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:
- Buy current Government comics for kids on GPO’s Online Bookstore.
- Read other Government Book Talk blog posts about comics:
- Browse Library Collections of Government Comics:
- The University of Iowa Libraries’ Government Comics Research Guide.
- The Government Comics Collection at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.