Masters of American Comics at The Jewish Museum
It feels a little gimmicky, like a ploy to lure families to the museum, maybe... especially since they seem to have chosen Superman as their primary promotional image. And there are definitely some unfortunate things about the Masters of American Comics exhibit—for one, Art Spiegelman bailed at the last minute because of space constraints, and they replaced him with a bland "heroes and villians" retrospective... hence the Superman promo; for two, half the show is in Newark. Now, it's unlikely Scoboco will be traveling across the Hudson for part two anytime soon, but there was enough unique, thoughtfully-presented art here at the Jewish Museum to have kept us happy and engaged for a little while on a chilly Sunday afternoon.
Even with Spiegelman gone, the line-up remains pretty stellar: Will Eisner (of The Spirit fame), Jack Kirby (Marvel books like The Fantastic Four, Thor and Captain America), Harvey Kurtzman (co-founder of Mad magazine), underground comix legend R. Crumb, punk comix legend Gary Panter, and Chris Ware, perhaps best know for his quiet Jimmy Corrigan book. Each artist's section is filled with printed pieces, original paintings, layout sketches, color tests, doodlings, pencil drawings and thoughtful commentary from... from whomever usually writes such notes at museum shows.
Highlights for us included the Kirby stuff (I was a huge Marvel collector from around 4th through 7th grade, and I always wondered why all of Kirby's characters looked so squatty, and how he fit so much more action into his panels than anyone else... the technical answer was revealed, all these years later, in the notes here: foreshortened perspective!); a couple of spreads of Kurtzman's Little Annie Fannie shown in four stages—from roughs through to color, to lettering, to final art—that really showed Bo and Co the creative process; some brilliant pencil work by Crumb (by the way, if you're at all a fan, and you haven't seen Terry Zwigoff's fascinating, hilarious documentary on this guy... well, I'm not sure what you're waiting for); and Panter's anxious, funny re-imaginings of the medium.
As I said, it's a small exhibit, so you have to decide whether 30 minutes of looking at comic art is worth the $10 admission. It was worth it for me, though I definitely regret not waiting until the "Alex Katz Paints Ada" show had opened upstairs. The Jewish Museum is on 92nd Street and 5th Avenue; the Comics show will be there until January 28.