This spring, London’s Foundling Museum presents the first major exhibition to explore the representation of foundlings, orphans, adoptees, and foster children in comics.
DC’s Superman, who was found by his adoptive parents, is one of many comic heroes who are orphans: Spider-Man’s parents die in a plane crash; Batman’s parents are killed in a street robbery; and Black Panther – whose mother dies soon after childbirth and whose father is killed – is known as ‘the Orphan King’. Marvel’s X-Men experience both discrimination and social ostracisation. The superheroes’ early life experiences impact on their roles and the stance they take over good and evil in their comic lives.
Examining over a century of mainstream comics, graphic novels and sequential art from around the world, Superheroes, Orphans & Origins: 125 years in comics explores the challenging origins and complex identities of some of the most popular figures in comics.
The exhibition looks beyond the traditional ‘superhero’ genre to explore characters from early newspaper comic strips, including Skeezix from Gasoline Alley, who was left on a doorstep in 1921, and Little Orphan Annie. Historical newspapers, original artwork and contemporary digital work will be on display, as well as examples of international comics rarely exhibited in the UK.
Speaking of the ground-breaking exhibit, Director of the Foundling Museum, Caro Howell, says “When viewed as a group, these characters encourage discussions about identity, trauma, autonomy and social belonging. Their stories collectively form a unique lens through which we can better understand the feelings of isolation, unrest and resilience that care-experienced children encounter every day.”
“Superheroes, Orphans & Origins weighs our fascination with foundlings and children in care in popular culture against our diminished awareness of their presence in the real world. Framing discussions about superheroes around their experiences in care – kinship, foster, adoption and residential – encourages deeper consideration of the connections between these identity labels. Not all of the characters included in the exhibition have superpowers; nevertheless, they are all revealed to be heroic in their efforts to overcome extraordinary challenges.”
Superheroes, Orphans & Origins: 125 years in comics runs from April 1st to August 28th, 2022. Head to the Foundling Museum website for more information.