Society through a Comic Lens

By Guest Blogger, Marianne Mason, Federal Information Librarian, Research and Library Instruction at The University of Iowa Libraries

Comic books are not really books and often not comic, but are serialized graphics-based stories expressed through political and cultural rhetoric.  Think Maus, a story of the Holocaust.  Think Peanuts’ ethics and theology.

O.K., not all comic books or graphic novels are Pulitzer Prize winners or speak to a deep sense of ethics.  The pure entertainment value of storytelling through sequential art can be worthy on its own merits.  However, the comics can inform, persuade, and encourage new behaviors in readers.  This is the purpose of comic books authored by U.S. government agencies.

Used as social program marketing tools for decades, the government-authored comic book format has been used to promote program benefits (Social Security Administration) and to educate (Consumer Product Safety Commission) using superhero/anti-hero models like Sprocket Man (reviewed in our April 9, 2010, blog post “Just for Fun: Sprocket Man!” ) and El Gato to capture the attention of the targeted audience and cross educational boundaries.

The Army made instruction manuals measurably more appealing to combat personnel in PS Magazine by incorporating sexual innuendo in both dialog and character illustration such as in this Preventive Maintenance manual shown below:

In October 2011 the University of Iowa hosted a scholarly symposium entitled “Comics, Creativity, and Culture: International and Interdisciplinary Perspectives”, a by-invitation-only event for scholars, artists and creators of the art and literature of comic books.  The Symposium spawned a semester-long series of complementary university sponsored events ranging from art exhibits, radio broadcasts, discussions, and interactive workshops for educators and K-12 students.  The University of Iowa Libraries contributed to the celebration by creating a Comic Book Café based on the Japanese “Manga Café” model.  Several specialized library collections, including Government Information, pooled their best examples for the café.

As the U.S. Government Information Librarian, I found that this event gave me an opportunity to draw attention to the characteristics and range of government authored comic books.  Creating a government comics research guide  gave me an opportunity to do a thorough survey of the collection,  access the content of the print collection and provide links to digitized collections from the broader government information community, including this latest online booklet from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Preparedness 101: A Zombie Pandemic”.

In addition, the research guide provides database access to many Congressional hearings and reports in the UI collection from the 1950’s linking juvenile delinquency to explicit violence in comic books.

Whether quirky or more profound, all reflect changing societal norms that drive public policy initiatives.

On October 4th an “egg timer” book talk called Thought Balloons: Talking about Comics”, was held in the Café for creators and readers of comics to share insights and stories about connections to comic book literature.  One reader commented that when she and her boyfriend merged their comic book collections, she knew their love was here to stay!

Note regarding Images:

Images in order of mention: Sprocket Man, The 9 Lives of El Gato, PS Magazine, Comic Book Café, Zombie Pandemic (“broader gov. community”), Comic books and juvenile delinquency.  Serial Set 11815-1 (S. Rpt. 62, 84 Cong., 1st Session) 1955, Thought Balloons. Source: University of Iowa Libraries.

About our Guest Blogger:

Marianne Mason has worked with Government and legal resources in several law libraries and universities and at University of Iowa Libraries since 2001 as the regional librarian for the State of Iowa.  Her idea of a fine vacation involves clear water, forests, and the absence of machinery/technology noise.  She knows how to knit socks, two-at-a-time, toe up.

More resources about Government-created comics:

16 Responses to Society through a Comic Lens

  1. […] has also highlighted some funny Federal publication titles within previous blog posts including: Society through a Comic Lens, The Nuttall Tick Catalogue, Dr. Seuss, U.S. Army, Sprocket Man!, War Games, and Ponzimonium. […]


  2. comic books says:

    Phantom was the very initial tremendous hero and was popular throughout
    1936. Ten cent comic books were generally in the Golden Age (pre 1950s) and 25 cent comics were from the Bronze Age (1970s).
    You are not as likely to see the type of illustrations
    Gothic works have in the other.


  3. Tony says:

    It is good to have different kind of material for public to access. When I was a kid, I had lots of comic books and this brings back my memory..


  4. VisionWeb says:

    My brother recommended I might like this blog. He was entirely
    right. This post actually made my day. You can not imagine just
    how a lot time I had spent for this information! Thanks!


  5. […] Book Talk – Society through a Comic Lens – An interesting […]


  6. next pdf says:

    Great article!! My partner and I communicate from the point of view of musical art, nonetheless it relates to almost everything. I simply experience just as much art as I possibly can, and when creating my very own I simply try and let it all out. I’d like the impact and mindset, although not the boundries and restrictions. It would appear that as lots of people age and become “experts” at stuff, they lose their own imagination and ignite. The particular “finding” is fully gone. At forty nine myself, I have managed to avoid this aspect of aging, and so life is a lot more fascinating for this!


  7. Greatwert says:

    Great Information as always!


  8. antalya ilaclama says:

    Comics is a way of opposition. A good weapon for opposites. I can’t talk to in your face but I can draw comics of you. This will be a good deal for both sides I guess.


  9. Teutonia says:

    It’s wonderful to see this post! So many think comics are fluff and unimportant in our history. It is actually a very good illustration of the times and mindset of the people.


  10. Chris says:

    Nice post. I was checking continuously this blog and I am impressed! Very useful info specially the last part 🙂 I care for such information a lot. Great Job.


  11. Daniel Cornwall says:

    This was a really interesting entry. As always, I’m impressed with your choice of topics, and in this case by your choice of guest bloggers.


    • GPOBookstore says:

      Thanks, Daniel! We issued an open invitation to librarians in the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) of GPO to submit guest blog posts, and Marianne was the first to take us up on it. We are delighted, and hope to see more guest bloggers in the future!


  12. Daniel Cornwall says:

    Reblogged this on Alaskan Librarian and commented:
    Today I’m testing the reblog function on WordPress, something I didn’t realize they had. This is a discussion of how the US federal government has used comic books to promote everything from bike safety to army equipment maintenance.


  13. Drako says:

    Long time ago I was a comix’ writer…

    This post is touching many fibers of my soul, believe me:
    I am a voracious reader of comix books, too!

    Thank you, Ms. Mason : )


  14. leonardturpin says:

    Reblogged this on Leonardturpin's Blog.


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