A Place in Time



sketch from book-in-progress


a packed South Lounge of the Union for the national broadcast


some of the last remaining woods of the original Big Grove


local newspaper coverage of television broadcast


the Illinois Railroad figures largely in this story


Public Broadcasting Laboratory


prairie at Loda, IL


John Lee Johnson and Howard Spencer


sketching some dialogue scenes

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A Place in Time is a small graphic novel created as a public artwork for distribution in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. The project is funded through an Urbana Public Art grant, and scheduled for completion in late Spring of 2012.

The book tells the story of a singular evening in 1968, during which a national television audience witnessed the crossing of some long and disparate paths. The book adopts the conceit of a timeline to tell stories of Champaign as a geological event, as a destination for wanderers more and less free to travel, and as the subject of a television broadcast.

Over the first half of the book, we see a slow convergence of glaciers, railroads, the sons and daughters of freed slaves, European immigrants, and radio waves. The second half of the book then relates the results of these convergences, as they transpired during a taping of Public Broadcasting Laboratory, an early news-magazine show that created weekly episodes on current events.

In January of 1968, PBL chose the South Lounge of University of Illinois’ Illini Union to convene a discussion on campus unrest across the nation. In the wake of growing protests on campuses in response to the Vietnam War, civil rights struggles, and other injustices, PBL brought together students and administrators from colleges across the country for a national debate.

Present and on camera for this event were two persons whose work later left long wakes, but who probably never met again – John Lee Johnson and Heinz von Foerster. This book explores that meeting as a way of inviting reflection on the relationship of local politics to global stories of violence and injustice, and on the small ways in which strangers can even accidentally act in unison for change.