Michigan State University

Comics and the City

Title banner "Comics and the City" with cityscape background drawing

Now through February 23, 2020
Main Library, Special Collections Gallery

Comic history is urban history. Comics have played a central role in shaping our collective understanding of urban life. As the United States transitioned from an agrarian mindset to one defined by the city, our vision of modernity was developed, in part, by culture and commerce captured in comic panels. A visual narrative informed by community, consumption, and identity, comics strips cataloged the substance of urban life. From the faces of new ethnic groups to products sold to an exploding middle class, comics captured a changing world. The blending of word and image allowed comics to create a collective vision of urban life at once factual and fantastic. The iconography of the city presented in comics calls captures the moment of transformation that defined modernity.

Richard F. Outcault's Yellow Kid was a commercial success the signaled the arrival of the urban consumer market. The newspaper comics strips that followed offered readers a space to reflect on an ever-changing world. And the coming of the comic book format brought with it the perspective of the blended ethnic identities of those now populating cities, for whom the prospect of urban life as fantastic and perilous. As the comic strip gave way to the comic book, superhero characters mirrored the growing global power of the United States providing larger than life heroes and fantastic adventures in symbolic cities. The emergence of the underground comix movement gave a generation of creators from across the United States the opportunity to craft deeply personal narratives grounded in locales big and small.

This installation features several comics and creators whose work captures the complexity of urban life from diverse perspectives. The selected pieces are also instructive of how the city is imagined and reimagined in a variety of global and historical contexts.

This exhibit is generously sponsored by Sy and Trish Adler, Margaret Bumby & Clark Wierda, and Lynn and Bruce Edwards

Exhibit co-curated by Julian Chambliss, Professor, MSU Depts. of English and History, and Zack Kruse, Ph.D. Candidate, Dept. of English