Cute Drawings of Terrible Things: Graphic History and Visual Storytelling as a Historian and a Cartoonist

B. Erin Cole

History and comics might seem to be opposite genres of storytelling. One is colorful, exciting, and grabs at both the eye and the emotions. The other is detailed, analytic and thorough, engaging the brain. But historians are collaborating more and more with comics artists to create engaging, accessible graphic histories for a wide variety of audiences. But what happens when an academically trained historian draws their own comics? Public historian and cartoonist B. Erin Cole discusses drawing comics as a historian, and thinking about history as a cartoonist. Also examined is their path to combining comics and history, examples of great graphic storytelling, and their in-process graphic memoir/history of growing up in atomic Colorado.

B. Erin Cole (they/them) is an independent public historian, museum professional, and cartoonist based in Denver. They have worked in the exhibits field for over a decade, first at the History Colorado Center and then at the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul, Minnesota. They have developed exhibits on the environmental history of Colorado, the Chicano rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s, the Minneapolis music scene, and more. They also draw autobiographical comics about mental health, disability, and living in the modern American West. Some of their comics include “I Am A Historian I Make Exhibits” (2019), “The Desert Keeps Receipts” (2020) (both published in Contingent Magazine), and “Am I A Historian?” (2020). They are currently working on a graphic history/memoir about atomic Colorado, which they will show in-progress excerpts of. They post their comics on Instagram at @littlebraincomics and at their site, Little Brain Comics.

Watch B. Erin Cole’s lecture below.