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Comics and the Schooner

This is the first installment of an ongoing series written for the blog by Richard Graham. Richard is an associate professor and media services librarian at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where he studies the educational use of comics and serves as the film and art history liaison. He'll be writing posts that examine UNL’s, Nebraska’s, and the larger literary world’s connections with the comics medium. Graham’s recent publication reprints and contextualizes the American government’s use of the comic book medium. Being a librarian, he has an affinity for cats, going so far as to receive a community award (and the occasional hate mail) for his work in spaying and neutering the feral cats that reside on the UNL campus. Welcome, Richard!

Prairie Schooner has had a cavalcade of eclectic contributors within its pages, ranging from noir-thriller writer Jim Thompson to the first African American Poet Laureate, Rita Dove. But one issue that certainly stands out is the 2007 Winter issue (v.81, n.4)--not necessarily because of the talent found inside but rather its very cover!

Comics artist Chris Ware designed the cover to reflect his fondness for his childhood state of Nebraska. Ware was born and raised in Omaha until his parents re-located to Texas when he was 15 years old. Just as Robert Frost was moved to write about New England after leaving it behind, the place of Ware’s youth often provides the theatrical background for his art and writings. The juxtaposition of urban and rural features contain a sense of muted isolation and stillness. Ware has often been cited for elevating the “literariness” of comics, most notably winning the 2001 Guardian First Book Award for his graphic novel Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth. His contribution to Prairie Schooner is notable in that it highlights the cultural acceptance of comics as a serious art form.

One other person that contributed to that 2007 issue also has a comics connection. Ted Kooser, a highly regarded poet known for his accessible and metaphor-laden pieces, has strong ties with the world of comic art. In an underground comic book printed in 1974 in Lincoln, Nebraska, the future two-time U.S. Poet Laureate and Pulitzer-prize winner contributed an “interactive” cartoon that poked fun at the fervent sports culture that persists today at the University of Nebraska. While Ware proffers a nostalgic fondness for the geography of Nebraska, Kooser's cartoon satirizes the rampant sports culture that so dominates our institution of higher learning. It should be noted that Kooser is also a long-time acquaintance of underground comix originator S. Clay Wilson, himself a UNL graduate with ties to poet Charles Plymell and author William S. Burroughs.

While it appears that Prairie Schooner won’t be publishing comics within its pages anytime soon, the magazine should be praised for its past recognition of the value of the comics medium and its connections to the larger literary world.