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Welcome to ImageTexT Volume 3, Issue 3, “Comics and Childhood”

By Cathlena Martin

As Charles Hatfield’s “Introduction” observes, comics are still largely understood by the general public, journalists, and critics as a medium directed toward a child or youth audience. This reduction of comics to a children’s genre (and, moreover, simplification of the cultural functions of “childhood” in comics) has begun to be reversed, however, with the rising reputation of graphic fiction and nonfiction as media for “serious” literature and art, and as comics studies has begun to explore with greater subtlety the intersections of children’s culture and comics. Contributors to this special issue of ImageTexT examine these intersections from several vantages, including comics and children’s literature, comics and education, comics and publishing, and comics and revisions of literature.

The impetus for this issue was “Comics and Childhood,” the University of Florida’s Fourth Annual Conference on Comics (2006). The conference brought together outstanding scholars in fields of comics and children’s literature – many of the best of their presentations are included in this issue – while showcasing two notable strengths of the University of Florida and the special collections of its libraries.

Among the specializations available to graduate students in UF’s Department of English are Comics and Visual Rhetoric and Children’s Literature. (Several undergraduate courses are also offered in these fields each semester.) Courses and graduate research in the Comics and Visual Rhetoric specialization are directed by six graduate faculty in the Department, including Donald Ault, the founder and editor of ImageTexT. The specialization in Children’s Literature is directed by three faculty, including Kenneth Kidd, one of the contributors to this issue, and Anastasia Ulanowicz, who will edit a forthcoming special issue of ImageTexT on the children’s picture book.

UF’s George A. Smathers Librairies includes two remarkable archives of comics and children’s literature, the Comics Studies Collection and the Baldwin Library of Historical Children’s Literature. The Comics Studies Collection is composed of two related archives, the Penny and Sol Davidson Collection and the Donald Ault Collection. Each is a gold mine for comics scholars and aficionados, including comics from the Victorian Age, the Platinum Age, Special Purpose comics, and Will Eisner’s Preventive Maintenance publications. Additionally the collections house several thousand pages of comic strips, including “Blondie,” “Prince Valiant,” “The Watcher,” and Sunday comics pages from various newspapers, many of which are rare or unique. The Baldwin Library spans three centuries and includes more than 100,000 titles in English-language children’s literature. Both collections are available to researchers in and out of UF – Daniel Yezbick’s contribution to this issue, for example, draws on the collections – and are heavily used in graduate and undergraduate coursework at University.

This special issue comprises several ImageTexT firsts. The journal’s first roundtable links four scholars – Meredith Collins, Tof Eklund, Charles Hatfield and Kenneth Kidd – in conversation about Lost Girls, Alan Moore’s pathbreaking, notorious reimagining of classic heroines of children’s literature. Jesse Cohn’s translation of and commentary on Benoît Peeters’s “Four Conceptions of the Page” is, we hope, the first of many such new translations of important comics theory and criticism previously unavailable in English.

As this is a journal for comics studies, it is fitting that we include not only Sam Hester’s scholarly essay “Crossovers and Changeovers: Reading Lynn Johnston through Margaret Mahy,” but also her original illustrations. Her artwork parallels the essay and proposes a distinct argument in the form of a seven page stand alone comic.

The issue’s strong links to children’s literature – with and without images – are continued in Joseph T. Thomas Jr.’s review of Maria Nikolajeva’s Aesthetic Approaches to Children’s Literature: An Introduction; Philip Nel’s review of the first volume of Tove Jansson’s Moomin comics, and James Bucky Carter’s study of the imagetexts of Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, a celebrated novel for young adult. Veronique Bragard harkens back to some of the oldest children’s literature – fables – in her essay, but she doesn’t stop there. Her “Opening-Up Aesop’s Fables: Heteroglossia in Slade & Toni Morrison and Pascal Lemaître’s ‘The Ant or the Grasshopper?'” combines traditional fables with newer adaptations to explore transformations of the fable. Cari Keebaugh also looks at transformation through adaptation in multiple media in her essay “The Many Sides of Hank: Modifications, Adjustments, and Adaptations of Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.”

Under the larger umbrella of comics and childhood, the essays in this collection cover a wide range of topics. Kathy Merlock Jackson and Mark D. Arnold use a largely historical approach to analyze comics publisher Harvey Comics in their essay “Baby-Boom Children and Harvey Comics After the Code: A Neighborhood of Little Girls and Boys.” Elizabeth Sandifer explores the theoretical import of representations of time in Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes in her essay “When Real Things Happen to Imaginary Tigers.”

Finally, a journal on the topic and comics and childhood would be remiss to not include at least one article with an educational or pedagogical focus. Gorg Mallia’s “Learning from the Sequence: The Use of Comics in Instruction” uses a case study approach within a classroom setting to determine the effect of comics with the instruction of school children in Malta.

To begin the issue, I would suggest starting with Charles Hatfield’s “Introduction,” which gives a superb, compact overview of historical and theoretical challenges of this “inevitable… contentious and under-examined” pairing of “comics” and “childhood.”

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