New exhibit in Butler Library, 3rd Floor: Global Displacement and Comics

Zenobia’ by Marten Durr and Lars Horneman

The Columbia University Libraries has just launched an exhibit entitled: Global Displacement and Comics

In this exhibit, we display a number of items from our circulating comics collections, which tell a complex and multi-faceted story of global human displacement. The stories of human suffering, courage and resilience on display in the windows flanking the Circulation Desk on the third floor of Butler have been told for a variety of reasons: the creators may be relating their own experience or that of a family member, friend or group they feel an affinity with; they may be working on behalf of some humanitarian or news organization; or they may simply believe that they need to bear witness to compelling tragic or absurd events that have defined the lives of many displaced people across the globe, and that the comics medium– wry, compelling and immediate, its thumb on the pulse of the times– is the best way to convey those stories.

Illegal: A Graphic Novel by Eoin Colfer & Andrew Donkin, Illustrated by Giovanni Rigano

In fact, the comics medium is– perhaps unexpectedly– very well-suited to telling serious stories. Essentially interactive, its strong visuals immediately attract the eye, and by tacitly asking the reader/viewer to fill in the narrative gaps between panels, the effect is to actively draw them into a story, in ways that other media cannot. The exhibit is divided into eight windows, and runs along four essential themes, besides an introductory section: “Home, a Rupture”; “Choices”; “Journeys”, and “Stangers in Strange Lands”. As you read and look at the pages in this exhibition, look for the different ways the comics’ creators have deployed the unique grammar of comics: drawing style, color, panel composition, speech balloons, as well as other design elements, all of which add texture and nuance to the story told (and actively implicate the viewer as a participant, to great emotional effect). We hope that this exhibit will raise awareness regarding the struggles, resilience, courage, agency and suffering of millions of displaced people across the globe. 

The Columbia University Libraries collects both graphic novels for the circulating collection in the 4th-floor West reading rooms and in the non-circulating archives of the Rare Book & Manuscript Library. The circulating collection was launched in 2005, when the libraries held only three titles; by the end of 2020, the collection featured more than 19,000 titles in over two dozen languages. The archival collections, which already contained disparate comics holdings, were launched in earnest in 2011, with the acquisition of writer Chris Claremont’s papers.

The circulating holdings contain a diverse collection, with mainstream and alternative titles, archival reprints, independent comics, Kickstarter projects, and other content. These materials have been used in courses from East Asian Languages and Cultures, to English and Comparative Literature, to Narrative Medicine, and have been featured in the American Studies course “The American Graphic Novel.” Students have used the collection for term papers, senior theses, and M.A. essays, while faculty have found curricular and research inspiration there.

Exhibit Curators: Yuusuf Caruso (African Studies Librarian, Global Studies:, Kaoukab Chebaro (Head of Global, Karen Green (Curator for Comics and Cartoons, RBML:, Peter Magierski (Middle East and Islamic Studies Librarian, Global Studies:

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