While marginalized as a juvenile medium, comics serve as an archive of our collective experience. Emerging with the modern city and deeply affected by race, class, and gender norms, comics are a means to understand the changes linked to identity and power in the United States. For further investigation, we turn to one such collective archive: the MSU Library Comics Art Collection (CAC), which contains over 300,000 comics and comic artifacts dating as far back as 1840. As noted on the MSU Special Collections’ website, “the focus of the collection is on published work in an effort to present a complete picture of what the American comics readership has seen, especially since the middle of the 20th century”. As one of the world’s largest publicly accessible comics archives, a community of scholars and practitioners created the Comics as Data North America (CaDNA) dataset, which comprises library metadata from the CAC to explore the production, content, and creative communities linked to comics in North America. This essay will draw on the Comics as Data North America (CaDNA) dataset at Michigan State University to visualize patterns of racial depiction in North American comics from 1890–2018. Our visualizations highlight how comics serve as a visual record of representation and serve as a powerful marker of marginalization central to popular cultural narratives in the United States. By utilizing data visualization to explore the ways we codify and describe identity, we seek to call attention to the constructed nature of race in North America and the continuing work needed to imagine race beyond the confines of the established cultural legacy.
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