Cartoons have always gotten a bit of a bad rap in the art world because of the perception that they are throw-away art… more about the gag and writing than about the artwork itself. Some cartoons are much more about the writing than the art, but what’s wrong with that? Good cartooning is delivering a message to the viewer, that may be in the form of a gag or some editorial comment or political statement… that can be accomplished with a beautifully complex drawing or with a simple scribble. It seems to me if the message is delivered and understood… mission accomplished. Cartoons might not get a lot of attention in the art world, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a place of their own to shine. There are a few cartoon galleries and museums, including the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco, the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa and I’m sure a few other specific ones I am not aware of. The big one is the National Cartoon Museum, formerly the International Museum of Cartoon Art, which is set to reopen in their new digs in New York City in early 2007.
The National Cartoon Museum has had a long and recently difficult history. Founded by Beetle Bailey creator Mort Walker, the museum was first opened in 1974 in a converted mansion in Greenwich, Connecticut. In 1976, the museum relocated to a castle (yes, a castle) in Rye Brook, New York, where it remained for 16 years. The Museum’s collection, built mainly through the donations of artists, friends and supporters, giving both artwork and money, gradually became so large that even a castle could not contain it. They needed a permanent home. in 1992 the city of Boca Raton, Florida offered a great deal for the Museum to construct a beautiful facility as a showcase for the collection in their downtown. I visited the Museum there when the Rueben Awards were located in Boca Raton, and it was a fantastic building. Unfortunately there just wasn’t enough visitor traffic and interest to support the Museum in Boca. I guess cartoons aren’t all the rage with the blue-haired crowd. There were also some unfortunate problems with some major donors not coming through with their pledges. The Museum closed it’s doors in Florida on July 31st, 2002 and started looking for a new home in a major urban area.
It’s new home is just about as good as it gets. It will reside in three floors in the base of the Empire State Building in New York City. That should be a terrific place to get lots of traffic and allow millions of people to see original cartoon art that ranges from the great to the historic. Amid their collection are the first drawings Disney did of Mickey and Minnie Mouse for his first film “Plane Crazy”, valued at $3.7 million. Hmph, I can’t even get a few hundred for a MAD page! Chester Gould’s estate donated over 7,000 original Dick Tracy comic strips… sounds generous but I’m betting they just wanted their basement back. All in all the Museum’s collection includes over 200,000 pieces of original art from all avenues of cartooning including comic strips, comic books, animation, editorial, advertising, sport, caricature, greeting cards, graphic novels, illustration, sculpture and others. They also have over 10,000 books and 1,000 hours of animation.
The big recent news is the announcement of the target opening time: early 2007, and that New York City’s Department of Cultural Affairs and the City Council have together committed $1.8 million to the Museum’s development. This is a big deal and will really help the Museum get off the ground right and be a big hit. The Museum is also pursuing partnerships with big guns like Marvel Comics, Disney, The Hearst Corp., Andrews McMeel Universal Inc., Nickelodeon Networks, and other industry leaders including artists, foundations, and individual collectors. Of course like any museum of the arts they are always looking for donations to help support their efforts. If you are interested in helping out with a tax deductible donation, visit their website for more information. Above all, if you visit NYC in 2007 and beyond, make plans to visit the Museum and enjoy the exhibits. It is definately worth the time.
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