Working in the Pacific Northwest Archaeology Lab, the last thing I expected was to become familiar with the world of comic books. Growing up I was always fascinated by superhero movies, and when a piece of a comic book showed up during the cleaning process, I jumped at the chance to work more closely with this artifact. Finding paper and other materials that do not preserve well via archaeological excavation is rare. The prospect of working to both extract information from, as well as conserve this fragment of popular culture has been such an incredible opportunity.
As we began to look at the piece more closely, we came to see just how strange it truly is. Initially, we thought it may be a piece of a newspaper, as the paper was of poor qualityand thin with many of the pages stuck together. upon further inspection, and much to our surprise, buried within the layers of paper-a face emerged. The red cape, strong jawline, and confident gaze led us to quickly theorize that we were looking at some sort of superhero, but which one? The red cape seemed to echo a Superman aesthetic, but we couldn’t be sure. Being that that we were without a “comic book expert”, we turned to an unexpected source: Facebook.
Quickly after revealing this mystery face, I began posting on several Comic Book Historian community sites within Facebook, asking for help identifying this character. Within minutes, there were dozens of comments, many even suggesting Flash Gordon as another contender, though Superman is still my personal favorite! Using social media to obtain a further understanding about this artifact was something that had never occurred to me, but for this instance proved to be really helpful.
We hope to gain a better understanding of the comic book subject, historical comic book publications, and a images of popular culture at this time. we do not yet know exactly what kinds of popular culture the students attending the Residential School would have had access to. Using a rough timeline of the site, combined with a more formal artistic analysis of the fragments, we have been able to tentatively hone in on a date range, placing our piece between the 1930s and 50s. Looking to the future, we hope to be able to pull apart these layers, potentially revealing even more text or a trademark in the next steps of our research.
It’s incredible how much we are continuing to learn about this piece every day. Recently, after working with the Conservation Lab here on campus, we were able to see even more pigment and small designs that we hadn’t noticed before. What I’ve loved most about working on this artifact is how interdisciplinary it has been We have utilized so many different sources to gain a better understanding of what we have and our long term goals include identifying the mysterious face, learning more about what sort of publication this artifact is apart of, and being able to make inferences about the impact that these comics and media had on those living at the Residential School. Until then, we will continue to enjoy taking bets on who our mysterious hero is!
By: Sophie Muro