News about the premier academic journal devoted to all aspects of cartooning and comics -- the International Journal of Comic Art (ISSN 1531-6793) published and edited by John Lent.

Thursday, February 23, 2023

UCLA Rare Book Library course in DC - The Social and Material Lives of Comic Art, or, How Comics Get Around

The Social and Material Lives of Comic Art, or, How Comics Get Around

Course Information

Instructor: Charles Hatfield
Location: Smithsonian / Washington D.C.
Mode: In-person
Dates: August 14 – August 18
Tuition: $1200.00


Popular yet personal, branded as trivial yet rich with meaning, comics are more than cultural scraps or leftovers. In fact, comics are everywhere: they are art objects, storying machines, readable games, tools for disseminating knowledge, and platforms for worldbuilding and political argument. Whether viewed as historical artifacts or distinctive literary and artistic works, comics carry culture with them. In this workshop, we will study how comics move through the world, socially and materially, how they can make a difference in the world, and how we, as teachers, researchers, and creators, can use them.

Comic art has a complex social life. Comic books, graphic novels, strips, and cartoons come in varied material (and now digital) forms and reach diverse readerships. Many are thought to be ephemeral, as disposable as yesterday's newspapers or tweets; some are built to last. Many last despite their seeming ephemerality, archived by collectors, fans, and, increasingly, archiving professionals and research libraries. Conserving, organizing, and accessing these artifacts can be a challenge but also a profound pleasure; comics offer us opportunities for creative engagement as well as deep research. Our workshop will study how comics come to be, how they circulate, where and how they are archived, and how we may teach with them.

We will focus on comics' physical materiality, on firsthand experience and "show and tell." Our hands-on sessions will mix varied forms of nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first century comic art, from newspaper pages to comic magazines, from graphic novels to minicomix, zines, and webcomics. Drawing on the resources of the Smithsonian Libraries and Archives, we will explore the material and social histories of comics, the idiosyncrasies of comics production, including differences among American, European, and Japanese traditions, and how comics have been shored against time by collectors. We will consider comics as products of various industries, cultures, and social scenes—as historic artifacts, yes, but also urgent dispatches from the here and now. Participants will come out of this workshop knowing:

  • the distinctions among various genres of comics (including comic strips, comic books, graphic novels, webcomics, and minicomics) and how they look and feel
  • the various ways comics are produced and circulated, by whom, and under what conditions
  • how to find and access comics in archives
  • how we can deploy comics in teaching
  • how comics can elevate marginalized and minoritized identities and serve as vehicles for social protest and transformation
  • overall, how comics move through and "trouble" the world, in the best senses of that word.


I will share a list of pre-readings with participants prior to the course. We will read further materials during our week together. In addition, everyone should prepare a brief (one or two-page) written or comics-style introduction to themselves, to be shared no later than our first meeting. Expect to participate in class discussions, take part in various site visits, and interact with, and prepare questions, for our guest speakers (comics and archiving experts from the greater Washington, D.C. area). Sketchnoting or keeping a comics diary will be encouraged.

Feel free to email me with questions at 




Completion of this course helps to meet credits for one of the following certificate requirements:

  • 1 of 3 elective credit courses for Certificate in Rare Books and Manuscripts, or
  • 1 of 2 elective credit courses for Certificate in Librarianship, Activism, and Justice

Department of Information Studies, UCLA
232 GSEIS Building Box 951520
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1520

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

"Tien Fu Wu: a comics biography" -online book talk tomorrow, 2/23 at 12pm EST

"Illustrating Voices of Power and Resistance in "Tien Fu Wu Freedom Warrior"

Thursday, February 23, 2023 at 12:00pm to 1:00pm (EST)

Local artist Dawn Wing will read from her non-fiction graphic narrative Tien Fu Wu: Freedom Warrior, and discuss the research and process of creating it. Tien Fu Wu was a survivor of human trafficking who became a community advocate and translator for justice during the Chinese Exclusion Act era in the early 20th century.

Register online here-


"Tien Fu Wu: Freedom Warrior," a comics biography*
(Water Pig Press 2022) - now available!

*Made possible thanks to the Minnesota State Arts Board
2022 Creative Support for  Individuals Grant

Dawn K. Wing
Librarian. Educator. Artist.

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Exhibition in photos: Brecht Evens Le repaire de la méduse

Le repaire de la méduseBrecht Evens. Atelier Michael Woolworth. Paris. December 8, 2022 - March 4, 2023. 

