...a combination I can appreciate, for obvious reasons!
Last week, I was lucky to be invited to the openings of the new Masters of American Comics exhibitions, that opened yesterday at both the Hammer Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art here in Los Angeles.
It's basically one big exhibit that has been split in two. And they're both great.
On Friday night, my wife and I attended the opening at the Hammer. Chronologically, this is the "first" half of the exhibit. It includes an impressive (and huge!) collection of art from the very beginning of American comics a century ago. Represented are works of Winsor McKay (Little Nemo in Slumberland), Lyonel Feininger (The Kin-der-Kids), George Herriman (Krazy Kat), E.C. Segar (Popeye), Chester Gould (Dick Tracy), Milton Caniff (Terry and the Pirates), and Charles Schulz (Peanuts).
For those youngsters out there without an historical perspective (and some of you older fanboys), this half of the Exhibit demonstrates how the rise of the great newspapers (and the innovations in color printing) gave birth to the popular comics medium. What impressed me, looking at all of the work in one place, is just how experimental the early comics artists were. The page & panel layouts and designs are shockingly varied, not only when comparing different artists, but comparing the strips drawn by any individual artist. I think they probably tried EVERY possible method of laying out a page before the end of the first quarter of the 20th Century. Leaving nothing more to innovate--except for improving storyines and creating compelling character! The later strips featured at the Hammer Museum show how the great storytellers, like Caniff, began to do just that. Personally, I would have also liked to see some work by Alex Raymond, Hal Foster and Burne Hogarth, to name a few, but the collection assembled at the Hammer, is mighty impressive as-is.
A hilight of the Hammer exhibit is one huge room devoted alomst entirely to the Peanuts strips. It is quite impressive to see just how long Charles Schulz devoted to his creation. The room contains several original strips from each decade that Peanuts ran. Check it out and you'll see just how much Charlie Brown and Snoopy change over the years, as well as the quality of Schulz's ink line.
On Saturday, Don Hudson and I took in the sister exhibit over at MOCA. This part of the exhibit picks up the comics timeline in the late 40's and 50's, with the medium branching out in different directions. The world of superheroes is largely represented by the works of Jack (King!) Kirby (Captain America).
The twisted projects of EC and Mad Magazine are displayed in the art of Harvey Kurtzman and his peers. The innovative (and creator-owned) work of Will Eisner (The Spirit) paved the way for the creation of "Graphic Novels" and the long, slow journey toward respectability (still in progress!). There's a large collection from the "Underground" pioneer, R. Crumb (Zap!) that is fascinating. The innovative (and Pulitzer Prize-winning) work of Art Spiegelman (Maus) again will change the way the layman will look at comics and their contribution to the art world. The amazingly detailed work of Chris Ware (Jimmy Corrigan) will just make you go blind!
When you see all this amazing artwork in one place (or TWO places, as it were) It's hard to understand why comics continue to occupy such a marginal place in our society. The origins of the medium may have been commercial--a nifty color insert to help sell newspapers--but the illustrators who created them were serious, talented and innovative artists. Perhaps a museum exhibit like this skews my perspective; I'm sure the talentless hacks outnumbered the McKays and Feningers. That's the way it is today, not only in comics, but in all media. Still, whenever I see something like this show, it gives me hope that someday, comics will get their share of respect!
Whatever--go see it! ZAP! POW! Comics are cool!
"Nuff Said (sigh).