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BOOK REVIEW: Government Issue

When we think about the government's relationship to comic books, Frederick Wertham's censorship crusade is inevitably what comes to mind. By contrast, Government Issue presents the comics that the US Government did want you to see!

Richard Graham's book is a tour through the history of comic books created by the US federal government, going back to the early days of US involvement in World War II. The works themselves are reproduced in full color and in such high quality that you can almost feel the old newsprint and poster paper. The book is divided into subject categories like economics and the military, and each category is illustrated with comics from across the decades and from as many different approaches as the subjects and the creators allow. The resulting experience is a mix of informative, humorous (intentional or otherwise), inspiring, and upsetting (intentional or otherwise), and the author's commentary acknowledges this full range of intentions and experiences.

Government Issue's origins are also relevant here, as Graham is Digital Media Librarian at the University of Nebraska - Lincoln. A regional member of the Federal Depository Library Program, the UN-L library is required by law to collect all federal publications , "even lowly comics". The author took on the enormous project of digging through mountains of publications to single out comics, which he and his team then cataloged and digitized to include in the library's Image and Multimedia Collections (accessible at https://mediacommons.unl.edu/luna/servlet/UNL~113~113). From this collection and others like it, Graham assembled the contents of this book and wrote introduction and descriptive text, skillfully guiding readers through his selections and groupings.

While its topical specificity means that Government Issue won't find a home on every comics librarian's shelf, it has many library applications: supplementing government and communications classes, research into changes in the public opinion of comic books, and also demonstrating the medium's value to skeptics for whom arguments about artistic and literary merit might not do the trick. But most of all, Richard Graham, along with designers Neil Egan and Jennifer Redding, have given us a beautiful example of how to marry comics librarianship the comics scholarship to engage audiences both popular and academic. Here's hoping Government Issue inspires many more comics librarians to do the same.

Thanks to Richard Graham for providing me with a copy of his book.

Government Issue: Comics for the People, 1940s-2000s
Richard L. Graham
Abrams ComicArts, 2011
publisher site | WorldCat 

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