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, January 9, 2020

Exhibit review: Marie Duval: Laughter in the First Age of Leisure

Promotional image provided by R. Sabin
Marie Duval: Laughter in the First Age of Leisure. Simon Grennan, Roger Sabin and Julian Waite. New York: Society of Illustrators’ Museum of Illustration. January 7-March 4, 2020.

The Society of Illustrators’ Museum of Illustration is currently hosting an exhibit devoted to the works of Victorian cartoonist, Marie Duval. Duval pursued several careers during her life, including actress, author and cartoonist, but this exhibit focuses on this last pursuit, which made Duval one of the early female cartoonists in Europe and an important figure in the field. Born Isabelle Émilie de Tessier, Duval worked during the 1860’s to 1880’s using a number of different noms de plume, including both male and female names.[1] In part for this reason, her work has not always had the scrutiny and study of which it may be worthy. This touring exhibit, which was created by Central Saint Martins and the University of Chester with additional support from the London Library and the British Library, seeks to introduce her work to a wider audience.

Featuring slightly more than two dozen examples of Duval’s cartoons, the exhibit offers a nice overview of her work. Much of Duval’s art appeared in a publication called Judy or the London Serio-Comic Journal,[2] and more than half of the pieces in the exhibit are taken from this publication. The examples of her cartoons for Judy show Duval’s style, which often featured exaggerated features and expressions on human and animal characters alike. Her works touch on several topics, mostly related to trends and social commentary and almost entirely from a humorous point of view. As an example, one of her comics entitled “Rinkophobia: A Passing Fancy” pokes fun at roller skating and the injuries it can cause. Though the vast majority of the works are done in black and white, there are two color works included in the exhibit.

Perhaps of greatest note amongst her works are her Ally Sloper cartoons. These comic strips gained a great deal of popularity and she produced enough to be published in several volumes.[3] The exhibit includes several examples of these works which show the types of subject she covered in the strips and how the style of her art for these strips differed from her other artwork and, to some degree, from one another.    

The exhibit is primarily made up of reproductions, but most are done in a manner that makes the artwork’s place in the larger publication clear. Unfortunately, the exhibit does not have clear labels for each of the works, which would be helpful to offer more context and also to make it easier for researchers to find the items for further research. In addition, though some of the items are dated, several are not, making it difficult to place them in the arc of her career without outside information. However, despite these limitations, the exhibit is a nice introduction to the work of a Victorian cartoonist who likely deserves greater acclaim than she has received to date.

The exhibit and the related Marie Duval Archive (, which was created by the same group of scholars, were made possible by an Arts and Humanities Research Council UK grant. For those interested in learning more about Duval, the Archive is an invaluable resource, which provides some basic background information about her and provides access to high resolution scanned reproductions of over 1,000 of her pieces ranging from 1869 to 1885 with more to be added in the future.[4]  An additional resource is the book Marie Duval, edited by Simon Grennan, Roger Sabin and Julian Waite (Myriad, 2018, £19.99, ISBN 978-0-9955900-9-0). The exhibit was previously displayed at Berlin Illustrative and Guildhall Library.

Carli Spina

(This review was written for the International Journal of Comic Art 22:1, but this version appears on the IJOCA website on January 9 2020, while the exhibit is still open for viewing.)

[1] Simon Grennan, Roger Sabin and Julian Waite. “About Marie Duval.” The Marie Duval Archive.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Simon Grennan, Roger Sabin and Julian Waite. “Drawings by Year.” The Marie Duval Archive.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Exhibit Review: Comic Art: 120 Years of Panels and Pages

Comic Art: 120 Years of Panels and Pages. Sara W. Duke and Martha H. Kennedy, Prints and Photographs Division and Georgia M. Higley and Megan Halsband, Serial and Government Publications Division. Washington, DC: Library of Congress. September 12, 2019- September 2020.

Since I am friends with all four of the curators of the exhibit, consider this more of an exhibit overview rather than a review. Located in the historic Jefferson Building, the site of many fine exhibitions besides those of comic art, the Swann Gallery’s exhibits are always interesting and this one is no exception. The exhibit showcases highlights of the Library’s collection of comic art, meaning in this exhibit at least comic strips and comic books, including its very latest forays into collecting.

The exhibit is divided rather arbitrarily into five sections – “Early Years: 1890s-1920s,” “Mid-Twentieth Century: 1930s-1960s,” “Late-Twentieth Century and Onward: 1970s-2000s,” “Comic Books and Beyond: 1940s-2000s,” and “Webcomics.” Although the sections are clearly delineated on the website, this is less true for the actual exhibit except for the comic books which are displayed in cases in the middle of the gallery, and the webcomics which are on a screen by the exit door.


Taking the three original art sections first, there are some very good original cartoons on display, beginning in Early Years with the copyright drawing for the Yellow Kid, and originals from Winsor McCay, Frank King’s Gasoline Alley, George Herriman’s Krazy Kat, and some tearsheets from the Geppi Collection. The next section has a fine Batman & Robin page, a lovely Burne Hogarth original of Tarzan, and an early Peanuts original, although the Hulk page by Marie Severin has been shown too many times in recent exhibits. The latest section definitely plays into the interests of the two curators. There are two 9-11 pieces, one from Will Eisner and one from Alex Ross that were collected after that tragedy, a Sunday strip from local cartoonist Richard Thompson’s Cul de Sac, a page from the New Yorker's Chris Ware, items from women cartoonists Trina Robbins, Lynn Johnston and Marguerite Dabaie, and posters and prints from the Small Press Expo collection.

