Karen the Librarian's alter ego

Karen the Librarian’s alter ego

Comic lovers rejoice! Thanks to Karen the Librarian, you can visit Columbia’s collection of comics art, manuscripts and ephemera in Butler. We sent Super-bwogger Britt Fossum to check out the opening. 

By the time I found the correct room for the opening night of Comics at Columbia’s current exhibition “Past, Present, Future,” every seat was already taken. Even though most other latecomers had to settle for a patch of floor in the back of the room, the overall mood of the hour-long introductory remarks was one of excitement. Actually, it felt more like a celebratory club meeting among close friends rather than a formal gallery opening. The curator of the exhibit, comic book advocate, and Librarian for Ancient & Medieval History and Graphic Novels Librarian Karen Green was unfazed by the crowd of people, enthusiastically calling out familiar faces and thanking everyone at Columbia who had helped the cause of comics at the school. Other speakers included artists whose works were featured in the exhibition–Chris Claremont of Marvel comics, Al Jaffee of Mad Magazine, Wendy and Richard Pini, Andrea Tsurumi, Alexander Rothman, Peter Kuper, Gregory Benten, Sophia Wiedeman, Forsyth Harmon, Tom Motley, Riaki Enyama, and Paul Levitz all made a few brief comments about their work and the exhibition itself. I walked into this event thinking that I knew a lot about comics, but most of these artists were completely unknown to me. A few like Harmon, Motley, and Enyama are in fact recent graduates of the Columbia MFA program and the works they have on display are pieces they made in class.

The basic point of the exhibition is that comics are an art form that is rooted in history and experiencing a revival today–but also constantly evolving and changing. Once the speakers had all said their share, everyone made their way up to the sixth floor in the Rare Books and Manuscript Library for the real purpose of the event–checking out some cool art. There might have been food in that room somewhere, but once I made my way through the crowd I only had eyes for one thing: the art. The room is divided into numerous glass cases on the walls of the library, each divided into a specific theme. Certain larger pieces were given more prominent placement in freestanding glass boxes–including a giant sheet decorated with art of “Elfquest” by fans of the series and a comic dating back to the 17th century drawn in the pages of a King’s College (Columbia back in the day) student’s book. It was harder to get a good look at some of the more text-heavy pieces such as letters and scripts, but a few still stood out such as the original script for the comic that would eventually become X-Men: Days of Future Past, and numerous thoughtful fan letters.

Although the library was crowded, I still managed to get a good look at almost everything in the cases. One, dedicated to fan letters and fan art included a chain-mail bikini originally worn by artist Wendy Pini as a Red Sonja costume. In fact, this might illustrate my main takeaway from the event: the boundary between fan and artist is impossible to define. Most of the artists present traced their interest in drawing comics back to a youth spent reading comics, and Peter Kuper even mentioned that he once wrote a fanzine titled “Phanzine:” the first editorial was about how important comics were. As much as this exhibition was about showing off the amazing collection amassed over the years, it also served to demonstrate how worthwhile being a fan can be. As a frequent user of the graphic novel section of Butler library and a pretty big comic book fan, I kind of let my own fan-side take over and spent most of my time jotting down names and titles to check out. Andrea Tsurumi’s work in particular is beautiful and deeply creative. The exhibition is open until January 23, giving plenty of time for visits (and in my case repeat visits).

Wonder woman via Wikimedia Commons