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P.T. Barnum, Pioneer of Hype: Historian Releases Graphic Novel About Invention and Commercial Attractions in 1850s New York

Media historian, Dr. Jillian Lerner has launched an experimental graphic novel: an innovative crossover of historical fiction, comics and media studies. Set in 1850s New York, The Peerless Prodigies of P.T. Barnum features the pioneering enterprises of showman P.T. Barnum and photographer Mathew Brady. It offers a cinematic journey through the technological imagination of the 19th century, bringing into focus the emerging possibilities of photography, robotics, and advertising.

Vancouver, Canada, March 23, 2012 --( Ever wonder when technological novelty and ubiquitous publicity became the order of the day? Media historian Jillian Lerner will incite curiosity with The Peerless Prodigies of P.T. Barnum, a graphic novel about the spectacular devices of 19th-century inventors and media entrepreneurs.

The Peerless Prodigies features the pioneering enterprises of showman P.T. Barnum and photographer Mathew Brady, as seen from the fictional perspective of a young upstart named Nicholas Meyer. Nick is considered a technical prodigy, but he struggles to make his mark in a world suddenly overrun with prodigies, including astounding machines, uncanny images, and exotic merchandise of every conceivable variety. Indeed, on the capitalist frontier of New York City in 1857, it appears that everything is exceptional, unprecedented or ahead of its time-- whether it earns that distinction by qualitative measures or by the audacious puffery that surrounds it. Nickʼs quest to invent himself leads from the family clockworks through Bradyʼs photographic darkroom to the bizarre collection of misfits and illusionists at Barnumʼs American Museum.

Above all else, this beautifully-designed book offers a cinematic journey through the technological imagination of the nineteenth century, bringing into focus the emerging possibilities of photography, robotics, and advertising. Marc Oliventʼs spell-binding black-and-white illustrations conjure up the protean dynamism of the age and heighten the eerie magnetism of the charlatans, robots and freaks who populate the narrative. Like the sideshow attractions it surveys, The Peerless Prodigies of P.T. Barnum caters to both curiosity and discernment. It recruits onlookers by combining the visceral pleasure of outlandish exhibits with the intellectual temptation of hidden mechanisms and open-ended questions.

This is a graphic novel with decided crossover appeal for adults and teens, readers of history and fiction, devotees of comics and cultural studies. It is well-timed to inspire the growing ranks of makers, steampunks, mixologists, and slow-food enthusiasts who look towards the past in their quest to revive artisanal modes of production and rethink the stuff we consume. It should also encourage educators and parents who are concerned about declining literacy and historical amnesia besetting the digital generation. Comics and graphic novels have been hailed as effective tools for luring the screen-obsessed back to books. With its visually-enticing form and well-researched vantage on the fossilized devices that shape our culture, The Peerless Prodigies of P.T. Barnum is bound to stimulate readers. The story persuades us to recollect how identities were fashioned and ideas were hawked in a pre-electronic age. (For more information on The Peerless Prodigies of P.T. Barnum please visit

The author Jillian Lerner is a historian who specializes in 19th-century art and culture. Her research explores vintage advertising, proto-hipsters, the archaeology of cinema, and the ways in which new media reshape social and sensory experience. She holds a PhD in Art History from Columbia University and has taught at The University of British Columbia. Her essays have been published in the Oxford Art Journal and MITʼs Grey Room. The Peerless Prodigies of P.T. Barnum is Dr. Lernerʼs first foray into the world of graphic novels and the alternative press. She hopes to engage wider audiences and animate history by creative means. She lives in Vancouver, Canada.

Marc Olivent is a freelance comic book artist and illustrator. Amongst other projects, he has worked on Hand Knit Heroes for Mortaine Publications, Dark Moon Digestʼs Slaughterhouse, and a Rise of Nightmares short comic for Sega games. He lives in Lincoln, UK.

The Peerless Prodigies of P.T. Barnum was released on March 02, 2012. It is available online at and at select retailers. (Published by Sensorium Editions. Format: 7” x 10” paperback, 66 pages, black and white. ISBN-13: 978-0987955203 BISAC: Comics & Graphic Novels / Historical Fiction)

Sensorium Editions is an independent imprint established by Dr. Lerner and based in Vancouver BC.

To connect with the author, request a review copy, or schedule an interview with Jillian Lerner, please email
Contact Information
Sensorium Editions
Jillian Lerner
778 994 7205

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