Comics: A selection from the Fine Arts Library

Comics were once considered culturally inferior; libraries refused to collect them, fearing they would distract patrons from “good quality” literature. There was also a fear that comics could influence the youth with their graphic depictions of sex and violence. Frederic Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent (1954) condemned comics as corruptive, and the Comics Code Authority, which set official guidelines that required comics to abide by inoffensive and socially normative conventions, was established the same year by the Comics Magazine Association of America. Today, comics are celebrated as literature worthy of academic study. Interest in comics is rising in fields such as history, sociology, political science, and English, among others. The fact that comics intersect so many genres and subjects have helped justify its place in academia. Libraries now account for tens of millions of dollars worth of comic purchases annually.

Their presence in art libraries is especially significant. Art historians and studio artists are recognizing the value in studying comics, for both their literary and visual content. Comics continue to intersect the “fine arts,” blurring the traditional hierarchies of high and low art. Moreover, comic aesthetics have appeared beyond books, manifesting in film, painting, sculpture, textiles, ceramics, and more. The Fine Arts Library is currently exhibiting “Comics at the Fine Arts Library,” organized by the Society of Art Librarianship Students, to showcase the range of material available to the community. Stop by the display cases outside to take a peek at a sampling of our holdings – there are even more in our stacks and special collections!

-Andrew Wang

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Amos J. Kennedy Jr. Exhibit

On view now, Prints and Artists’ Books from Amos Paul Kennedy, Jr., Printmaker: A Selection from the Fine Arts Library curated by Vaughan Hennen.

To thoroughly understand the work of Amos Paul Kennedy Jr., one must first examine the context from which he draws.

Kennedy’s work is a reflection of his pride as an African American printmaker and creator of artists’ books. Many of his artists’ books are centered around literary works by people of African heritage, including poems, fables, and stories. The wide rage of literature that he utilizes shows his vast knowledge of literature and a drive to visually portray the meanings of works. Much of the literature that he uses raises questions of race and class in American society, and may leave the viewer questioning, How do I feel about this central issue and why? and, What would happen if I read this aloud? The posters included in the exhibit feature his views on race in American society, art, and social injustice; many also feature quotes and gain inspiration from prominent civil rights activists.

Kennedy was born in the southern part of the United States and moved to Michigan with his family where he was the only African American student in his middle school. Many questions about race, culture, and society might have been sparked in this environment. After finishing school, Kennedy became a very successful systems analyst for AT&T and worked there for many years.

While on a tour of Colonial Williamsburg with his sons, Kennedy watched as a Williamsburg historical re-enactor created prints with an antique letterpress. After observing the meticulous workings and the ultimate product of the printmaker, he knew what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. Soon after returning from the trip, he quit his job at AT&T and in no time, was studying at the University of Wisconsin-Madison with renowned printer and book artist, Walter Hamady. Kennedy graduated in 1997 with a Master of Fine Arts degree, and in 1999 was hired by Indiana University Bloomington as the first, African American associate professor in the Fine Arts Department.

At Indiana University Bloomington, Kennedy was infamous for distributing Nappygrams (small postcards that tackled everything from social injustice to whimsical jokes about artists), hosting parking lot barbeques, and leading skipping contests.  During his time at Indiana University, Kennedy became close colleagues with B.J. Irvine, the head librarian at the time, and donated a large amount of posters, artists’ books, and examples of his students’ works to the Fine Arts Library.

After leaving Indiana University in 2001, Kennedy settled in Alabama where he was able to practice his craft, learn from others, and tour the US – teaching, speaking, and selling his work. Kennedy now lives in Detroit where he sells and commissions postcards and posters and describes himself as a “humble negro printer.”

–by Vaughan Hennen
Steeves, Andrew.  “Print! Amos Kennedy, Jr. & The Fine Art of Rabblerousery.”
Presentation at the International Perspectives on African (Black) Literature Conference at Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, 2014.

Kennedy, Amos Paul, Jr. Proceed and Be Bold! YouTube video. Directed/Performed
by Laura Zinger.  2012. Gordo, AL: 20k films, 2012. Digital.


Check out more of his current work here: