What do Spider-Man, Stumbo and a girl cartoonist have in common?

They’re all characters in comics at an exhibit called “A Shared Universe: The Art of Comic Books.” The exhibit, which is best for age 8 and older, is at the Mansion at Strathmore in North Bethesda. You can see comics art and read comic books and graphic novels in a big reading room.

You might even get ideas for your own comics.

“I like to draw and doodle. That’s why I’m here,” said Adrian Isassi, 11, a sixth-grader at Ridgeview Middle School in Gaithersburg. He’s been making comics since he was 5 or 6, he said.

His sister Sofia, 13, is curious about the story lines in Web comics. The Ridgeview eighth-grader publishes her work online and wants to keep improving.

What are comics?

Comics are a sequential type of art. Sequential means they tell a story by putting words and pictures in a certain order, often in panels or boxes. The first comic in the United States was “The Yellow Kid,” according to a timeline in the reading room. Published in 1895 in the New York World, this strip about a funny, bald kid was so popular that other newspapers decided to print strips, too.

The exhibit shows comics of different styles and times.

Warren Kremer’s rounded shapes give a friendly look to Stumbo, a giant he created in 1957. The strong black lines Josef Rubinstein’s used on “Wolverine” (1982) and other Marvel comic books bristle with energy. Rubinstein “inks,” or puts down the black lines, which have first been drawn in pencil by other artists.

Not all comics are short and funny or action-packed. Gene Luen Yang’s “American Born Chinese” is about feeling like the outsider in school. It was the first graphic novel to win a big award for books written for young people: the Printz in 2007.

Something new

Sometimes comics inspire a different kind of art. Artist Mark Newport wants people to come up with their own superheroes, so he creates costumes for made-up characters. Look for his blue knitted outfit for “The Escapist.” If you were wearing this costume, what might you escape from and how?

As a kid, JD Deardourff loved the bold colors in Spider-Man comics, he recently told people at an exhibit program. He likes to make collages that have bright bursts of red, yellow and green but no superheroes.

If you’re interested in comics as a career, check out the student art. Be sure to look for “The Evolution of the Cartoonist” by Rachel Dukes, who recently graduated from the Center for Cartoon Studies in Vermont. In this comic strip, Dukes shows how a female artist grows and finds an audience over time. In the first two panels, she is a child and then a teenager whose comics are made fun of by parents and kids. The third panel reveals something different: a smiling woman whose Webcomics are cheered by online readers.


What: “A Shared Universe: The Art of Comic Books”

Where: Mansion at Strathmore, 10701 Rockville Pike, North Bethesda.

When: Through June 8. Open Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Closed Monday.

How much: Free.

Best for: Age 8 and older.

For more information: A parent can go to www.strathmore.org or call 301-581-5109.

— Mary Quattlebaum