“I grew up as a kid who couldn't catch or throw a ball. This was a horrible failing as a kid in the Bronx,” said Jules Feiffer,writer of Clifford and other cartoons that ran in the Village Voice,Playboy and The New Yorker. “What I loved about comics,not being any good at sports,was that I could beat anybody up on paper.”
Feiffer's work and that of others was on display during the International Comic Art Festival held at the Library of Congress.
Feiffer,the conference's keynote speaker,said he grew up loving Popeye and Flash Gordon. He said he modeled his early work after those cartoons.
“I wanted to be a professional,which meant you stole – you swiped,” he said. He added that he started studying comics at a young age the way a “scholar would.”
Clifford was his first work in print. It came before other comics like Peanuts or Calvin and Hobbs that also featured children and their pets. He said it was great to be a magician on paper in the way his mentors were for him.
“They would try to dazzle you,not with the art,but with the imagery they were trying to project,” Feiffer said.
Other artists and university researchers of comic art attending the festival agreed that comic art shapes how children view themselves and the government.
It's not just the Pokémon generation that has gone beyond the bedroom with cartoons,said Steve Ridgely,a researcher on violence in fiction from the University of Wisconsin.
He studies the way death in the manga boxing ring affects societies. Manga is Japanese for comics.
Ridgely said boxing was as big in Japan as it was in the U.S. during the 1960s,when television spread it through American living rooms.
Ring death was a common topic in manga,including pictures and words depicting killer left hooks.
One manga story of two fictional boxers,in which one killed the other,brought 700 people to a Buddhist funeral for the fictional character in the 1960s. Most who attended the funeral,complete with photos of the deceased,were college men and school-aged boys.
“They're flowing with a mixture of fiction and truth,” Ridgely said.
That mix of reality and fantasy between comic art and human emotion deserves greater attention,he said.
Foreign governments are starting to take notice of cartoon influence,too.
Kukhee Choo,a researcher form the University of Tokyo,said her work is meant to analyze how Japan's government is using cartoons in its marketing strategy.
The Japanese government is promoting anime,animated cartoons from around the world,and manga through festivals and events. Government scholarships also help send larger numbers of students in the direction of working for anime,manga and videogames.
She said that comics are an estimated $200 billion industry in Japan,which makes it a government interest.
“Today,what I noticed in America,is the manga,or comic books,are still a sub-culture,” Choo said.
Choo said she would like to see Western and Asian cultures study comic art at universities in the same way they study classic art or English.
The library owns 120,000 comics issues and has spent $480,000 to preserve about 75,000 of them.
Georgia Higley,of the library's prints and photographs division,said she would like to have more money so the library can preserve the remaining 45,000 comics. Comics come to the library through rare purchases,but mainly as gifts or through copyright registration.
She remembered one necessary purchase,in particular. “We had to have Wonder Woman,you know,” Higley said with a smile.
Researchers may view the Library of Congress' comic collection,but must first show serious collection intent or proof of study.