Revisiting Matt Madden’s Six Panels
More recently, I have been using Madden’s page as a conversation starter in various courses on the history of American comics, asking students to identify the references and to spot plausible omissions. Several of them identified 1960s Marvel Comics as prime candidates for inclusion, for instance, and the discussions have proved consistently fruitful. The exercise led me to reflect on what exactly I would choose to add.
The answer was provided by my recent work on the “invisibility” of YA comics and graphic novels, and the realization that I had been drastically underestimating the importance of creators such as Raina Telgemeier; that also answered my 2014 question. Because the original page focused on comic books, it left out newspaper comic strips. Restoring their role in the historical narrative of the form would provide a prologue to the existing panels. Armed with these ideas, I created panels 1 and 8, trying to mimic both Madden’s choices and those of the creators I was alluding to, in a double pastiche.
The exercise was fun and satisfying, as is often the case when studying closely the work of gifted authors. It served as a reminder that any such compression is bound to produce unintentional meanings: comic strips are here presented as the “infancy” of comics, which is of course inaccurate. The exercise also strongly suggested that the original six panels could be extended in a variety of ways beyond the options I had chosen. Matt Madden, who was kind enough to give permission for this publication, suggested that a more transnational approach, incorporating European and Asian strands, could work well. A more sustained engagement with the dual tradition of comic books and comic strips would also be intriguing.
[NB: this text was slightly amended to account for the fact that the original page dealt with the history of comic books, not the history of comics, as originally stated]