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Western Civilization Series: War and Sequential Art

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Colonel John Smith also talked to Western Civilization 2 students on Tuesday afternoon, telling them about how war has been represented in graphic art throughout history. Sequential Art is an academic term for comic strips. The term was originated with Will Eisner, a cartoonist who sought to elevate the form.

Smith began with a historical tour from the Bayeaux Tapestry, which he argued was the first "comic strip" in that set many standards for the genre, that illustrated the Norman invasion of Britain in 1066, to graphic novels such as 300 by Frank Miller. One slide illustrated that even the Simpsons have referenced the tapestry in their program.

Smith argued that many people's experience of war comes from such graphic art. He also discussed several examples of sequential art used to illustrate warfare in Western Civilization, which included Willie and Joe by Bill Mauldin during WWII, Sad Sack by George Baker, Beetle Baily by Mort Walker, and the Doonesbury character BD by Gary Trudeau.

In addition to Western artists, Smith also brought in Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi, an Iranian artist. In her work, she depicted both the Iranians and their Iraqi enemies as being featureless from one another. This was a different perspective from most Western artists who often dehumanize the enemy.

Smith ended by asserting to the students that they could not study cartoon strips academically, but they could study sequential art.