I was born at the tail end of the Golden Age of Comics and grew up in the Silver Age reading titles like The Incredible Hulk, The Amazing Spider Man and Archie and Jughead. Leave it to the Festival of the Arts to take my limited comic books experience and stretch and expand it with their special exhibit for this year’s event: Origin Stories: Comics & Identity.
Despite my own experience, comics is not just kid stuff. I learned that quickly listening to some episodes of curator Andréa Gilroy’s Comics Crash Course. For example, consider these tidbits of comic books history:
- The term “yellow journalism” (referring to newspaper reporting that emphasized sensationalism over fact) had its roots in a comic strip war between newspaper publishers Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst. Richard Outcault created the popular “Yellow Kid” character in the Hogan’s Alley comic strip for Pulitzer’s New York World in 1895. It featured a bald, buck-toothed boy who always wore an oversize yellow nightshirt bearing his dialogue in a characteristic slang. The strip’s popularity helped boost newspaper sales and gave way to what some consider the first example of modern merchandising with images appearing on playing cards, dolls, and cigarettes. In 1986, Hearst lured Outcault over to his New York Journal by offering him a much higher salary which added flames to an already fire of competition between what became known as the “yellow kids” who were practicing “yellow journalism.”
- Believe it or not there was a moral panic about comic books in the 1950s calling into question many of the issues parents today have about television, movies and video games. A U.S. Senate subcommittee on juvenile delinquency held a hearing on comic books and were heavily influenced by Dr. Frederic Wertham, a child psychologist, who claimed that the crime and violence present in many comic books influenced children’s behavior. As a result a Comics Code was established in 1954 with editorial content guidelines such as this:
- Policemen, judges, Government officials and respected institutions shall never be presented in such a way as to create disrespect for established authority.
- In every instance good shall triumph over evil and the criminal punished for his misdeeds.
- Although slang and colloquialisms are acceptable, excessive use should be discouraged and, wherever possible, good grammar shall be employed.
- All characters shall be depicted in dress reasonably acceptable to society.
- Respect for parents, the moral code, and for honorable behavior shall be fostered.
- Passion or romantic interest shall never be treated in such a way as to stimulate the lower and baser emotions.
Let’s just say that put the kibosh on a lot of comic book storylines and by 1959 the number of comic book publications decreased by 50 percent.
- Underground comix rose up in the 50s and 60s in response to the political climate at the time. A thriving underground press started putting out small print runs of comics dealing with the environment, racism, women’s rights, war, and the drug culture which were sold directly to shops willing to carry them. When those same shops faced the threat of being held liable for obscenity charges due to a court ruling, many of them took the publications off their shelves.
So, you see? There’s a lot about comic books you probably don’t know which is just one reason why you should attend this year’s Festival of the Arts. Here are some others:
KIDS’ ACTIVITIES. On Friday, from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. kids can enjoy special arts and craft activities, face painting, demonstrations, and interactive entertainment.
MUSIC. Enjoy music as you wander through the Open Show in the Pavilion tent or head over to George Rogers Park for afternoon/evening concerts by the likes of Mario Carboni, Sequel, Ural Thomas & The Pain, Patrick Lamb Jazz Quartet and Tony Starlight.
ART IN THE PARK. Stroll down aisles of hand-made fine art and craft and meet the artists.
THEATRE. The Missoula Children’s Theatre returns with local talent on stage presenting Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs for a free performance on Friday, June 22 at 4:00 p.m. in George Rogers Park and again on Saturday, June 23 at 10:00 a.m. with a $5 admission charge.
FOOD. There will be food booths both at the Lakewood Center and in George Rogers Park with favorites like 3 Guys Grilling, Oregon Beignet, and Tall Boy Fish & Chips as well as newcomers like Chunky Monkey and S&J Original Oriental Food.
Check online for a complete schedule. Festival hours are from 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. on Friday and Saturday; 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Sunday. Events are held at the Lakewood Center for the Arts, 368 S. State Street and George Rogers Park, 611 S. State Street. Parking is limited so consider using the shuttle service from designated parking lots. Suggested donation is $5/person; $10-$20/family.
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