A selling exhibition of Brecht Even's latest work is currently on display at the Atelier Michael Woolworth, which is located a stone's throw from the Place de la Bastille in Paris. Billed as a series of woodcuts, etchings and lithographs from 2020-2023, this collection features a series of 50 unreleased images that will eventually appear in Evens' forthcoming book Le Roi méduse, to be published by Actes Sud BD in 2024. 

The world of lithography is not an entirely new venture for Evens as he previously worked with the Atelier Michael Woolworth in 2016 for the Artist's Edition of his book on Paris in the Louis Vuitton Travel Books series. Evens mentioned that his deep dive into lithography at the Atelier served as a coping response to the strict confinement regulations during the Covid-19 lockdowns in Paris, and that learning about the process and experimenting with these new techniques in a fully equipped studio that exclusively uses hand presses served as creative inspiration during uncertain times.

The pieces on display, all available in limited editions of 25-40 prints, suggest that Evens is an able student who not only grasped the science behind lithography but who has also found ways to apply his unique linework and color palette into the process. Individually, each piece is an impressive marvel of detail, scale and labour, especially the larger multicolor pieces. That said, it is also a rare opportunity to see Brecht Evens' work in strict black and white via the lithographic process. Collectively, the pieces show an artist open to expanding his technical acumen to display his new experiments in the very environment that they were hand-produced, with all of the tools, machinery and paper stock in plain unarranged sight.   

All of the pieces in the show are scanned and listed on the Michael Woolworth website with their individual titles, price, edition number, technique and support information included. Below are photos that were taken at the packed vernissage of the exhibition, taken and arranged in the order of their installation inside the studio.

-Nick Nguyen

All photos taken by Nick Nguyen

Sunday, February 12, 2023

Comics Research Bibliography 2022 edition NOW IN PRINT

Due to widespread demand*, the Comics Research Bibliography 2022 edition is now available in print in 2 books. It's still available digitally for free at but if you want a hard copy, you can buy it for 50 cents over the printing cost (just so I get a count of copies purchased).

Mike Rhode

*actually that of my co-author who wanted a print copy

Exhibition review and photos: Spirou in the torment of the Holocaust

Spirou dans la tourmente de la Shoah. Didier Pasamonik and Caroline Francois. Mémorial de la Shoah, Paris. December 9, 2022 - August 30, 2023.


 Exhibition title in French and its English translation


Image by Emile Bravo used for the main poster of the exhibition and its catalogue


Since opening in 2005, the Mémorial de la Shoah in Paris programs two temporary exhibitions each year to complement its permanent exhibition that traces the history of French Jews during the Holocaust. On January 19th 2017, the Mémorial launched its first temporary exhibition that explored the Holocaust as recounted, confronted and contemplated through comics. Shoah et bande dessinée offered an historical, artistic and cultural overview of the different ways and forms that comics engaged with this most challenging of subjects through fictional and non-fictional lenses. The success and popularity of the exhibition - which included supplementary conferences, meetings, film projections and a reading library that offered almost every title referenced in the exhibition - prolonged its duration well past its original October 30th 2017 closing date, finally ending on January 7, 2018.

Five years later, comics have once again returned to the Mémorial for another temporary exhibition, this time focusing on a singular work featuring Belgium's famous bande dessinée bellboy Spirou. Under the scientific commission of Didier Pasamonik (who also played a major role in realizing Shoah et bande dessinée), this new exhibition illuminates the different historical contexts that inform the wartime adventures of Spirou as written and drawn by Emile Bravo. Over the course of the four albums that make up L'ESPOIR MALGRÉ TOUT (HOPE DESPITE EVERYTHING), Bravo takes readers alongside his version of Spirou through a journey of awakening that forces the young bellhop to face the harsh realities of the Second World War through the plight of Felix Nussbaum and Felka Platek, two real-world Jewish artists whom he befriends while they hide in occupied Brussels. This intertwining of the fictional characters of Spirou (and his companion Fantasio) with the real-life figures of Felix and Felka in their real-world context provides Bravo with a rich tapestry to open a dialogue with Comics, History and the Holocaust in a deeply personal fashion. 

