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.

Friday, November 17, 2023

Book review: Washington’s Gay General: The Legends and Loves of Baron von Steuben.

reviewed by Cord Scott

Trujillo, Josh and Levi Hastings.  Washington’s Gay General: The Legends and Loves of Baron von Steuben. New York: Abram’s Surely Press, 2023. $24.99 ISBN 978-1-4197-4372-6.

 In today’s politically charged cultural atmosphere, the argument that history is often written to fit social events of the day is one that resonates.  Permeating aspects of current society across the board, many Americans are uneasy with thinking of national heroes having what they perceive as less than desirable traits. This sort of argument could, and most likely will, be made by anyone trying to ban this book from libraries.  However, Steuben’s life is a great example of how complicated the stories of the Founding Fathers truly are.

The graphic novel centers on Trujillo, the writer, finding out about Friedrich von Steuben, a Prussian soldier who was brought to the American colonies to help train George Washington’s forces.  Von Steuben was instrumental in creating a training regime for the colonial army, was the first Inspector General of the US Army, and created the “Blue Book” a training manual that still has relevance to the modern US military. Trujillo was drawn to von Steuben as an openly gay man in a time of history when it was literally a crime.  While his affectations were widely known, there are few firm pieces of direct evidence, as many personal references or thoughts on homosexuality would be destroyed (p. 15). Narratively interesting is that Trujillo readily identified his own shortcomings in terms of scholarship, interest in history, or proximity to the actual areas where von Steuben lived. But this is something that historians often must face: how does one make a story complete, warts and all?  To that end, the result was commendable.

Friedrich von Steuben was born in Prussia in 1730 and had wanted to pursue a military career.  He was a shy child, and not above exaggerating stories or his own feats to get ahead in life.  As Trujillo wrote (p. 24) von Steuben often embellished stories to attain promotion or higher status.  He felt that he deserved such things as he was professionally that good, but this was a lifelong trait.  Von Steuben came to adulthood at a time when the Prussian military was used as the model for training, discipline, and strength in battle.  King Frederick I (Frederick the Great) of Prussia often outfitted his soldiers in smart-looking uniforms and had requirements for height.  Trujillo argues that Frederick was also gay, and so the “Prussian Giants” (p. 73) appearance may have been for his own proclivities as well as that of military prowess.

He had made close connections with Frederick, Frederick’s brother Prince Henry, and Claude-Louis, Comte de Saint-Germaine, a noted mercenary general from that era.  While von Steuben was known for his dalliances with men, it had never been overly dangerous as his military standing shielded him to an extent. Following the Seven Years’ War in Europe (known as the French and Indian War in America), von Steuben was virtually destitute, and living on the kindness of others.  Due to military cutbacks, the costs of war, and his own indebtedness, von Steuben had constant worry about money.  However, his reputation as a rake was becoming more of a liability and that is when he was introduced to Benjamin Franklin.  The reputation of both men for preferring younger lovers was well known, in Trujillo’s narrative.

Hired by Franklin, Von Steuben was part of a foreign contingent of military officers who rallied to the American cause. Trujillo noted that the stories of von Steuben appearing at Valley Forge in a flamboyant uniform were not true, although he did often have uniforms that were made to impress his importance.  His aides who were often very young (in their teens and early twenties while von Steuben at this point was in his fifties). These aides helped with the problems with his lack of English. When training soldiers, he was having to rely on one or two languages as well as interpreters which made immediate training corrections a bit strained, but his men liked him for the care he took of them.

Where Trujillo comes into some minor historical issue is with descriptions.  He notes that von Steuben was considered an outsider as he only spoke German.  This may not have been the issue it appears as German was under consideration for the official language of the colonies.  Second, the commentary on Benedict Arnold was awkward.  Arnold is correctly considered a traitor, but he was never seen as inept, as Trujillo described him.  Arnold was a tested commander who is recognized at both Saratoga and West Point New York for his importance. He, like von Steuben, felt he was deserving of far more than he had received.  In Arnold’s case, it led to his betrayal of the colonial army.

The later part of the book describes von Steuben’s struggle to be recognized, and more importantly paid, for his contributions following the American victory.  As with anyone had kept personal aspects of his life from the public eye (and history), the book ventures into the realm of speculation.  However, Trujillo acknowledges that it is hard to be accurate when facts are unknown.  A strength of the story also lies in the creator’s relating it to modern hardships of those in the LGBTQIA+ community.  The story also doesn’t shy away from von Steuben’s faults, from excessive drinking and vanity, to his ownership of slaves, to the complicity of treatment towards minorities in America.  People often approach historical figures as perfect people, and either have issues with, or outright deny, any wrongdoing.  This is dangerous as it sets a false narrative, and the authors avoided it here.

