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A Year-long Celebration of Comics, Animation, and Graphic Novels at Penn
October 21, 2008, Volume 55, No. 9

University of Pennsylvania Libraries
Life In Boxes: Comic Art & Artifacts

Drawn from a Collection of over 20,000 Comic Books and 5,000 Related Books


See www.library.upenn.edu/exhibits/pow.html to register for upcoming events and for more information.


While most ten-year-old boys were buying candy and baseball cards, Havertown native Steven Rothman was using his allowance to buy comic books. This early investment led to a life-long interest in comics, resulting in a recent donation to the University of Pennsylvania of 20,000 comic books and 5,000 graphic novels and related titles. A fraction of this mammoth collection comprises the upcoming exhibit Life in Boxes: Comic Art & Artifacts at the Kamin Gallery at the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center, on display October 27 through March 22. The exhibition opens to the public with a lecture by artist Charles Burns, in Meyerson Hall, followed by  gallery remarks by Mr. Rothman.

Boxes are the ruled surroundings of every comic strip and comic book panel and even of the 24 frames-per-second of the animated film. Life in Boxes: Comic Art & Artifacts reflects the history and development of the comic—strips, books, and graphic novels—and of animation that is often the cartoon come to life. The exhibit opens by exploring the development of the five major comic genres: cartoons, comic strips, comic books, graphic novels, and animation.

It then focuses in depth on Superman; women superheroes; Peanuts; Pogo; ducks from Donald to Dirty; seminal underground comics, including Air Pirate Funnies and R. Crumb’s Funny Aminals; and works by local and foreign artists.

Exhibition highlights include original artwork by influential comic strip artists including Frank King (Gasoline Alley); Milton Caniff (Terry and the Pirates); Watso (Hawkshaw the Detective); Stan Drake (The Heart of Juliet Jones); and Coulton Waugh (Dickie Dare).

Bibliophile and book collector Steven Rothman is a 1975 Penn alumnus, with a BA in American civilization and a long-time member of the Council of the Friends of the Library at Penn, and at Bryn Mawr College. For ten years he has been president of the Philobiblon Club, a Philadelphia-based group devoted to the book. He has also served as President of the Library Associates at Haverford College.

“I fondly recall being handed a dime when I was very young and told to choose a fountain soda, a candy bar, or a comic book. Beginning with that youthful (in)discretion, I have bought comic books, cartoon collections, graphic novels, reference works, histories, criticism, animation cels, and even some original art, building the mass from which I have selected this exhibition,” said Mr. Rothman. “I am grateful to the University of Pennsylvania Rare Book and Manuscript Library for the opportunity to curate this exhibition. The project has allowed me to see just what can be started on a dime.”

After working in a family business for over 25 years, he decided to spend some time researching and writing. He has collected the books of 20th-century essayist and novelist Christopher Morley since the age of 12 and now has the largest and most complete collection of Morley in private hands. With the encouragement of the Morley family he is working on a literary biography of Morley. Mr. Rothman also collects the works of Conan Doyle, books about Sherlock Holmes, and novels set in Philadelphia, among other things. 


Mr. Rothman is a member of the Baker Street Irregulars (BSI), an international coterie devoted to Sherlock Holmes, and since 1999 has edited BSI’s quarterly journal, The Baker Street Journal. He is one of six members of the BSI Trust, formed in 2003 to set up, furnish, and maintain the BSI archives, housed at the Houghton Library at Harvard University. He has edited several books and articles including The Standard Doyle Company: Christopher Morley on Sherlock Holmes, published by Fordham University Press and A Remarkable Mixture of award-winning articles from The Baker Street Journal, and co-edited with Nicholas Utechin, To Keep the Memory Green: Reflections on the Life of Richard Lancelyn Green 1953-2004, published by The Quartering Press, a collection of essays about the bibliographer and scholar of Arthur Conan Doyle.

Upcoming Events This Semester

Through December 7, ICA; R. Crumb’s Underground; a career-spanning exhibition.

October 22, 6 p.m., ICA; Whenever Wednesday Tour: R. Crumb, associate curator Jenelle Porter sorts through the themes and ideologies.

October 22, 7 p.m., International House; Whenever Wednesday Film: Crumb, Terry Zwigoff’s 1995 biography documenting the life and times of the comix pioneer R. Crumb. See www.ihousephilly.org/icacrumb.htm

October 27-March 22, Life in Boxes: Comic Art & Artifacts;Kamin Gallery,Penn Libraries exhibition featuring editorial cartoons; superheroes; underground comix.

October 27, noon, The David B. Weigle Information Commons, Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center; Comic Life Showcase with Louise Krasniewicz; software for creating comic books and graphic novels. Anthropologist Louise Krasniewicz will demonstrate this program and show examples of her own and her students’ work. Register: www.library.upenn.edu/exhibits/pow.html

October 27, 5:30 p.m., Meyerson Hall, Room B-1; Charles Burns, artist and author of Black Hole;this lecture is part of the Spiegel Residencies made possible by the Emily and Jerry Spiegel Fund to Support Contemporary Culture and Visual Arts. The Spiegel Fund creates and supports a series of coordinated interdisciplinary courses, programs and events.

October 27—March 22, Life in Boxes exhibition Opening & Reception, 7 p.m., Kamin Gallery; alumnus Steven Rothman will speak briefly about his impressive collection and how to hide 20,000 comic books in a small apartment.

November 2, 1 p.m.; ICA; First Sunday Tour. Yael Rice analyzes the warped, genius vision of comix legend R. Crumb.

November 12, 7 p.m., ICA; Whenever Wednesday: Performance: Minicomic Pile Up; many comic artists get their start in the do-it-yourself world of minicomics, small, limited-edition artist books—collectable gems—that run the gamut from photocopied gag strips to multicolored silkscreen masterworks. Philadelphia artist Paul Swenbeck has gathered some of the brightest stars in underground comics to debut new minicomics—and to perform music, which comic artists have traditionally done on the side since the early days, with R. Crumb and his Cheap Suit Serenaders. Free to members & Penn students, $5 general admission.

November 6, 5:30 p.m., Rosenwald Gallery,Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center; Arie Kaplan, From Krakow to Krypton: Jews and Comic Books. Kaplan argues that Jews built the comic book industry from the ground up, and that the influence of Jewish writers, artists, and editors continues to this day. A lively presentation—including film and video clips—followed by a book signing by author Arie Kaplan. This event is cosponsored by the Jewish Studies Program’s Kutchin Seminar Series.

November 19, 7 p.m., Rosenwald Gallery, Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center; Animation Selections from the Library Collection, organized by Joshua Mosley. A fun-filled evening of animation and popcorn. On view will be a range of animation produced during the last century by individual animators and large studios.



Almanac - October 21, 2008, Volume 55, No. 9