Comic Book History, Legends at Library of Congress Exhibit

Blockbuster motion pictures have been tapping into the superhero world, bringing to life many childhood inspirations and dreams inspired by the stories and characters in comic books.

These characters got their start in print in newspapers, magazines, and comic books, and the Library of Congress is ready to celebrate those creations and inviting the public to join in.

“Library of Awesome” is a pop-up exhibit at the Thomas Jefferson Building in Washington, D.C., and represents the history and breadth of comic and graphic novels throughout history. From “Famous Funnies” No. 1 (1934) to “Wonder Woman” No. 600 and many in between, a selection of nearly 100 items from the Library of Congress’ collection offer a glimpse into the real world impact of these imaginary people.

Megan Halsband, reference librarian with the Library of Congress Serial and Government Publications Division, said the recent surge in popularity of Wonder Woman in the latest film gave her a focus for the main part of the display.

“I wanted to highlight some of the female characters that have been published across comic book history,” Halsband said. “A lot of the materials I selected for this exhibit were a lot of the big guns. The things that people really want to see that we don’t pull out that often.”

Original comic book material, original comic art, and select manuscript material were chosen from the main collection of nearly 140,000 pieces for the exhibit. Halsband said it was the largest comic book exhibit ever put on by the Library of Congress.

The display contains many No. 1 issues, issues that mark the first appearance of a character or a representative comic of an important story or monumental occasion. While Marvel and DC have the mass popularity, the exhibit is broken down into different categories to encompass the wide range of comic books that have appeared over the years.


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The science fiction comics display includes “Planet Comics” from 1946, “Doctor Who” No. 1, and “Star Trek” comics in addition to some horror and fantasy comics. The children’s comic display has original art from “LuLu” (1942), “Donald Duck” (1956), and “Pogo” (1957) as well as one piece that is near and dear to Halsband’s heart.

“I pulled ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,’ because that is what I read as a kid, and it is one of my favorite comics,” she said. “It is my childhood, and it went (in the children’s comic display). That’s the touchstone for me. I’m hoping that everyone that comes will have that moment of oh, that is what I like to read.”

A series of events are schedule for June 16 and 17 beyond just the exhibit. On Friday, the display will be open until 3 p.m. on the first floor of the Thomas Jefferson Building in room LJ113.

On Saturday, the display will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., but in the Young Readers Center, staff will host activities from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., including drawing comic books, creating props, and assembling costumes. Visitors will also be able to explore comic books, graphic novels and other Young Readers Center collections and get superhero and sci-fi-themed photos taken.

Library of Congress staff members will also be holding a panel discussion at 11 a.m. at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center to talk about the collection, conservation and preservation of the material, and how people might visit the Library of Congress to use the collections for their own research.

“We hope people are going to be really excited about it and want to come back to the Library and see what else we have,” Halsband said. “I’m just really excited to be able to show off what I work with on a daily basis. I feel pretty lucky.”

The Library of Congress announced they are collecting and archiving webcomics, reflecting the importance of the popular format for creators and readers. The Webcomics Web Archive will focus on comics created specifically for the web and supplement the Library’s extensive holdings in comic books, graphic novels and original comic art.

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