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"Locked in a Paper Cage: Society Reflected in Graphic Novels" Exhibition

    The University of Delaware Library announces the exhibition “Locked in a Paper Cage: Society Reflected in Graphic Novels” which will be on view in four exhibition cases from Monday, February 11, 2008, through Tuesday, June 3, 2008, in the Information Room in the Morris Library, Newark, Delaware.

    Graphic novels have become a part of popular culture.  Not only do they provide entertainment, graphic novels provide a visual reflection of historical and current events as well as providing an artistic outlet for social commentary.  The graphic novel is a style of comic-book with an extended, yet complex storyline and usually aimed at a mature audience. “Locked in a Paper Cage: Society Reflected in Graphic Novels” presents examples which exhibit the rich artistic nature of the genre and demonstrate its capacity to mirror society.

    The origins of the graphic novel can trace to the pulp novels that appeared in the United States after World War I.  These pulp novels were aimed at male readers and usually featured topics such as war stories, westerns, and science fiction.  In 1938, Action Comics introduced the superhero, Superman.  Within two years, other superhero icons such as Batman, Green Lantern, Captain American and Wonder Woman were introduced to the world.  Over the next forty years, additional comic-book characters emerged to entertain American audiences:  the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, the Hulk, and the X-Men.  

    Graphic novels began to develop in the 1960s, but would not fully emerge until the late 1980s.  A Contract with God and Other Tenement Stories by Will Eisner and published in 1978 is often erroneously called the first graphic novel.  Will Eisner linked common theme narratives of immigrant and first-generation experiences.  A Contract with God and Other Tenement Stories has become, nonetheless, a benchmark for graphic novel enthusiasts.  Eight years later, the publication of Art Spiegelman’s Maus, published in 1986 recounts the struggle of Spiegelman's father to survive the Holocaust as a Polish Jew and draws mostly from his father's recollections of his experiences.  It received praise in the mainstream media and later won a Pulitzer Prize in 1992.  In addition, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (1986), featured an older version of Frank Miller’s superhero, and Watchmen (1987), which presented a collection of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ vision of a post-Hiroshima world, further catapulted graphic novels into a wider audience.  Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta, a series published from 1982-1988, along with the three (Maus, The Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen) previously mentioned graphic novels, were reviewed in newspapers and magazines around the world and praised by the public, leading to an increase in their popularity.

    The popularity of graphic novels has continued to grow since the late 1980s.  The most successful graphic novel series in the United States so far has been Neil Gaiman's Sandman series.  Graphic novels continue to entertain, but remains a powerful tool for writers and artists to express their vision of society or current events, such as 9-11 : The World’s Finest Comic Book Writers and Artists Tell Stories to Remember.  Without question, the popularity of the graphic novel will continue to grow.  “Locked in a Paper Cage: Society Reflected in Graphic Novels” provides a glimpse of a new genre of literature in the United States and the rest of the world.

    “Locked in a Paper Cage: Society Reflected in Graphic Novels” was curated by Michael Gutierrez, Senior Assistant Librarian in the Reference Department, and
Mandi Townsend, Head of the Library Systems Support Department, both from the University of Delaware Library.

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