the literary world.

“Before, comics were just a funny, silly thing that little kids would collect,” Lamberton says. “But now it’s more of an art form.”

Kuskin, who teaches a course on the graphic novel, says comics have been called children’s literature for years, but he believes they cross a more mature line.

“Some comics are powerful — with the most powerful drama and the most powerful prose,” he says. “Part of me says we need to respect this … and the other part says let’s look at it all — let’s talk about it.

“Let’s get literature back in the public conversation.”

Art student and CU senior Pablo Rivera says he likes the fact that comics convey deep story lines.

“I like how comics have gotten really interesting in dealing with contemporary ideas,” Rivera says. “Some of (the comics on display) have full stories behind them and some of them are just parts of comics — so you kind of have to fill them in on your own and use your imagination to complete the story.”

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