Alex Beringer, "Lost Literacies: Experiments in the Nineteenth-Century US Comic Strip" (Ohio State UP, 2024)


Lost Literacies: Experiments in the Nineteenth-Century US Comic Strip (Ohio State UP, 2024) is the first full-length study of US comic strips from the period prior to the rise of Sunday newspaper comics. Where current histories assume that nineteenth-century US comics consisted solely of single-panel political cartoons or simple “proto-comics,” Lost Literacies introduces readers to an ambitious group of artists and editors who were intent on experimenting with the storytelling possibilities of the sequential strip, resulting in playful comics whose existence upends prevailing narratives about the evolution of comic strips.

Over the course of the nineteenth century, figures such as artist Frank Bellew and editor T. W. Strong introduced sequential comic strips into humor magazines and precursors to graphic novels known as “graphic albums.” These early works reached audiences in the tens of thousands. Their influences ranged from Walt Whitman’s poetry to Mark Twain’s travel writings to the bawdy stage comedies of the Bowery Theatre. Most importantly, they featured new approaches to graphic storytelling that went far beyond the speech bubbles and panel grids familiar to us today. As readers of Lost Literacies will see, these little-known early US comic strips rival even the most innovative modern comics for their diversity and ambition.

Alex Beringer is a professor of English at the University of Montevallo. His research and teaching focuses on nineteenth century American literature, visual culture, and comics. He received his Ph.D. in English in 2011 from the University of Michigan and has held fellowships with the American Antiquarian Society, University of Cambridge and the National Endowment for the Humanities. His work has appeared in American Literature, Arizona Quarterly,, and elsewhere.

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Elizabeth Woock

Elizabeth Allyn Woock an assistant professor in the Department of English and American Studies at Palacky University in the Czech Republic with an interdisciplinary background in history and popular literature. Her specialization falls within the study of comic books and graphic novels.

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