IUPUI instructor talking superheroes, comic books in summer library lecture series

Description of the following video:

[Video: Several comic books are spread out on a table.]

[Words appear: IUPUI presents]

Harper speaks: We are all fascinated by the superhero because the superhero is an outsider, the superhero is an alien. And by that I mean someone who is not of our day-to-day life, not of our world.

[Video: Mark Harper, senior associate instructor with the IU School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI and the Herron School of Art and Design, appears on camera. He is wearing a T-shirt with The Flash’s logo on it.]

Harper speaks: My name is Mark Harper, and I teach history of American comic books.

[Video: Harper is giving a lecture and talking in front of a class. He holds up a comic book to show the group.]

Harper speaks: The Indianapolis Marion County Public Library hired me to do a series of lectures on superheroes themselves.

[Video: An exterior sign that reads ‘The Indianapolis Public Library Irvington Branch’ appears outside of the Irvington library.]

[Video: An exterior sign that reads ‘History of Comic Books 6:30.’ The sign is outside of the main entrance to the Irvington library.]

[Video: A librarian at the Irvington library pushes a cart of books while wearing a superhero cape.]

Harper speaks: The adult summer reading program has a theme every summer, and this year they decided to do an “Everyday Superheroes” theme.

[Video: Harper adjusts his PowerPoint presentation while conducting a lecture.]

[Video: A panning shot of Harper’s audience listening to his lecture.]

[Video: A close-up of the brochure given at the Irvington library to people attending the lecture. The front of the brochure reads ‘Everyday Super Heroes.’]

Harper speaks: One of the lectures covers the mythology of superheroes, which dates all the way back to ancient times and classical antiquity, but continues on into the 21st century.

[Video: Harper appears on camera.]

[Video: A close-up of Harper’s PowerPoint during his lecture.]

Harper speaks: Another lecture I’ll be giving is how did the first superhero comic come into being, and then a third lecture covers Marvel Comics, which basically reinvented the superhero in the 1960s.

[Video: Harper appears on camera.]

[Video: Several comic books are spread out on a table.]

Harper speaks: My main background is in film studies. I do teach a lot of English courses, English literature courses. At the same time that I do that, I also teach media theory, and I teach art history.

[Video: Harper appears on camera.]

[Video: Harper is giving a lecture and talking in front of a class while adjusting his PowerPoint presentation.]

Harper speaks: So what I love about teaching the history of American comic books is that I get to bring everything that I love to study and that I love to teach all together in one class. 

[Video: Harper appears on camera.]

[Words appear: IUPUI]

[Words appear: Fulfilling the promise]

[Words appear: iu.edu]

A T-shirt with The Flash's logo sets the tone pretty well for a lecturer about to deliver a brief history of comic books.

That was Mark Harper earlier this month at the Indianapolis Public Library's Irvington Branch, speaking as part of the library's summer series on "Everyday Superheroes."

If summer is an escape of sorts, so are superheroes and comic books, right?

"We're all fascinated by the superhero because the superhero is an outsider. In many cases, the superhero is an alien -- by that, I mean somebody who is not of our day-to-day life, not of our world," said Harper, a senior associate instructor at the Indiana University School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI and an adjunct instructor of art history at the Herron School of Art and Design. "Also, the superhero, like all of us, is a dreamer.

"There's something about comic books you can kind of wrap your imagination and your eyes around the individual panels and follow those through the completion of a story."

Harper is delivering six lectures at Indianapolis library branches on the mythology of superheroes, the history of comic books and Marvel Comics from the 1960s to today. Attendees at his lecture in Irvington ranged from art lovers to superhero aficionados.

The Indianapolis Public Library's adult summer reading program began five years ago, coinciding with its now-100-year-old children's summer reading program. Each summer has a different theme, with select books plus book discussions and programs based on topics related to the theme.

From the top: Mark Harper speaks about comic book history at the Indianapolis Public Library's Irvington Branch; a librarian gets into the spirit of the summer reading program; a sampling of Mark Harper's comic book collection.

Susan Davis, adult programs specialist for the Indianapolis Public Library, was herself an adjunct professor a few years ago at the Herron School of Art and Design and came across Harper's work while researching additional programming for this summer.

"I thought, 'Oh my gosh, this is perfect and would tie in really well with our program,'" Davis said. "The three different lectures all stem from him; he said he had a couple of different ideas from classes. They complement each other really well."

Harper's academic background is in film studies. He teaches English literature courses, media theory and art theory in addition to a class on the history of American comic books that is wildly popular with IUPUI students.

"I get to bring everything I love to study and teach all together in one class," Harper said. "I make sure I say on the first day of class, 'If you're not a comic book person, that's fine. We're here to study what is it about this medium that is so compelling, what is the history of this medium that gave it such staying power and also what are the capabilities of this medium? Why does this medium lend itself so strongly to exploring such dark themes or such challenging social issues? What gives it its power to do that kind of thing that draws us in so easily?'

"By the end of the first six weeks, everyone becomes comic book people."

If you're a comic book person, or just interested in the art or the superheroes, Harper has two more lectures remaining. His lecture on Marvel Comics is at 6 p.m. July 16 at the Indianapolis Public Library Southport Branch, 2630 E. Stop 11 Road, and the lecture on the history of comic books is at 6:30 p.m. July 30 at the Wayne Branch, 198 S. Girls School Road.