Student creates exhibit out of collectibles

For nearly a century comic books have been a part of American popular culture. On display at RIC’s Adams Library through the end of August is a visual history of comic books and its offshoot – the graphic novel.

This exhibit includes works from the library’s collection as well as comic books and toy action figures from the personal collection of John Pannozzi – RIC student, library employee and curator of the exhibit.

Pannozzi works part-time shelving books and conducting searches at Adams Library. He’s also a communication major and the proud owner of box loads of comics, which he’s been collecting since the age of five.

Born with an autism spectrum disorder, conversing with others is difficult for Pannozzi, but conversing about comic books is not. He’s a walking repository of little-known facts about the medium.

For instance most people, he said, have seen film adaptations of characters like Superman, Spider-Man and the Hulk, characters owned by Marvel Comics Group, but what most people don’t know about are the independent comic book titles that Marvel didn’t own.

In fact, Pannozzi’s original intent for this exhibition was to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Image Comics Group, an independent comic book publisher that opened its doors back in 1992.

The freedom these publishers gave their artists set them apart from Marvel Comics, said Pannozzi. Artists could write stories that weren’t necessarily about superheroes, their characters could actually age in real time or even be killed off. Moreover, the artists owned the characters they created.

RIC student John Pannozzi
How does one go about owning characters? “Many hands go into the creation of a comic book,” Pannozzi explained. “Someone comes up with the basic storyline, someone else does the artwork and someone writes the dialogue at the end, which makes it difficult to say who the actual creator is. But each independent artist owned the characters they created. Artists who contracted with Marvel (bought by Disney in 2009) did not. Marvel paid artists by the page and nothing more.”

In protest of the old guard Marvel, Pannozzi set aside a glass display case of works solely by independent franchises.

His passion for Japanese comics also reflects through the glass. It was Japanese comics that inspired Pannozzi to learn Japanese, which he has been studying at the Rhode Island Japanese Society for the past eight years.

“He filters whatever he’s learning through his interests in comics,” said his mom Kathleen Pannozzi, RIC assistant professor of educational studies. “As a teacher, he’s taught me a lot. He’s taught me that if you don’t follow the interests of your students, you’re never going to motivate them.”

Kathleen would like to see John become an archivist who chronicles the history of comic books. She said he’s already published a review in The Anchor, RIC’s student newspaper, comparing Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (the film adaptation) to a series of six graphic novels it’s based on.

But John’s setting his sights on computer animation or the video game industry, the digital equivalent of comic books – the natural career path for a comic book boy extraordinaire.

Photo Gallery.