Taking Bravo's bande desinnée as its starting and framing point of departure, the exhibition digs into the historical contexts that are evoked and referenced throughout his 330-page Spirou tetralogy: the Occupation, Deportation, Resistance and the Shoah as they were experienced in Belgium. By exposing these contexts, the exhibition actually illuminates parallel stories of humanism in the face of war: one centered on Emile Bravo's Spirou comics themselves, the other focused on Le journal de Spirou, the weekly comics magazine that introduced its eponymous hero in 1938. With a wealth of supporting archival material that includes original artwork by Felix Nussbaum and Felka Platek, the exhibition reveals the fascinating negotiation between comics fiction and historical fact that engages with the Shoah through the morality and empathy of Spirou and Emile Bravo. It is through this optic that L'ESPOIR MALGRÉ TOUT is presented as an ideal vehicle to transmit the memory of the Shoah across a generational audience, leading Didier Pasamonik to boldly hail Emile Bravo's magnum opus as "the most important comic written about the Shoah since Art Spiegelman's MAUS".

Entrance to the exhibition with a visual guide to introduce the different interpretations of Spirou since his creation

Spirou dans la tourmente de la Shoah is divided into twelve sections installed across two adjacent rooms that are connected by two short separate halls. The first room houses seven sections and one centerpiece that anchors visitors first to Emile Bravo and his take on Spirou, then progressively delves into the real-world contexts that inform the narrative.

Section 1: Emile Bravo's SPIROU

Watch the opening interview clip with Emile Bravo.


Section 2: Belgium in the War

Section 3: Spirou and Fantasio meet Felix and Felka


Section 4: Undesirables


Section 5: Belgium Under the Occupation


Section 6: Resisting


Section 7: The Persecution of Jews in Belgium

Each section is always introduced with a page excerpted from the comics, followed by expository text enhanced by captioned archival documents, newspaper clippings, photos, film clips, wartime propaganda, maps and artifacts. What is illuminating about the organization of the information is how the interplay between fiction and fact suggests the natural manner that Bravo negotiates their relationship in his comics without didactic overplay or overt signaling. L'ESPOIR MALGRÉ TOUT is very much a coming-of-age story told from the child's perspective of Spirou, so his character experiences much of this information that is presented in the sections about Belgium in the War and under Occupation. One of the most sobering aspects on display in the third section are the identity documents of Felix Nussbaum and Felka Platek alongside a reproduction of an abstract painting of them by Nussbaum. Their juxtaposition functions as stark testament to their real-world existence, and is extended one dimension further in the face of the centerpiece display of Emile Bravo's original pencil sketches and page layouts for Spirou's meeting up with them.

The fourth section on the "Undesirables" also illuminates the little-discussed existence of the internment camps in France that held German civilians living on French and Belgian soil during the earliest months of World War II. Visitors are first introduced to the Saint-Cyprian camp located in the French Pyrennes and learn that this is where Felix Nussbaum was interned in 1940 before eventually escaping to Brussels. During his imprisonment, Nussbaum created several works of art to express the physical, emotional, and spiritual turmoil that he witnessed and endured. Reproductions of two of his paintings are on display here, and they may be familiar to readers of L"ESPOIR MALGRÉ TOUT since Bravo smoothly integrates them into his comics as a way to enlighten Spirou (and by proxy, the reader) of the harsh reality of French and Belgian wartime politics. The camp at the nearby Argèles-sur-mer is also highlighted, and the visitor learns that many Spanish Republicans fleeing the Franco regime were interned there, among them the father of Emile Bravo himself, whose identity card and photos taken during his time there attest.        

The first room centerpiece featuring original artwork by Emile Bravo.

The sixth section about Resisting not only sets the context for Spirou's moral and ethical awakening, it also introduces Le journal de Spirou and its editor-in-chief Jean Doisy - the pseudonym of Jean-Georges Evrard- as exemplars of Resistance itself. With the help of newspaper clippings, correspondence, and ads and comics from Le journal de Spirou, the exhibition highlights the open yet clandestine efforts in which children were being directly addressed to keep true to a code of honor as an "ami de Spirou". One of the most important vehicles of this direct address, both in comics fiction and in historical fact, was the Traveling Farfadet Puppet Show starring Spirou himself, and the exhibition displays an actual historical Spirou puppet alongside actual posters, sheet music, promotional pamphlets and historic film clips for the show. There are even postwar newspaper clippings attesting to the importance of this puppet show and its puppeteers in saving many Belgian Jewish children. Installed on the backside of the first room centerpiece, the puppet display is fittingly placed to face the Resisting section to spatially capitalize on their thematic relationship. This section is quite rich in terms of presenting historical information that offers visitors a new window to consider Spirou, both the character and the magazine. Considered in this new light, their creation and activity during the war years holds a deeper resonance as a transmitter of hope and resistance, one that Bravo brilliantly evokes in his comics.  

