Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

Home > Letters to CR

Kim Munson On The Cultural Memory For Specific Comics And Cartoonists
posted March 27, 2011

imageHi Tom:

About your comment that "It could be that at some point in the next 40 or so years that there are only a few big names that occasion any interest at all in 20th Century comics art."

It's my entirely personal opinion that it depends on who you are talking to/about. I think there's a lot more awareness of comics art, particularly among people of the younger generations who are really visually oriented and might not have grown up with the old idea that "comics are bad/for kids." Digital comics open up other paths. People who are already interested in comics have access to stuff they could never get before and are discovering all kinds of stuff old & new.

On the other hand, I think that in the museum exhibition field, this has already happened. I've been working with Denis Kitchen and Jim Danky to develop comics-themed museum exhibitions & other projects, particularly one based on their "Underground Classics" book, which is actually an exhibition catalog (plus we've developed shows focusing on Kurtzman, Eisner & Capp). In the Underground show, we have Crumb, we have Spiegelman, along with 50 other artists well-known and obscure. It's been tough. Even here in the SF bay area, where the underground movement happened and people are interested in the story, the museums are really only interested in Crumb. "Crumb's Underground" toured successfully, and the "Genesis" show is touring successfully. Once a museum has done Crumb, they say they've "done comics," and discussion goes nowhere.

It's really hard to convince them that there are artists other than Crumb that are worth a chance, other than Spiegelman and maybe Ware. Pop culture & comics shows always seem to be popular with the public, yet the museums are still convinced that doing a comics show is a really daring once a decade thing (if ever). Maybe it's a valuation question; the "marquee" artists are the only ones that have had gallery sales large enough to get institutional attention. As an art historian, I've been researching exhibitions, and I could go on for pages about this (but I won't).

Not that museums are the only opinion that matters, but they do set trends that trickle down through the art market, and gradually enter public awareness. Over time, will the range be wide or narrow? It's an interesting question you pose.

Kim Munson Updates: A couple additions. There are some artists with a foot in both the "fine" art and comics worlds that successfully cross-over, like Gary Panter. Also, I'm specifically talking about large mainstream art museums, not institutions that focus on comics & cartoon art, who show a wide range of material.