MEANWHILE...in this installment of Meet the Expert, we chat with Karen Green, the Librarian for Ancient and Medieval History, and the Curator for Comics and Cartoons at Columbia University, about her two passions. Then she helps us challenge guest musician Julian Velard in a game about ancient precursors to comic books
OPHIRA EISENBERG, HOST:
While Samuel and Rachel get ready for the final round, let's play a game called Meet the Expert. Today's expert has not one but two of your dream jobs. She works at Columbia University, where she is the librarian of ancient and medieval history. And she's the curator for comics and cartoons. Please welcome Karen Green, everybody.
KAREN GREEN: Thank you, Ophira.
EISENBERG: OK. So, first of all, what is a curator for comics and cartoons? What does that entail?
GREEN: Well, the difference between a librarian and a curator is a librarian buys for a circulating collection, and a curator brings in archives for a rare book collection.
EISENBERG: OK. So how does one get this job that you have?
GREEN: I was a bartender for 15 years.
EISENBERG: Ah, yes.
EISENBERG: Good start. Good start.
GREEN: I went to Columbia for grad school...
GREEN: ...For medieval history, went to library school, got the job as librarian for ancient and medieval history, noticed that we didn't have any graphic novels in the library other than three. And that didn't seem right because I like comics. So I pitched the notion that we should start buying them for the general collection. And now we have over 14,000 in 15 different languages (laughter).
EISENBERG: OK. So then - now let's talk about the other side, medieval history. What piece of medieval history do you think we need to revisit and maybe learn from?
GREEN: Oh, gosh.
EISENBERG: Just the one (laughter). Just the one piece.
GREEN: Yeah, really. One thousand years - let me think. I think that one of the misconceptions about the Middle Ages is that it was primitive and superstitious...
GREEN: ...And faith-bound. And this is actually when nations as we know them were born, when literature as we know it was born. Art was gorgeous. It was beautiful visual culture everywhere you go, which is one of the kind of commonalities with comics in my medieval life...
GREEN: ...Is just this visual culture.
EISENBERG: So there's hope for now.
GREEN: So there's hope for now.
GREEN: Yeah, yeah. You know, plague then redemption.
EISENBERG: Very good, yeah. Karen, you and I are going to lead an ASK ME ANOTHER challenge. And our contestant is actually going to be the one and only Julian Velard.
EISENBERG: Hey. These are multiple choice questions.
JULIAN VELARD: OK.
EISENBERG: And Karen will provide the answer. So here we go. Dating around 17,000 years ago, cave drawings in southwestern France have been described as the world's first comic book. Which of these techniques did the prehistoric painters use? A, thought bubbles, B, drawing multiple legs to show motion or C, people wearing capes?
VELARD: I'm going to go with multiple legs.
GREEN: Nicely done (laughter).
EISENBERG: Multiple legs, of course, to show motion.
GREEN: Motion. I mean, one of the great challenges in a static art form is how to show motion or passage of time. And you could connect, really, the legs of the bison or whatever they were with Duchamp's "Nude Descending A Staircase" and a fight cloud from EC Segar's "Popeye."
EISENBERG: That's - yeah. Thank you for answering that with a lot of words I'll need to Google later.
GREEN: I'm here for you.
EISENBERG: That's great. That's great. OK. Here is your second question. Located in Rome, Trajan's Column is a 126-foot marble pillar carved with the story of Emperor Trajan's victory in the Dacian Wars. Among its 155 scenes is a depiction of Trajan receiving a message in what unusual fashion? A, sung by donkeys, B, baked in a pie or C, written on a mushroom?
VELARD: You know the answer to this question?
GREEN: I do.
VELARD: I'm going to go with, like, "Alice In Wonderland" vibes. Written on a mushroom?
GREEN: Oh, my God. See, Alice will always bring you home.
EISENBERG: What is this written on a mushroom? Come on.
GREEN: In fairness, there's a lot of dispute as to whether it actually is a mushroom.
EISENBERG: Oh, what are the other possibilities?
GREEN: Some people think it's a tray with holes almost like a colander.
GREEN: But nobody really knows. I guess when you've got a mushroom nearby and not a piece of paper, what are you going to do?
EISENBERG: That's a good point. Everyone's been in that situation.
EISENBERG: All right. This is your last question. Medieval European paintings often featured scrolls with words coming out of figures' mouths to indicate that they were talking. What are these precursors to speech balloons called? Are they called A, Imprezas, B, banderoles or C, cameos?
GREEN: That's correct.
EISENBERG: Yeah, that's correct.
EISENBERG: How did they come up with that idea? Scrolls coming out of the mouths?
GREEN: Well, banderole is literally a little banner. But the banderoles as a speech device really come in the Gothic age. Before that, they just had, like, labels kind of floating in space next to people's heads.
EISENBERG: That is fantastic. And, Julian, thank you for playing. Your prize, by the way, is the ASK ME ANOTHER graphic novel "Crisis Of The Infinite Puzzle Gurus." Everyone give it up for Columbia University's Libraries' curator of comics and cartoons, Karen Green.
(APPLAUSE) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.