Edited by D.B. Dowd, professor of visual communications in the School of Art, and 2002 alumnus M. Todd Hignite, The Rubber Frame: Essays in Culture and Comics investigates a series of key themes and moments in the history of comics.
Angela Miller, Ph.D., associate professor of art history & archaeology in Arts & Sciences, observes in her introduction, “Comics were postmodern before the word was invented. … They are at once the most conventional and the most unfettered in their playful exploration of the form.”
In “Strands of a Single Cord: Comics & Animation,” Dowd examines the intertwining histories of those media, from Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo in Slumberland — which debuted as a Sunday newspaper strip in 1905 and as an animated film in 1911 — to popular crossovers such as Buster Brown, Felix the Cat and Mickey Mouse. Dowd also chronicles the recent explosion of multimedia Web-based projects, including Derek Kirk Kim’s lowbright.com, salon.com’s Dark Hotel, and samthedog.com.
Daniel Raeburn, publisher of the comics ‘zine The Imp, surveys “Two Centuries of Underground Comic Books,” beginning with the work of Rodolphe Töpffer (1799-1846), the Swiss prep-school teacher whose humorous — and widely copied — narratives are generally considered the first true comics.
Other topics include the ribald Tijuana Bibles of the 1930s; Jack T. Chick’s countercultural pamphlets of the early 1960s; and Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan, The Smartest Kid on Earth, which began as a self-published booklet in Chicago in 2000.
Hignite profiles Jaime Hernandez’s Locas, an ongoing series today numbering well over 900 pages. In its formal daring, conceptual sophistication and emotional complexity, Hignite argues, Locas serves as a kind of bridge between classic mid-century American comics, the underground generation and a myriad of contemporary approaches.
Finally, Gerald L. Early, Ph.D. — the Merle Kling Professor of Modern Letters, professor of African and Afro-American Studies and of English and director of The Center for the Humanities, all in Arts & Sciences — considers “The 1960s, African-Americans and the American Comic Book.” The piece inestigates depictions of African-Americans in mainstream comics (Fantastic Four, Mad magazine, Frontline Combat); in sports and television tie-ins (Jackie Robinson, I-Spy, The Young Lawyers); and, perhaps most complexly, in Robert Crumb’s provocative oeuvre.
The Rubber Frame is published by WUSTL and designed by Heather Corcoran, assistant professor of visual communications and principal of Plum Studios. Cost is $25.
The book is available at the Campus Store in Mallinckrodt Student Center and at the Des Lee Gallery, 1627 Washington Ave.