Comic books reflect 80 years of American history, culture

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Comic book superheroes save humanity in their make-believe universes, but they also make a difference in the real world.They teach us about American history over the past 80-odd years.

“Sequential Reaction: A History of the American Comic Book,” on display from Feb. 19 to March 14 at the Russell Day Gallery at Everett Community College, showcases the growth of the modern art form and how comics have reflected American culture and social upheavals.

“When people aren’t thinking about the legacy of their work, it speaks more clearly to that given time,” said T. Andrew Wahl, the show’s curator and a comic book historian. “It’s supposed to connect with the culture at that particular time.”

The exhibit includes more than 40 pieces of comic book art by dozens of illustrators published by Marvel Comics, DC Comics, Charlton Comics and Heavy Metal. Around 50 digital images of comic-book covers also will be on display.

Wahl, who leads the journalism and media communication program at Everett Community College, and two other comic-book historians — Steve Sibra and Shaun Clancy, both Puget Sound-area residents — contributed items from their personal collections for the exhibit. Some of the items are one of a kind, such as Wahl’s production art of “X-Men No. 138,” published by Marvel in 1980.

The work of leading comic book writers and artists, such as Jack Kirby, Jon Byrne and Joe Kubert, is featured in the exhibit, which spans four ages of comic books, which aficionados define as Golden, Silver, Bronze and Modern.

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