On average, a comic book is a 32-page publication that conveys ideas through images and text. But stories that began in comic-book form have essentially shapeshifted into larger-than-life, onscreen experiences. Today, the movie Avengers: Endgame, featuring numerous superheroes, is the second highest-grossing film of all time at over $1.3 billion. Additionally, popular movies like Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World incorporate traditional aspects of comic books, such as drawn-in pop-ups and stylistic diversity.
For much of the 20th century, there was a notable lack of diversity in the industry. Comic book creators at this time were “predominantly people from Western Europe,” states Jon Da Silva, a curator of this exhibit and assistant manager at the Family History Center. One trend he also noticed was a large population of comic book contributors—including Stan Lee and the creators of Superman and Captain America—were of Jewish descent. Although the lack of diversity carried over to most of the comic book characters, the genre’s messages around hope and idealism rang true to many.
In the 1980s, long-form comics called graphic novels grew to prominence. Contemporary immigrant creators used the space to tell their stories. For example, American Born Chinese by Luen Yang and The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui, both share elements of each author’s experience with U.S. immigration.
Many comic creators, artists, and actors in movie adaptations have Ellis Island connections. Some were immigrants themselves, and some had ancestors who traveled through the Port of New York. “Century of Comics” is an engaging exhibit on display at the American Family Immigration History Center at Ellis Island through October 2023. It features some of the comic industry’s leading figures, including key players from Marvel and the original artists of Superman, Wonder Woman, and Captain America, alongside some of the most prominent actors from today’s Marvel and DC blockbusters.
This engaging display features some of the comic industry’s leading figures, including key players from Marvel and the original artists of Superman, Wonder Woman, and Captain America, alongside some of the most prominent actors from today’s Marvel and DC blockbusters. Explore some of their stories below.