The comic book section is limited by both space and the difficulties in displaying bound printed matter, (as the Post Office classified comics when they were sent through the mail to subscribers). Again reflecting the interests of this sections curators, there are some rare pieces such as the recently-acquired All-Negro Comics no. 1 and DC’s World Best Comics no. 1, along standards such as a Disney issue of Dell’s Four Color Comics, EC’s Weird Fantasy, Lobo (an uninspired Western distinguished only by having an African-American hero), Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor, Mad no. 6, Twisted Sisters no. 1 and an fanzine among others. The Webcomics section just shows strips on a computer screen, made up from some of the electronic comics that the Library has begun collecting digitally including Ryan North’s Dinosaur Comics, Randall Munroe’s XKCD and Kate Beaton’s Hark! A Vagrant. It is nice that the curators are including this new form, but seeing them on a large computer screen in an exhibit gallery does not add anything to the understanding of the strips.

The exhibit will be switched out around February to preserve the paper items. In a small room next to the exhibit, Sara Duke’s selection of Herblock cartoons from fifty years ago is worth looking at, especially since the topics he drew and she selected are still problems and in the news.
Mike Rhode
(This review was written for the International Journal of Comic Art 22:1, but this version appears on both the IJOCA and ComicsDC websites on January 8 2020, while the exhibit is still open for viewing.)

Exhibit Review: The Comic Art of Lynn Johnston

The Comic Art of Lynn Johnston. Kate Grumbacher. Washington, DC: Embassy of Canada Art Gallery, September 13, 2019-January 31, 2020.

The Canadian Embassy on Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, between the White House and Congress is a striking setting for this small exhibit on For Better or For Worse, the long-running and popular comic strip. From 1979- 2008, the strip followed the lives of the Patterson family, a wife and husband (a dentist) and their three kids and dogs as they grew up in Canada. The strip is still running in reprints. The exhibit was originally shown in a gallery in Canada and modified by Grumbacher for exhibit in Washington. Johnston was in town for the exhibit opening, and also spoke at the Library of Congress the following day. She noted that she can no longer draw the strip due to tremors, but she’s being creative in other ways. On the back of the introductory plinth is fabric that she’s designed and goofy paintings of dogs and cats, but the exhibit largely concentrates on the comic strip.

As you walk into the exhibit, a large panel depicts a collage of her characters over the life of the strip, and has the title of the exhibit in French and English. The exhibit is bilingual throughout. In French, for the record the title is L’Art de la Bande Dessineé selon Lynn Johnston. Turning left from the title plinth, Johnston’s desk is featured along with some early drawings framed above it. The desk looks barely used compared to some other cartoonists’. The ‘office area’ is bounded by a small wall, and on the other side of that is a small interactive section where a visitor could color a sheet with characters from the strip, or create their own four-panel strip in a blank sheet of squares. A large set of labels explains the process of creating a comic strip. Next to that is a small enclosed exhibit case with family photos, toy cars and other materials she used as references to draw the strip. Next to the exhibit case is a group of several original Sunday strips matched with color prints to show how they 
actually appeared in the newspaper. 

The main characters of the strip are introduced, and then large panels with purple headers explains the high points of the strip over the years. These included “Michael & Deanna” (the oldest son and his wife), “April’s Birth” (the third child), “Infidelity,” “Lawrence Comes Out” (when the character was revealed to be gay, it was a major controversy), “Mtigwaki” (the eldest daughter Elizabeth goes to work in a First Nations community), “Shannon Lake” (an autistic character introduced in a school setting), “Elizabeth’s Sexual Assault,” “Elizabeth’s Wedding,” “Death & Illness,” and “Farley’s Death” (also controversial when the family dog died saving April from a stream).


The exhibit concludes with a short film, a quilt of the characters (hanging up very high), and in a nod to our locality, reproductions from the Washington Post of a page of comic strips, and Michael Cavna’s article about the end of the strip. 

This is a celebratory exhibit. There is no deep analysis of the social or historical implications of the strip, beyond the purple panels’ basic claims, and that is fine. The exhibit is both a celebration of a Canadian artist and an enjoyable hour-long stop for Washington’s tourists, in a venue they would not normally see. More photographs of the exhibit are at and Johnston’s Library of Congress talk at

Mike Rhode

(This review was written for the International Journal of Comic Art 22:1, but this version appears on both the IJOCA and ComicsDC websites on January 8 2020, while the exhibit is still open for viewing.)

(This review was written for the International Journal of Comic Art 22:1, but this version appears on both the IJOCA and ComicsDC websites on January 8 2020, while the exhibit is still open for viewing.)

Monday, December 30, 2019

International Journal of Comic Art half-price back issue package sale

Beginning January 1, 2020, the International Journal of Comic Art will offer at half-price back issues, when bought as a package. Of the 42 issues published through Vol. 21, No. 1, Spring/Summer 2019, 36 are available for purchase. Out of stock are: Vol. 1, No. 1; 1:2; 4:2; 5:1, 6:2; 7:1. A reprint of 1:1 can be purchased from Tables of contents can be seen at
            Normally, 36 issues would sell at a total US $ 1,800 for U.S. institutions; U.S. $810 for individuals in the U.S.; U.S. $2,160 for outside of U.S. institutions; U.S. $1,080 for foreign individuals.
            With a 50 percent discount, the prices for 36 issues are:
U.S. Institutions:       US $ 900 + postage
U.S. Individuals:       US $ 405 + postage
Foreign Institutions:  US $ 1,080 + postage
Foreign Individuals:  US $ 540 + postage
            There are limited numbers available of some very early issues; they will be offered on a first-come basis.

Orders should be sent to:     John A. Lent
                                                669 Ferne Blvd.
                                                Drexel Hill, PA 19026 USA

Payments can be made by checks on a U.S. bank, PayPal, or bank transfer; transfer fees on the latter must be paid by the purchaser.