Tuesday, December 15, 2015

International bibliography of comics literature

Charlie Chaplin in his forward to The World of Lil Abner, writes of this comic strip, "it embodies playful pain, which Max Eastman, an authority on comedy, says is the basis of all humor and drama."

I only came to know that Chaplin wrote these bon mots by perusing the International Bibliography of Comics Literature.  Coming across these names of Chaplin and John Steinbeck (who wrote the introduction) in the index of this bibliography led me to the Lil Abner book that the library owns as a part of the Schmulowitz Collection of Wit and Humor.

It is sometimes assumed that printed indexes and bibliographies have been superseded by the web.  They certainly have not been published in the same quantity since the internet has become popular.  Yet they provide an avenue of exploration and group together a subject around a theme.

A print bibliography from 40 years ago, like the International Bibliography of Comics Literature (which has the dual title of Bibliographie der internationalen Literatur über Comics) can bring together unexpected information and resources on a given topic.

This reference work is especially helpful for anybody researching the early history and reception of comic literature.  In 1974, when it was published, there were relatively few graphic novels or reprints of comic strips and they certainly were as lavishly produced as they are today.

The International Bibliography of Comics Literature is divided into sections about their history, structure, commercial aspects, readership, effects, educational value, as well as their censorship and condemnation.

The work is very international in scope including literature from 19 countries (we don't always realize how global the phenomenon has always been).  For the contemporary student, the two most useful sections would "The use of comics for educational purposes" and "Judicial and other limiting measures against comics."  Here there are articles that give a historical dimension to the for and against arguments that society has been making about the social and educational value of graphic story-telling.

The serious researcher should go beyond the web or the database search and discover what bibliographies have to offer.

Bibliographie der internationalen Literatur über Comics: International Bibliography of Comics Literature by Wolfgang Kempkes (R. R. Bowker Co., 1974).

The World of Li'l Abner by Al Capp; with an introduction by John Steinbeck and a foreword by Charles Chaplin (Farrar, Straus and Young, 1953). [part of the Schmulowitz Collection]

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