The Farfadet Puppet Show featuring Spirou on the back end of the first room centerpiece.


Exiting the first room through the short hallway at the back leads to the eighth section of the exhibition: the Deportation Trains. The use of trains in ESPOIR MALGRÉ TOUT is always accompanied by a sense of dread and the unknown, to the point that Bravo begins and finishes each of the four albums with scenes involving trains or railway stations. 


Section 8: The Deportation Trains

Though it is a relatively short section in terms of presentation and display of historical information, it makes the explicit point of the existence of deportation trains in the city of Mechelen, where Jews and Roma were held in military barracks (the Kasserne Dossin) before being shipped off to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Photos, passenger lists, registration plates and inventories of meals given to deportees on the day and eve of their departure are presented as a sobering testament of the systematic administrative process behind what was for many to be their final train ride to the East.

The two rooms connect via a hallway that houses the section about the deportation trains


The second room is grounded in the historical reality of the visitor, that is, the reality outside of the pages of Spirou. At about three-quarters the size of the first room, it holds four sections that consider the grim reality of the historical backdrop of Bravo's story, as well as a consideration of the history and role of comic books during these dark years.


Section 9: What's Happening in the East


Section 10: The Painter's Gallery


At first glance, the second room of the exhibition seems less packed with original pages and artifacts on display, but a closer look shows that this is not a situation of lack of content, rather it is a thematic decision to focus exclusively on the real-world contexts both outside of and after the pages of Bravo's Spirou. The ninth section examines the growing awareness of what was happening to the East with the deportations, introduced by an excerpt from the comics that shows Spirou's awakening to the same horrible fact. Here we are introduced to Victor Martin, a member of the Belgian Independence Front who went under cover on behalf of the Jewish Defense Committee to investigate what was happening to the deportees. The report that he brought back to Brussels after a series of arrests and interrogations confirmed that the unbelievable rumors that were circulating about forced labor and death camps were fact. Through documents attesting to the veracity of his mission and his identity (including his false identity papers), as well as select pages of his report that eventually made its way to the Belgian government-in-exile in London, this section not only is succinct in confirming the reality of atrocity, it also helps set the tragic tone to digest the next section. 

The Painter's Gallery (see photo above for Section 10) opens with five different panels taken from L'ESPOIR MALGRÉ TOUT where Spirou visits Felix in his Brussels studio-in-hiding and sees some of his tableaux. Next to the comics panels are shown their real-world equivalents (in reduced scale reproduction) so visitors can see the moments when Bravo introduced and integrated these five actual paintings into his Spirou story and their progressive effect on his titular character. Immediately following are installation spaces for the display of original artwork by Felix Nussbaum and Felka Platek, courtesy of the Felix-Nussbaum-Haus in the Museumsquartier Osnabrük. Here visitors can examine in close detail some of the original artwork of Felix Nussbaum in their original scale, size and texture.

Felka Platek's portrait painting (top) overseeing Felix Nussbaum's separate portraits of Felka (left) and himself in 1940 (right)

A lone full-size portrait painting by Felka Platek of an unnamed woman is also displayed to remind visitors of the dual tragedy of the loss of these artists and human beings. It is documented fact that in 1944, both Felix and Felka were arrested in Brussels, detained at the Kaserne Dossin in Mechelen, and deported by train to be murdered in Auschwitz. None of these facts about the fate of Felix and Felka are raised by Bravo in his comics as it all deliberately occurs "offscreen". In Bravo's words, he wanted to make clear that their death would not be at the hand of the author, it was our reality that killed Felix and Felka. That said, this section shows that, to the great failure of the Nazis, the traces of Felix and Felka's existence are memorialized through their own artwork to the point of inspiring Emile Bravo more than sixty years later to bring them back to life.


Nature morte d'une mannequin (1942), left, and Atelier à Bruxelles (1940), right, by Felix Nussbaum.

A portrait of Felix Nausbaum by Sad Ji (top) overlooking two pencil drawings by Felix Nussbaum drawn near the end of this life.

