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March 6, 2012

Swann Fellow on Early American Comic Strips and the Nature of the Child

Swann Foundation Fellow Lara Saguisag, in a lecture at the Library of Congress, will examine how early 20th-century comic strips that featured child protagonists revealed the nature of the child during that era.

Saguisag will present "Sketching the ‘Secret Tracts’ of the Child’s Mind: Theorizing Childhood in Early American Fantasy Strips, 1905-1914," at noon on Thursday, March 29, in Dining Room A on the sixth floor of the James Madison Building, 101 Independence Avenue S.E., Washington, D.C. The lecture is free and open to the public. No tickets are needed.

Saguisag will focus specifically on fantasy strips such as Winsor McCay’s "Little Nemo in Slumberland" and Lyonel Feininger’s "Wee Willie Winkie’s World." These strips featured child characters who inhabited dream worlds and transformed their environments through their imaginations. According to Saguisag, central to these works is the idea that a child’s perception and experience of the world was shaped by his/her proclivity for fantasy. This natural connection with fantasy, moreover, made the child a complex, sometimes inscrutable figure, one who was essentially different from an adult.

Comic strips that linked childhood and fantasy drew from and built on themes of late-19th and early-20th-century children’s books such as Lewis Carroll’s "Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland," Robert Louis Stevenson’s "A Child’s Garden of Verses" and Frank L. Baum’s "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz." Such literature portrayed and celebrated the child as a highly imaginative being who enters and sometimes creates fantasy worlds that an adult could not readily access.

According to Saguisag, during the same period, psychologists and practitioners associated with the Child Study Movement were also intrigued by what G. Stanley Hall termed the "secret tracts" of the child’s mind. Many psychologists concluded that imaginative play and reverie were healthful childhood activities and advised parents to take an active role in cultivating the child’s imagination. The intersection of children’s literature and psychology encountered in early American "kid strips" helped perpetuate and naturalize the image of the imaginative child.

Born and raised in the Philippines, Saguisag completed an M.A. in Children’s literature at Hollins University and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing at The New School. She is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Childhood Studies at Rutgers University-Camden, where she held a University Presidential Fellowship from 2007-2009.

This presentation is sponsored by the Caroline and Erwin Swann Foundation for Caricature and Cartoon of the Library of Congress and the Library’s Prints & Photographs Division. The lecture is part of the foundation’s continuing activities to support the study, interpretation, preservation and appreciation of original works of humorous and satiric art by graphic artists from around the world. The foundation strives to award one fellowship annually to assist scholarly research and writing projects in the field of caricature and cartoon. Applications for the 2013-2014 academic year are due Feb. 15, 2013. More information about the fellowship is available through the Swann Foundation’s website at www.loc.gov/rr/print/swann/ or by e-mailing swann@loc.gov.

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PR 12-048
03/06/12
ISSN 0731-3527

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