Feature

Masters of American Comics

Comics, finally gaining recognition as a true art, but still largely a man’s world.

It's a long way from the funny pages to a museum's walls, said John Zeaman in the Bergen County, N.J., Record. 'œThe comics, like jazz, have a special place in American culture,' but only recently have been acclaimed as art. Masters of American Comics, a show so big it takes up two museums, celebrates 14 of its most important practitioners. The Newark Museum's eye-opening exhibition traces the medium's birth in early 20th-century newspapers. Winsor McCay's Little Nemo in Slumberland 'œrevolutionized comics,' dedicating an entire page to its hero's dreams, as he flew across America by airship or rode his bed through city streets. George Herriman's Krazy Kat, 'œthe first comic to be appreciated by intellectuals,' followed the surreal adventures of the eponymous feline and moody mouse Ignatz for more than 30 years. 'œLike film's D.W. Griffith or jazz's Louis Armstrong,' these men were true artistic pioneers.

But first and foremost they were men, said Ariella Budick in Newsday. No female artists made the curators' cut, which isn't surprising. 'œNo other art form in recent history has been so exclusionary, so limited to the concerns of one sex.' The Jewish Museum displays postwar comic-book art created exclusively for young men. Superheroes like Jack Kirby's Captain America appealed to war-like fantasies, while Harvey Kurtzman's Mad magazine tapped into harmless rebellion. But the late-1960s comics of R. Crumb, 'œa notorious misogynist,' brought to the surface pervasive themes of female degradation, and today's critical favorite, Chris Ware, seems similarly resentful toward women. 'œIt's not that women can't appreciate comic art.' But you can't help feeling that, had these artists made their art more universal, they might have achieved acclaim much sooner.

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