In the world of
Does It All Mean?
-by Barry Wolborsky
The International Museum
of Cartoon Art
Cartoon art has been a part of daily life for over a hundred years, appearing in newspapers, magazines and comic books. By utilizing the powerful combination of images and words, cartooning continues to be the most versatile of art forms. Cartoons have covered the gamut of genres, from action-adventure to humor to political commentary and everything in between. They are able to touch our lives in a very personal and profound way, by causing us to laugh, think and better understand the world around us.
Cartoons have also had a huge impact on popular culture. Characters such as Charlie Brown, Superman, Popeye, and Little Orphan Annie have moved beyond the printed page into radio, television, theatre and movies. In the process they have become an integral part of the general consciousness.
and needing a space to house his ever-expanding collection of rare
cartoon art, Mort Walker, creator of the Beetle Bailey newspaper strip,
founded the original Museum of Cartoon Art. Containing a
collection of more than 25,000 original works of art, the Museum opened
its doors to the public in August of 1974. Quickly outgrowing it’s
space, the Museum relocated to an historic castle in Rye Brook, New York
in 1977. In 1993, it was renamed The International Museum of Cartoon
Art and again relocated, this time to Boca Raton, Florida, where it
remains to this day. A continuing work in progress, the Museum has
expanded to contain over 160,000 works on paper, 10,000 books, 1,000
hours of animated film and numerous collectibles and memorabilia. The
genres range from comic strips to comic books, editorial and advertising
cartoons, graphic novels, greeting cards, panel cartoons and sculpture.
Among the members
of the Board of Trustees are such notable cartoonists as Walker, Jim
Davis (Garfield), Jerry Robinson (Batman), and Will Eisner (The Spirit).
Eisner, who lives in the area, is known for stopping by the museum every
now and then.
We’ve looked at
why a museum devoted to cartoon art needs to exist, as well as a brief
overview of it’s history. Now let’s take a look at what the
experience is like as a visitor.
Upon first arrival,
one of the helpful Museum volunteers greets you with a program and a
brief explanation of the museum. The current main exhibit is The
Legacy of Mort Walker: 50 Years of Beetle Bailey, on display until
March 25, 2001. As photography is prohibited in the main part of the
museum, there is a genuine U.S. Army jeep on the left-hand side of the
exhibit entranceway that you may have a picture taken with. Another
picture-taking opportunity is on the right-hand side of the exhibit
entrance, a giant Beetle Bailey strip in which you and a companion can
insert your heads into a panel and a be part of the action.
The Beetle Bailey
exhibit begins with a chronological history of the strip, which includes
rare original art as well as early prototypes and sketches. It moves on
to the development of Beetle and it’s characters over the years, as
well as its ensuing success. There are several reproductions of the
strip with sections devoted to the different subject matter and
characters that it has focused on throughout its long history. Towards
the rear of the exhibit is biographical information on Walker and his
long and varied career. The centerpiece of the exhibit is a giant
birthday cake, with a giant replica of Beetle himself popping out of its
center. Throughout the exhibit are small kiosks showing samples of
Beetle Bailey cartoons, which can also be seen in the Museum theatre
along with interviews with Walker himself.
Moving on to the
permanent exhibits, there are quite a few attractions worth seeing.
Among them are the Knight Editorial Cartoon Gallery, the Charles
M. Schulz Comic Strip Gallery, the Gag Cartoon Gallery, and
my personal favorite, the Comic Book Gallery. Contained within
the latter are several pages of original art by cartoonists such as Jack
Kirby (The Fantastic Four), Neal Adams (Green Lantern/Green Arrow), Dave
Gibbons (Watchmen), George Perez (Self-portrait with DC/Marvel
superheroes, circa 1985), Curt Swan (Superman), Art Spiegelman (Maus)
and Gil Kane inked by John Romita Sr. (The Amazing Spider-Man), among
Quite possibly the
most humbling and awe-inspiring of all the museum’s exhibits is the Hearst
Cartoon Hall of Fame. Containing works by the greatest talents in
the field of cartooning and animation, it includes creators such as
Charles Schulz (Peanuts), Walt Disney (Mickey Mouse), Winsor McCay
(Little Nemo in Slumberland), Alex Raymond (Flash Gordon), and Will
Eisner (The Spirit).
There is also a small but
growing section devoted to animation art from Warner Bros., Disney and
other studios. The highlight of this collection is the complete 1927
storyboard by Disney animator Ubbe Iwerks for “Plane Crazy”, the
first Mickey Mouse cartoon ever produced. These are some of the earliest
images of Mickey Mouse and an extremely important piece of animation
For visitors who
wish to learn the art of cartooning, there is the Create-A-Toon
Center, which contains computers and drawing tables, in addition to
drawing and animation classes, lectures and workshops. For aspiring
cartoonists who wish to take it a step further, there are programs such
as the Cartoon Camp, the Cartoon University and
the Masters of Cartooning lecture series, featuring some of the
most well known and respected cartoonists and animators in the field.
The museum also
offers several non-cartoon related events like Jazz concerts and
community outreach programs. Among these are outreach reading programs
such as Peanuts Reads, M.I. Glad to Read and the Garfield
Reads! Learning and Literacy Program.
If you’d like to
take a break from browsing the exhibits, you can enjoy the warm Florida
weather in the Sculpture Garden towards the back of the Museum.
On your way out of the IMCA, you’ll pass through The Museum
Store to pick up a souvenir or two. With items such as t-shirts,
posters, sculptures, books, toys, comic books, graphic novels and pieces
of cartoon art, you’ll want to buy one of everything. However,
you’ll have to save a few dollars to grab a quick bite to eat at the Museum
Café, complete with outdoor seating and a tasty, inexpensive menu.
No review can
really do the International Museum of Cartoon Art justice, so I
highly recommend that you take the time to stop by if you happen to be
in the South Florida area. Regardless of whether or not you’re a fan
of cartoon art, comic books or animation, I guarantee that it will be
one of the most informative and fun museums you’ll ever have the
opportunity to visit.
For a sampling of
what the museum has to offer, they have an extensive website located at http://www.cartoon.org.
It contains a gallery of several of the artists featured in the Museum,
a list of the cartoonists in the Hall of Fame, an online store,
and advice for aspiring cartoonists. Also available is a history and
overview of the IMCA, exhibition and event schedules, as well as
membership and contact information.
If you have visited the International Museum of Cartoon Art or plan on doing so, please let me know by posting on our message boards at http://www.grayhavenmagazine.com or e-mailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org