The Peerless Prodigies of P.T. Barnum Graphic Novel Exhibition

NEW YORK CITY, 1857. Nicholas Meyer is crafty, ambitious, and unencumbered by nostalgia. Though he has the singular distinction of working with photographer Mathew Brady, he is enchanted by the professional misfits and illusionists at P.T. Barnum’s American Museum. Spurred on by mentors and rivals, bearded ladies and talking automatons, Nicholas will confront the emerging possibilities of robotics, show-business and advertising.  This graphic novel explores the technological imagination of the 19th century from the vantage of two influential entrepreneurs. Readers encounter an alternate universe that once existed: a bygone world of gaslight and sideshows to be sure, but also a forward-looking society shot through with experimental media, profit-oriented entertainments for the masses, and grandiose visions of the future. Written by media historian Jillian Lerner and illustrated by Marc Olivent, The Peerless Prodigies of P.T. Barnum recollects how identities were made and ideas were hawked in a pre-electronic age.

A work of historical fiction, this graphic novel explores the technological imagination of the 19th century from the vantage of two extraordinary entrepreneurs. Readers encounter an alternate world that once existed: a bygone world of gaslight, sideshows and horse-drawn cabs to be sure, but also a forward-looking world shot through with experimental media, profit-oriented entertainments for the masses, and grandiose visions of the future. Written by media historian Jillian Lerner and illustrated by Marc Olivent, The Peerless Prodigies of P.T. Barnum entices us to recollect how identities were made and ideas were hawked in a pre-electronic age.

Nicholas Meyer is desperate to invent himself and meet the celebrated inventors of his day. It is 1857 and New York City is awash with young men who are comparably wily and determined. But Nicholas is something of a technical prodigy, with a background in clockmaking and a keen instinct for publicity. He jumps at the chance to work in the studio of celebrity portrait photographer Mathew Brady and acquaint himself with the outlandish attractions of P.T. Barnum’s American Museum. Spurred on by mentors and rivals, talking automatons and bearded ladies, Nicholas explores the emerging forms of photography, robotics, showbusiness and advertising.  In collaboration with Art, Architecture, and Planning (AArP), the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre is pleased to host Dr. Jillian Learning for her presentation, which will include:

  • the media history of graphic novels: highlighting some of the 19th century forms of communication and commercial entertainment that are at the center of this book
  • the how-to aspects of self-publishing, scripting and art-directing a graphic novel
  • the trending phenomena of “steampunk” how does it relate to this book
  • How does this retrofuturistic movement both venerate and repurpose Victorian visions of the future
  • What insights and cautions this historian can offer about the political stakes of mining the past?

To register for this event, please find here.

About Dr. Jillian Lerner

Jillian Lerner is a media historian who specializes in 19th-century media and culture. She is fascinated by vintage advertising, proto-hipsters, and old-fangled commercial attractions. She holds a PhD in Art History from Columbia University and has taught at The University of British Columbia. This is her first graphic novel.  Amazon | Facebook | LinkedIn

Graphic Novel Presentation by Jillian Lerner

Come join us as Jillian Lerner will present on the Peerless Prodigies of P.T. Barnum on December 6, 2012, at 4.00 to 5.00pm at the Lillooet Room (Rm 301) of the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre (1961 East Mall, University of British Columbia)



For more information about this event, please contact Vanessa Kam or Allan Cho

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