The Adolescent in American Print and Comics
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The Adolescent in American Print and Comics


This research examines images of adolescents made in late 19th and early 20th century America, the same time that “adolescence” as a concept was coined and codified. Many of these first images of adolescence were forged in marginal and experimental visual media, particularly in early newspaper comics. The medium of comic strips arose simultaneously with the invention of adolescence, largely to answer the same social crises. By the end of the 19th century, mass immigration, changes to economic production, and civil rights movements had overturned antebellum and wartime constructions of national identity. Comic strips flaunted the feelings of chaos this incited, especially for the middle classes. Adolescence offered allegorical solace, reassuring that these “storm and stress” years of national development could eventually be tamed and corralled toward maturity. This dissertation explores how visual constructions of the adolescent became a battle ground, reshaped to express either hegemonic control or youthful rebellion. The early association between comic strips and adolescence held fast, influencing the evolution of comic books as an adolescent rite of passage and counter-cultural medium. College humorists and even Norman Rockwell employed aberrant or “comic” adolescent bodies to critique the edicts of mainstream print media. While this dissertation focuses on adolescence, my ultimate goal is to map the messy process by which mass-produced images influence the formation of cultural concepts.

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