28th March: David Ball (former assistant master at Mathey, Professor of English at Dickinson College)
"What Role Did Comics Play in the History of Modernism?"
Modernism, the set of artistic and literary innovations that transformed cultural history at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, has long been held to be the province of high art and coterie audiences, placed at an austere distance from the popular culture and mass media at the time. Those assumptions have increasingly come under scrutiny, however, as literary scholars and art historians have begun situating high modernists in low cultural contexts. What impact then could comics—that decidedly mass cultural medium—have on our understanding of modernism, from Gertrude Stein to Pablo Picasso, from the exhibition hall to the literary salon? How might it change our received histories of literary and artistic modernism, or reshape our understanding of late-19th- and early-20th-century American history? We'll talk about a number of comics artists whose visual and narrative experimentation could rightly be considered part of a modernist trajectory—from Winsor McKay and George Herriman, to Frank King and Lynd Ward—focusing on the comics character who inaugurated the way we understand comics today, the Yellow Kid, and role he played in the birth of the modern newspaper and America's rise to global power.