Full Disclosure: I was going to skip the rest of the festival on Saturday afternoon for some quality Sephora and Barnes & Noble browsing. However, when I saw that someone was booked to speak on comic art today and how it’s used to explain history, I resolved to keep this day book based. No shopping for me.
Paul Buhle spoke to a small group at the Appleton Library about comics in Wisconsin, which is the focus of his latest book. He rocked back and forth, gripping the podium, and speaking to the back wall. It was not the speaking style of a nervous presenter, but rather that of someone who’s spoken too often on the same topics.
Buhle used humor throughout the talk as he explained the history of comics from 1910 through today. In the beginning, comics used very few words and therefore could be understood by nearly everyone looking for a laugh. As time has past, comics have become an art form all of their own. They have a place in galleries and on the walls of collectors. Hollywood has played a part due to their marketing and brand licensing of superheros. However, more of the influence has come from post modern art.
In the 60’s some of the best and challenging comics were part of the underground press. Alternative shops were about the only places you could find a copy, with the exception of a few street hockers. There were plenty of writers and illustrators in Wisconsin, but most of the publishers died off after only a few years each time. Most of those comics had to be printed in San Francisco and shipped out to the few stores that would carry them. In fact, there was an issue for a time with censorship where they challenged by the capitol and were burned because they were believed to be “detrimental to kids psychologically”.
Buhle ended his talk asking “Any questions? Comments? Insults?”
BIO: Paul Buhle, Author-Editor of 42 books, including the prize-winning Art of Harvey Kurtzman and two books about Wisconsin: The Tragedy of Empire, Williams Appleman Williams; and History and the New Left, Madison Wisconsin 1950-70. Editor of 9 nonfiction comic art books including The Beats, Students for a Democratic Society, and adaptations of Howard Zinn and Studs Terkel.
Also: retired Senior Lecturer of History and American Civilization at Brown University; Distinguished Lecturer, Organization of American Historians and American Studies Association; Founder, Radical America a Madison magazine for Students for a Democratic Society; founder and former director, Oral History of the American Left archive, New York University.