The final two sections respectively deal with the fate of Le journal de Spirou following the Liberation, and the situation of Franco-Belgian comics during the Occupation years. It's an interesting choice to close the exhibition with these two comics-centric sections (as opposed to finishing on a more emotional note such as the previous section) and it speaks to the curator's concerted attention to include comics history into this larger historical context to round out the concerns that this exhibition has chosen to deep dive into.

Section 11: A Comic Book in History

With a sequence showing the Liberation of Brussels taken from the final part of L'ESPOIR MALGRÉ TOUT to set the scene, the eleventh section paints an atmosphere of rebuilding and reprisals in the wake of the Nazi defeat. Given Jean Doisy's activities in the Belgian Resistance as recounted in the sixth section of the exhibition, Le journal de Spirou was able to reappear on newsstands and start on a strong enough footing to soon usher a Golden Age of of the magazine with the likes of André Franquin and Will Morris at the drawing board. Using the display of Liberation-era ephemera, photos, recordings and official correspondence and attestations in support of Jean Doisy and others associated with Le journal de Spirou, the political contextual relationship between the era and the magazine is convincingly established. This was not the case for all comics and comics creators in the Franco-Belgian scene as the twelfth and final section outlines. Presented on both sides of the centerpiece (one for France, the other for Belgium), actual comics and newspaper strips from the Occupation era such as Journal de Mickey, Coeur Vaillant, and Bravo! are displayed as examples of how certain comics thrived or survived in those countries. Questions of collaboration with the Occupying forces are raised with respect to certain authors, most notably Hergé, whose mug shot is displayed in a fascinating piece of Resistance ephemera titled "Galerie des Traitres". In France, Jewish-owned comics publishers were often the target of antisemitism. Some publishers were immediately "aryanized" whereas some moved production to Marseilles in the Free Zone, where their distribution was contained to that geopolitical borders. These challenges, alongside the eventual rationing of paper, are all evoked here in a rudimentary sense but  offering a necessary base to give enough context to conclude the tale of the two Spirous, with enough material to suggest further contemplation (perhaps as the subject of an entire exhibition unto itself).

Section 12: The Comic Book under the Occupation in Belgium and France

The exhibition closes off with a final wall that offers two closing remarks in summation. The first is a quotation in its original French and translated into English that leaves the visitor with no question as to the canonical status of Emile Bravo's accomplishment with Spirou from the perspective of the Academie Francaise.

The second-to-last closing statement about L"ESPOIR MALGRÉ TOUT, from Pascal Ory of the Academie Francaise.


The final word naturally ends with another interview with Emile Bravo that serves as an appropriate bookend to bring the visitor back to where the exhibition started with his opening words. 

 Watch the closing interview with Emile Bravo

The exhibition is accompanied by an excellent 160 page catalogue published by Dupuis that contains wonderful color reproductions of many of the elements on display. The information presented in the exhibition is taken up and expanded upon in illustrated essay form by a variety of specialist authors. It is an excellent companion piece that sits perfectly on the shelf next to the four volumes of L"ESPOIR MALGRÉ TOUT.

The exhibition catalogue (center) surrounded by the four albums that recount L'ESPOIR MALGRÉ TOUT

Table of contents of the exhibition catalogue


To suggest that one leaves this exhibition learning something new is an understatement. The vast wealth of information on display is arranged and organized in a comprehensible academic fashion that evokes a solid DVD supplementary section authored by the Criterion Collection. Far from being a simple presentation of Emile Bravo's research notes and preparatory sketches and outlines, Pasamonik and Francois have curated this exhibition as an interpretative act of reading. Emile Bravo himself stated at the vernissage of the exhibition that he was genuinely surprised by how much was information and material were being drawn from his work for this museum display, and he admitted being unsure as to whether there was enough material to merit such a project. Without question, this exhibition offers more than enough to see, read and contemplate in such a small compact space, leaving visitors with the desire to not only appreciate Emile Bravo's Spirou albums, but to re-read them with a wider conscience, and perhaps look further into the life and work of Felix Nussbaum and Felka Platek, for an even richer experience than before. That in itself is a fitting testament to both this exhibition and the work of Emile Bravo.      


- Nick Nguyen

All photos taken by Nick Nguyen

P.S. For the completists, please find below a collection of all the photos of the exhibition that I managed to take to give readers an idea of the spatial layout and organization of the exhibition. I've tred to include all of the elements on display, though not all of them are in close-up.