The issue of homosexuality in the American military is still a confusing one.  On one hand, the modern military often tries to emulate the warrior ethos of the ancient Spartans of Greece, with motivational t-shirts such as “Molon Labe” (Come and Take them – them being weapons).  However, the Spartans also fought with their male lovers, which runs in opposition of mainstream America’s concept of Greek society. It may be worth noting that Abrams did not publish this under their ComicArts imprint.

This book can create an interest in history, biography, or the American Revolution, and be a good starting point for future reading.  As in other Revolutionary War comics (Rebels from Vertigo and U.S. the graphic novel come to mind), it is a bit muted in colors, as though the past was a less vivid place. There may be some issues marketing it towards teens, beyond the obvious one, as there are a couple of swear words.  There is no gratuitous nudity, which does not detract from the story, but some will no doubt still find it offensive, in the way they might object to Maus.  Any historical-based book should have a bibliography for reference, and it would benefit this book as well.  These are minor issues.  In all, it is a good starting point into the lives of the “Founding Fathers,” glaring issues and all. 


Book review: J. Andrew Deman – The Claremont Run: Subverting Gender in the X-Men - a review by James Willetts

J. Andrew Deman, The Claremont Run: Subverting Gender in the X-Men, Austin: University of Texas Press, 2023.

 reviewed by  James Willetts

                 It’s rare that a work of comics criticism emerges that boasts both academic bonafides and the promise of cross-over appeal for general audiences of comics readers. The Claremont Run has the potential to be that, thanks to author J. Andrew Deman’s popular Twitter (now X) account – @ClaremontRun – which spent the past few years analyzing X-Men comics and became a critical part of both comics fandom and public scholarship on the platform. Boasting an introduction from Jay Edidin, the co-host of podcast Jay and Miles X-Plain the X-Men, Deman’s book is positioned squarely as a potential crossover work combining criticism with wider comic book audience appeal. As such it treads a difficult line between being engaging for those who are approaching it as fans of the source material, and those looking for deeper scholarly analysis on Chris Claremont’s time as lead writer on the X-Men comics. Fortunately, Deman is more than up to the task, presenting a rich dive into Claremont’s legendary run on the X-Men that will prove valuable for casual fans and academic audiences alike.

                 At the heart of this is Deman’s engaging prose and clear love for the subject matter. These allow him to move effortlessly back and forth between explanatory close readings of X-Men storylines and deeper dives into the technical craftsmanship of Claremont’s work. Deman utilizes a mixed-methods research methodology in order to bring in quantitative data to guide his readings and research, examining the ways in which Claremont presents characters, and exploring questions of team dynamics, changing representation, and portrayals of gender within the X-Men. This methodology adds what Deman refers to as a “holistic, evidence-based perspective,” missing from most examinations of Claremont’s work. Covering almost 200 issues of Uncanny X-Men across sixteen years, Deman’s methodology analyzes a vast range of metrics. This includes everything from the percentage of times characters appear on covers of issues they appear in (showing that Storm, Wolverine and Cyclops were the characters most likely to appear) to the number of times characters interact with one another and in what contexts. Interesting enough alone, this data-led approach allows Deman to make claims about commercial and storytelling concerns that might otherwise be overlooked.

                Indeed, Deman explores some intriguing – and often surprising – avenues of research. The Claremont Run demonstrates that Cyclops, for instance, is a character who shows remarkable and consistent growth over the course of the Claremont run, developing into a character with both internal and external emotional depth. Under Claremont’s pen, Cyclops is thus one of the most physically expressive characters on the X-Men, despite a reputation for being stoic and closed-off. This is supported by evidence, thanks to the quantitative base of Deman’s research. A key benefit of this is that it allows Deman to push back against close readings which might otherwise approach characters based upon their broader histories. Deman is careful to note that because these characters operate in a shared universe, characterization is typically reverted to the most well-established archetype under other writers. By treating Claremont’s run as a singular piece of work, however, Deman demonstrates an impressively ambitious and cohesive set of story-arcs. He argues that Claremont’s work was defined by arcs like the Dark Phoenix Saga; “massive and ambitious storyline” (27) which formed a collective story told over dozens of issues.

While much academic scholarship on Claremont’s work has dwelled on the “Claremont women” – the strong, independent female characters that defined much of his run – less attention has been paid to Claremont’s male characters. Deman rectifies this, devoting the latter half of the book to an examination of the varied ways in which Claremont portrays masculinity, including the paradigmatic shift of Cyclops from patriarchal leader to supporting character in the stories of Storm and Jean Grey, to the hypermasculinity of Wolverine, and the emasculation of Alex Summers/Havok.

