The Visual and Technical Evolution
of Comic Book Printing
Through October 6
University of Tampa
I grew up on comics. I read a lot of Captain America, The Hulk, X-Men, Spiderman and so many others when I was younger. Back then, while comic books weren’t fringe, I still feel like it was a little counter culture. Afterall, only nerds read comics, so you had to make sure you never told anyone you liked them.
Even with a family friend drawing for Marvel, it still felt not mainstream enough to actually tell anyone that I kept a stash of comics under my bed.
But now, with the inundation of Marvel and DC movies, comic books have an heir of legitimacy. Not only do people read them, they’re admired for their visuals and storytelling.
The Scarfone/Hartley Gallery at the University of Tampa is currently showcasing Zooming Superheroes from Dyes to DPI: The Visual and Technical Evolution of Comic Book Printing as an homage to all of this wonderful and engaging art.
Right away, you can see how the artform has changed over decades. This gallery shows the history and development of comic book art through the last century, starting from around 1890 to today – and how the visuals and content of the comics has changed dramatically and why. We start out with comic strips and Pulp magazines and develop into the multi-billion dollar industry with films and graphic novels that we see and love today.
My wife and daughter accompanied me to the University of Tampa. We parked and went to the gallery, a small space with lots of art on the walls, but that wasn’t my favorite part.
Don’t get me wrong, the art is stunning, but what I like about this exhibit is how interactive it is. Throughout the gallery, you are able to take comic books out of cases, flip through them – and read them for as long as you like.
As the exhibit developed we got to see more recent work like The Walking Dead, a hit TV show and comic, and more obscure comics and crossovers like Spider-Man at Barack Obama’s Inauguration Day.
I got to see examples of complex character development I didn’t even know about. For example, Iron Man’s Tony Stark dealing with alcoholism and battling demons as a more realistic version of comics that dealt with storylines of racial tension and substance abuse in the 1970s and ’80s. Previously, the government passed laws prohibiting what could be in comics because of McCarthy-era Senate hearings on “comic books and juvenile delinquency.”
Ultimately, the exhibit shows a deeper element than I expected, and one more relatable to today than I anticipated.
After you walk past all the physical media and comic books, you come to another portion of the exhibit where you can watch clips from various comic books over the last few decades.
Unquestionably, there’s a new enthusiasm for comic books due to the many films that are being created on a regular basis. It’s happening so much that sometimes, I don’t necessarily even consider some comic book movies to be actually comic book movies. For example, I forgot that Sin City was a graphic novel by Frank Miller, and I forgot that before it was a popular early 2000s film his 300 was a very popular comic book as well. These films mixed the media and truly were visually stunning because of the lack of realism.
Once I headed past the film area there was another shelf filled with comic books that you could read and relax with.
Past that, you can see how the printing process works and the rollers they use to create some of the visually spectacular art in comics today.
However, my daughter’s favorite part of the exhibit was the ending where she could sit in my wife’s lap and draw using the tracing station. My daughter also loved the mini-masks that she could try on including Batman and Captain America and she thoroughly enjoyed seeing the colorful art.
Sometimes, we forget about the artistry in things as common as comic books. At this point it’s easy to think of it as a computer generated artform with nobody behind it actually creating the pictures.
Obviously, this isn’t fair to the artists and the development of the art over the last century. With this kind of media becoming more mainstream it is something we should be cognizant of as a society.
I believe a lot of people think these are just silly comic books – however, I want to point out that middle and high schools across the country are now regularly using graphic novels in their curriculum.
Maus by Art Spiegelman is now a Banned Book in the state of Tennessee even though it’s a Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel about the Holocaust.
American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang is another example of a book that discusses important issues like race and identity. The fact that we are seeing comic books and graphic novels as fun art is not a fair judgment. Not only is there important, artistic value – there is equally important literary value.
Just like the SAG-AFTRA striking due to AI (among other things), this begs an interesting question on the future of art in comic books. As this technology evolves and becomes more controllable and streamlined, how much will technology destroy this art? Who knows. Afterall, companies will alway find ways to make things cheaper.
How much will this infect comic books? What I do hope is there will always be a human element in comic books and in the arts in general. This is why I think this artform will continue to develop, grow and be taken more seriously as it does.
If you want a fun and free event, the University of Tampa’s Zooming Superheroes exhibition will be open through October 6. It’s family-friendly and engaging for all ages.
Through October 6
The Scarfone/Hartley Gallery
University of Tampa
310 North Boulevard
Tuesday-Friday 10 am to 4 pm
Saturday 1- 4 pm
The terrific writer Troy Bernardo was just getting started writing for the Arts Coast magazine and truly loved telling stories. We’re so deeply sorry to share with readers his sudden passing,
before this story was published.
A celebration of Troy Bernardo’s life will be held
on Saturday, September 30 at 5 pm
at the Creative Pinellas auditorium,
12211 Walsingham Rd in Largo
with a reception to follow.