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Anne Garner G’24 Curates Virtual Special Collections Exhibit on Comics

Caspersen School of Graduate Studies PhD student learns tech skills and explores graphic storytelling

April 2023 – Anne Garner G’24, a History & Culture PhD student in the Caspersen School of Graduate Studies, recently created an online exhibit with Drew University’s Special Collections & University Archives focusing on the importance of lines in comics.

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Garner explained how the comic form allows different images to exist within the same space simultaneously, exploding the action towards the reader for dramatic effect.

The exhibit, “Between the Lines: Graphic Narratives from Drew’s Chesler Collection,” explores how graphic narratives engage with issues of embodiment, identity, health, and wellness, and is informed by Garner’s dissertation research on patent medicine advertising, which use techniques from comic storytelling to their marketing.

“The rise of comics occurred at approximately the same moment in the 19th century that patent medicine manufacturers were starting to reinvent their advertising campaigns,” said Garner. “My own research, in part, looks at the ways these ads created visual spectacles in the almanacs and trade card ads they produced, using comic elements like sequential panels and word balloons to move through time. Demonstrating a transition from sick to well was key, and often required a sequential graphic, and comics were perfect for that! Medicine manufacturers could use these comic conventions to create drama, and this was a crucial element in closing a sale.”

Given the topic, Garner’s exhibit will launch on May 1 to coincide with the beginning of Mental Health Awareness Month.

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One of the comics in the exhibit, Ellen Forney's 'Marbles: Mania, depression, Michaelangelo & me.'

“I chose these stories because they foreground mental health concerns,” said Garner. “Graphic medicine follows the point of view of the patient and caregiver over narratives espoused by the medical establishment. These narratives offer something different in their subjectivity and many emphasize the role of connection with others. The aim of this exhibit is to connect readers to stories that may resonate, while also illustrating the reparative possibilities of drawing.”

Garner’s work, made possible through a fellowship with the History & Culture program, has complimented 15 years as a librarian. The virtual nature of this particular exhibit, along with the source materials in Drew’s collection, provided another element of curation for Garner to tackle, and a particularly interesting subject.

“Every exhibition teaches new skills. This one, being virtual, offered an opportunity to think about creating an experience that visitors will want to return to remotely, but also to encourage the Drew community to come to Special Collections to spend more time with these books in person. It’s been valuable to explore the web publishing platform’s capabilities, to think about layout, and to strategize how the platform can be used most effectively in a library setting. For example, each item will include a link to the catalog record and a note about access.”

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