Comic sketches and magazines from 1913 to the present show how comic books the world over were shaped by the immigrant story, from French Asterix’s “foreign” Polish and Italian authors, to American Superman’s Eastern European co-creators.
Drawing on 500 sketches and documents from some 117 artists, the exhibit opening Wednesday explains how immigrants on the fringes of society were attracted to the subculture of comic books.
“The whole history of comic books is the history of immigration,” said curator Helene Bouillon.
Comic characters themselves are also often masked allegories for being foreign, from Asterix, the yellow-haired Gaul who fights Romans and travels around the world, to the alien Kal-El, who tries to live on earth among humans despite his super powers, the exhibit argues.
“Superman is the super immigrant. who comes from planet Krypton with super powers but who is faced with the feeling of being in exile” Bouillon said.
The exhibit also shows how the medium became more serious in the second half of the 20th century, using the medium to express uncomfortable truths about society’s tolerance.
It includes original illustrations from Iran-born cartoonist Marjane Satrapi’s autobiographical novel “Persepolis,” which tells the bleak story of a young girl fleeing to Europe against the backdrop of the Iranian Revolution. A film based on the novel won the Jury Prize at the Cannes film festival in 2007.
“This idea of pictures being maybe simpler or being caricatures allows some authors to say things that would maybe be too awful to put in a novel or in photography,” Bouillon said. “You have to make people laugh to accept the very difficult stories.”