Deman’s work thus adds an important inflective to conventional narratives of gender and sexuality in X-Men comics. These typically dwell upon Jean’s journey, or the sapphic undertones present in Storm’s relationships with other women, or the importance of a teenage Jewish girl, Kitty Pryde, for expanding the readership. While these aspects are acknowledged in The Claremont Run, they are presented as both significant moments in their own right, but also as part of a broader examination of the ways in which Claremont undermined and subverted ideas of masculinity, femininity, sexuality, and gender roles.

The Claremont Run thus stands as an excellent extension of existing scholarship and a critical addition to the canon of Claremont studies. As a thin monograph it’s not comprehensive – there is still much to be said about how other X-Men characters are presented – but it’s an admirably thorough job in regard to the characters it does cover and is sure to be successful in expanding the field of comics criticism to a wider audience.

Editor's note: We'll be running two reviews of this book on the blog, as one of the editors (ok it was me) assigned it twice. However, I think there is enough room in the field for multiple reviews of the growing literature. 

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

IJOCA wants you! to help celebrate its 25th anniversary




John A. Lent

Founding Publisher/Editor-in-Chief

669 Ferne Blvd., Drexel Hill, PA 19026, U.S.A.

Tel:  (610) 622-3938    Email:




November 14, 2023


The International Journal of Comic Art ("IJOCA") celebrates its twenty-fifth anniversary with Volume 25, Number 2, now in preparation. At the time of its first number in 1999, it was the only academic journal on comic art, preceded by INKS, which had folded, though later revived. IJOCA continues to be the oldest, continuously-published comic art journal.


Remaining independent of established journal publishers and academic institutions for funding and the tainted, conglomerate-owned peer review system for evaluation, IJOCA takes pride in not having been hemmed in by a prescribed quota of pages per issue, a limited number of illustrations, or long publication delays caused by peer reviewing.


The journal already has published about 1,470 articles with a total of 30,600 pages, encompassing 35 symposia on varied topics, in addition to approximately 300 each of book and exhibition reviews, all the time, keeping to its mission of being encyclopedic and interdisciplinary.


Quality, innovativeness, and variety have marked IJOCA's history. Most of the world's leading comic art researchers have published in IJOCA; on many occasions, the journal was the first to introduce topics, never shied away from broaching topics perhaps off-limits in other periodicals, and varied content on all aspects of comic art.


As we celebrate our quarter century, we invite comments from those familiar with IJOCA, to be included in Vol. 25, No. 2. Thank you.


And, our gratitude for all your support.


John A. Lent


International Journal of Comic Art

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Georgia Higley, "America's comic book librarian," retires from Library of Congress

by Mike Rhode

I don't know if anyone actually ever called her "America's comic book librarian," but someone should have.

On October 31, 2023, Georgia Higley retired from the Library of Congress (LOC) where she had worked for 33 years upon joining the staff as a library intern in 1990. Georgia had been in charge of the Newspapers and Current Periodicals division and had overseen the rebuilding, strengthening, and spotlighting of one of the largest comic book collections in the world and possibly the largest in America. The website for the collection calls it, "The largest publicly available comic book collection in the world is comprised of over 165,000 original print issues and 12,000 different titles that span 1934-present."

The following bullet points about her career were initially pulled from the LOC's internal newsletter The Gazette (January 30, 2004) and updated by one of her colleagues:

  • Began her career at the Library of Congress on September 4, 1990.
  • Served in varying capacities: intern, reference librarian, automated reference service specialist, acting head of Reference Section, co-founder of the LOC Reference Forum, trustee for the LOC Professional Association Continuing Education Fund, section head of Newspaper and finally newly reorganized Physical Collections Services Section
  • Headed the Newspaper Section from 2004 to 2020.
  • In 2020 appointed head of the Physical Collections Services Section – a combined section of newspapers, government documents and current periodicals, responsible for acquiring, preserving and serving physical collections of the division.
  • Significant force behind the expansion and preservation of the comic book collection in the early 2000s through today.

While Georgia was running the section that collected comics, in 2011 the Library and the Small Press Expo (SPX) began to work together to ensure the preservation of America's alternative and mini comics through a cooperative program that saw LOC librarians fanning out throughout the SPX exhibit floor and asking cartoonists to donate copies of their works. Those works were then added to a Small Press Expo collection (actually two - one of comic books, and one of original art, prints, and ephemera) at the Library. As of this writing 3,345 comics have been cataloged. The project is the work of scores of people, but Georgia has been one of the mainstays of it.

When asked about her plans at her recent retirement party, Georgia said that she might volunteer for SPX in the future, but in the meantime she would be working on cleaning out an old shed falling apart in her backyard. We wish her well in both of those endeavors. 

The comic book collection remains open for research and the division is currently being overseen by longtime comic book reference librarian Megan Halsband. 

This article has been posted simultaneously to the ComicsDC and International Journal of Comic Art blogs.