Comic Art

The “comics” or “funnies” can offer us a daily bit of humor and entertainment in the face of our otherwise regulated and monotonous existence. A comic artist’s success at creating laughter is a feat in itself. An artist who also inspires a resonating message should be celebrated as rarity.

The variety of comic strip themes and genres respond to different and individual interests. They offer opportunities for jokes, extended soap opera series, self-contained messages, political humor, different realities, and educational tidbits of history and historical fact. Most also offer some form of implicit or explicit commentary on real life. All comics help us understand the thinking of at least one person in a particular era, and help us piece together underlying personal and national, political and societal perceptions and leanings.

American cartoonists, whose works were originally seen primarily in the newspapers beginning at the turn of the 20th century, emulated and expanded upon a mostly European comic art tradition, including the art of the caricature. By the 1920s two American innovations had greatly expanded the readership of the newspaper comic: the use of the paper mache printing matrix, made from photomechanical reproductions of the artists’ original art (this enabled the quick and inexpensive national and international transport of text and imagery for a newspaper page), and the syndication of comic art, that is, the business of selling and internationally distributing an artists’ work.

A mid-20th century look at a golden age of comics offers a broad spectrum of the points of view of that era which included dramatic change. The artists whose works played a distinctive part in this time have left us their representations of it which we hope, now after fifty years, will allow us a deeper understanding of their message.

Additionally, the use of comic imagery in different media, in the comic book, in television, and in film has offered a look at variations of the same comic themes, and has offered other lenses through which can decipher the same subject and message.

The Museum’s Graphic Arts Collection houses some nine hundred original and reproductive comic art drawings representing over 375 artists and some four hundred titles including Buck Rogers, Dick Tracy, Peanuts, Wonder Woman, and many others. The collection contains works from as early as the 1910s and as recently as 2000. The comic formats include “gag-a-days,” soap operas, and science fiction and adventure tales.

The following collection group features examples of original drawings prepared by a variety of artists. The camera-ready pen and ink strips and panels were prepared by original artists for daily and Sunday American, and in some cases, internationally published newspapers.