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Get Drawn To Comics, Cartoons, Culture

New York museum celebrates comics as art.

Comic art today is considered just that—art.

It's known to the scholars as “sequential art.” And it's highly valued. The materials that were used to create cartoons, either in storyboard, production painting, or animation cel form fetch hundreds of thousands of dollars in a collectors’ market.

But those materials haven't always been saved. They were often given away or discarded. The comic book was printed, the movie was shot—and the materials used to create them were no longer deemed useful.

With so few examples left from certain time periods, what remains is prized. Maybe you're rich and you can afford an original panel of Peanuts drawn by Charles M. Schulz, or an MGM animation cel featuring a 1940s blonde bombshell supervised by Tex Avery. But the rest of us are better off visiting them at the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art at 594 Broadway (between Houston and Prince) in New York City.

We didn't have to go far to find comic fans to talk to about the museum. East Brunswick Patch Editor John Saccenti was readily available to us.

"It’s amazing how far comic art has come in since Superman burst on to the scene in 1938." he said. "From disposable entertainment, to cartoons, toys and movies, these heroes have become a part of our culture in a way no one could have seen, and it all started with the simple comic book."

The museum benefits from location, primarily because the two foremost publishers of comic books, Marvel and DC, are both headquartered in the city. In that respect, there are plenty of opportunities to have industry people come in to host events and speak about the medium.

The museum has previously hosted events spotlighting artists like Will Eisner (The Spirit) and movie  and television examples (a recent show at MoCCA highlighted Pee-Wee’s Playhouse).

Freelance Patch writer Don Smith is also a comic book creator, and he recalled favorites from his recollections

"I liked [George] Perez and [Neal] Adams because they were realistic in their styles," he said. "When the comics first appeared in the 1930s and 1940s the comics had ... a 'cartoony' [feel], but they treated their characters as if they were real characters, and I appreciated that. Long before Michael Keaton or Christian Bale would dress as Batman, they treated Batman as a serious character.”

"Any medium as influential as this deserves to be recognized for what it is: fine art. MoCCA puts this work where it belongs and gives it the long overdue credit and respect it deserves," Saccenti said.

The Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art explores the entire medium of art produced for storytelling, and now that comic book characters are hot properties in Hollywood, it seemed a great choice for this installment of Day Tripper, a weekly look at destinations that are out of town, but in reach, and worth the trip.

DAY TRIPPER DIGEST

Estimated Travel Time: One hour 15 minutes.

Why it’s Worth the Trip:  Sequential art, whether it is on a page or on a screen, is a part of pop culture as much as it is a part of American life and youth. MoCCA is a place to see how it has grown over the years.

How to Get There from Here: Detailed driving directions

You’ll Probably Get Hungry:  When in New York, finding food is no difficult task, but choosing might be. Start at MasterChef’s Joe Bastianich’s Eataly NY, the Shake Shack at Madison Avenue near Madison Square Park, Hill Country Chicken or Junoon Indian cuisine. If you’re on the move, hit Mangia To Go for quick Italian specialties. Or, you know ... it's New York. Wander about. You'll find something.

While You’re in the Area:  Stretch out at a yoga session at Bikram Yoga, look for holiday-oriented items at Santa’s Best, or try on something a little more (ahem) mature at Fredericks Lingerie. If you want to explore the area some more, try the Center For Book Arts, the Robert R. Livingston Masonic Library, or try The Rubin Museum of Art, a nonprofit cultural and educational institution dedicated to the art of the Himalayas.

Danny Fingeroth has been a major figure in comic books for a long time, having worked under legendary superhero creator Stan Leeand then Marvel Editor In Chief Jim Shooter. He is now presenting a course in comic book and graphic novel writing at MoCCA.

His initial tenure happened at the moment comic art was becoming accepted as something of great value, attaining a collectability and respect.

“Of course, not every piece of comics art is super-valuable,” Fingeroth said. “It depends on who the artist or artists are, the characters, the popularity of the title the art appeared in, and many other factors. Interestingly, many comics artists still work on paper [as opposed to electronically] so they can have original art to sell.”

The comic book arrived at an important time in history, getting deeply into the culture prior to World War II and becoming a potent voice in the war effort during that time. The red, white and blue of both Superman and Captain America’s costumes were purposefully used to evoke patriotism and morale. In the 1960s, the medium stretched out with material considered “corrupting” and “risqué” in the famous/infamous EC Comics Company’s lineup. A major member of that group is author Stephen King, who cited EC Comics for “aiding and abetting my love of the night.”

The sixties also saw the rise of the "underground comix," fostered by the counter-culture of the age and typified by characters like Fritz the Cat, artists such as Robert Crumb, and an extremely liberal attitude toward depictions of sex, drugs and violence.

In the late 1960s and 1970s, the medium changed again, taking on topics such as the difficulties of youth culture (Spider-Man), drug abuse (Green Arrow discovers his sidekick is a junkie), and race relations (Captain America’s sidekick The FalconBlack Panther and Storm from X-Men help break the four-color color barriers).

In the 1980s the medium shifted once more, this time toward the dark as characters like the multiple-personality-inflicted Moon Knightappeared, and a deadly serious, brooding Batman re-emerged from a campy sidetrip during the swinging '60s.

All these changes are on display at MoCCA.

"But the museum isn’t just a look back at the origins of summer blockbuster heroes,” Saccenti said. “It also takes a look at some of the most influential cartoonists and artists around. Works by the great Will Eisner have been spotlighted and an exhibit dealing with Watchmen highlighted a series that set the tone for the comic book medium for years to come."

As for right now, Fingeroth said, there is no better time than now for substantive comic book storytelling.

“We're in a golden age of comics creativity, given the diverse range of graphic novels, manga, webcomics, and so on," he said. "True, the traditional comic books don't have the sales they once did, but people love to be told stories, and the popularity of the superhero and other comics-based movies proves that the characters and stories are as popular, if not more so, than ever, even if the genre of comics that spawned them is in transition.”

The Museum’s regular hours are Tuesday through Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. General Admission is $6, but children 10 and under get admitted for free.

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