Little Nemo To Jimbo

Whether you’ve squandered a good portion of your life immersed in the study of comics, or only used them to line your parakeet cage, the two-pronged survey of 20th century “Masters of American Comics” opening at the Hammer and MOCA contains enough rare and exceptional artwork to ruin any mind. Bracketed by undeniably masterful draughtsmanship of Sunday funny (and animation) pioneer Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo in Slumberland and contemporary Chicago graphic auteur Chris Ware’s feted Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth, the sprawling exhibit (of 900-plus objects) attempts to establish a canon of geniuses for an artistic medium long-despised as inconsequential, or even poisonous — though it’s hard to imagine anyone ever having taken offense at the sweet surrealism of Frank King’s Gasoline Alley color pages or the archetypal lyricism of George Herriman’s Krazy Kat, both represented by the Hammer portion of the show. Some of the work at MOCA — which covers the second half of the century — might still ruffle some feathers, though anyone who hasn’t yet recognized dyspeptic laff-rioter R. Crumb as a (French) national treasure should be locked in a cell with only Cathy to read until they get over it. Some of the inclusions are a little iffy — co-instigator Art Spiegelman should have refused to count himself among the anointed, even though his anomalous masterpiece Maus did win the Pulitzer and make it okay for squares to read comics. Conversely, though, the entirely justified appearance of Gary Panter (Jimbo and the set for Pee-wee’s Playhouse) is a surprise coup, since he’s never really gotten his due from the art world. The gorgeous catalog includes essays from Jules Feiffer, Matt Groening and Raymond Pettibon, and should be a hot holiday gift item as well as a landmark contribution to the literature of comic-art history.

Milton Caniff, Steve Canyon (1947)

Winsor McCay, Little Nemo in Slumberland (1905)

Gary Panter, Jimbo (1986)


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