Published: September 27, 2007
The Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art is nothing to gape at admiringly; this is no Guggenheim. But what’s the old saying? Oh yeah, “don’t judge a book by its cover.”
The MoCCA is located on Broadway between Houston and Prince Streets, in a modest fourth floor suite in building 594. The space is nothing like your conventional museum, with vast halls of looming canvases and sculptures. Rather, the space is more of a gallery. This makes the museum seem more inviting—after all, the Met can be very overwhelming, with myriad tourists trawling through its many galleries. Yet you might walk into the MoCCA around noon on Friday and find you’re its only visitor, as I did on my Friday visit. The friendly staff greeted me with enthusiasm, gladly took my five dollar admission price, showed me around the small space, and set up the video portion of the current exhibition—“Infinite Canvas: the Art of Webcomics.”
This exhibit focuses on the evolution of the traditional comic strip as facilitated by the information age, specifically, the Internet. With the advent of the World Wide Web in the 1990s, many comic authors and artists soon took advantage of this new, cheaper form of communication. The many virtues of digital publishing are illustrated (no pun intended) by the various artworks on display. One strip, titled “My Obsession with Chess,” written and illustrated by Scott McCloud, is meant to be viewed as a single 23×4 foot strip—something that would be impossible to accomplish in traditional print comics. The portion of this strip that is on view at the MoCCA is, in fact, only a fraction of the whole. On one of the three plasma screens placed around the museum, one can see how the strip appears online. A placard accompanying this screen discusses the idea of the “infinite canvas,” and the creativity it allows comic creators to explore non-traditional layouts.
Several pieces exemplify how webcomics have allowed for greater freedom of content than might otherwise be achieved in print comics. For example, the strip “Young Bottoms in Love,” by Tim Fish, focuses on gay romance. Similarly, “Get Your War On,” a strip now syndicated in Rolling Stone magazine, by David Rees, achieved scathing political satire when it was more difficult to publish in print. Then there are strips like “Questionable Content” by Jeph Jacques and “Mom’s Cancer” by Brian Fies, both of which act as outlets for the creators’ personal issues—be they humorous or serious. Creator Jeph Jacques even updates a daily blog as well as interacts with fans of the strip on his discussion forums—a means of instantaneous contact simply not possible in print.
Other webcomic creators cite several other benefits of the digital medium. Carla McNeil, creator of the strip “Finder,” cites the freedom to pace her stories as she likes, without having to worry about deadlines as she would in print. Perhaps the most interesting innovation of webcomics is shared authorship, as employed by Andy Deck, creator of “Panel Junction.” On a continuous basis, Deck reads through story ideas suggested by fans of his strip, and then chooses the best to string together into a coherent story. This fluid communication between fans and creator was practically unheard of prior to the digital age. Another novelty is that not everyone has to be a fantastic artist to be a webcomic creator—while many of the strips on display were drawn by hand and then colored digitally, some were created entirely on the computer, such as “PhD: Piled Higher and Deeper” by Jorge Chan, who rendered his art digitally, and “Get Your War On,” which is composed of clip art. Thus the Internet, like Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein in the 1960s, brings “low art” to an elevated status.
Not all of the MoCCA is devoted to the high-tech webcomic, however. There is much for print comic and cartoon enthusiasts to enjoy here as well. The permanent collection includes original prints from various sources, including daily comic strips published in newspapers (such as an original “Dennis the Menace” strip); comic books (a photo reproduction of a page from “The Incredible Hulk” issue #3, originally published in 1962, and original “V for Vendetta” production art); and animation cels from cartoons like “Batman: the Animated Series” and “The Powerpuff Girls.” The museum also has a reading table for its patrons with books provided, and a small shop that sells comics and related paraphernalia (toys, t-shirts, posters, etc.). The next MoCCA show is titled “Things That Go Bump…,” which will focus on monsters, ghosts, and demons in comics and cartoons. It will be on display from Oct. 12 until March 17. The webcomics show will run until Jan. 14, 2008.