Cartoon Museum Growing By the Bay

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By: Dave Astor

The Cartoon Art Museum, which recently opened a pair of exhibits focusing on controversial comics and women cartoonists, has doubled its annual attendance to about 40,000 since moving within San Francisco 14 months ago.

Its new locale, at 655 Mission St. in the arts-oriented Yerba Buena Gardens area, isn’t far from the previous space. But the museum is now in a first-floor storefront rather than on a second floor, and is thus much more visible and accessible to the public, said Summerleigh Kashar, administrator and assistant director. And it has grown from 2,400 to 3,500 square feet.

Kashar did note that today’s economy makes it tough to get enough grant money. But the museum has made do with the grants it does get — along with donations, admission income, and merchandise sales.

The 19-year-old museum (http://www.cartoonart.org) is surviving at a time when the much bigger International Museum of Cartoon Art has closed in Boca Raton, Fla. — though it may reopen, possibly in New York. One survival reason: It operates with a lean staff of about a half-dozen paid employees, supplemented by volunteers. Another: San Francisco has a larger population and draws more tourists than Boca.

The museum has a collection of about 6,000 originals, and it of course also borrows cartoons for specific exhibits.

Both current shows — “Hate Mail: Comic Strip Controversies” and “She Draws Comics: Great Women Cartoonists” — began late last month and run until June 8.

“Hate Mail” features comics such as “The Boondocks” by Aaron McGruder, “Doonesbury” by Garry Trudeau, and “Non Sequitur” by Wiley Miller of Universal Press Syndicate; “For Better or For Worse” by Lynn Johnston and “Dilbert” by Scott Adams of United Media; “Liberty Meadows” by Frank Cho of Creators Syndicate; and the now-defunct “Bloom County” and “Outland” by Berkeley Breathed of the Washington Post Writers Group.

Included is everything from Johnston’s introduction of a gay character in 1993 to McGruder’s pointed post-9/11 commentary about hyperpatriotism in the U.S. It was the latter set of strips that inspired museum Executive Director Rod Gilchrist to come up with the idea for the show.

“Is there a different standard for the comics page than the rest of the newspaper?” asked Jenny Robb Dietzen, curator and assistant director of the museum, citing one issue the exhibit addresses. She said the perception of many people is that newspaper comics are for kids, but they have always had a large adult audience.

“She Draws” — curated by comic creator/historian Trina Robbins and previously in Europe for two years — features the work of Johnston, “Cathy” creator Cathy Guisewite of Universal, “Brenda Starr” creator Dale Messick of what’s now Tribune Media Services, contributors to King Features Syndicate’s “Six Chix,” and other current and past female artists in a mostly male profession.

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Et cetera …

Jim Berry is ending “Berry’s World” Feb. 28 after 40 years of syndication with Newspaper Enterprise Association, which is offering a retrospective of his cartoons this month. …

Prior to launching the National Geographic Map Service, the New York Times Syndicate is offering a special package of five maps tied to the possible war with Iraq. NYTS also recently introduced the National Geographic News Service, which offers three stories a week with art. …

In a newspaper ad paying tribute to Bill Mauldin, DaimlerChrysler changed Mauldin’s famous World War II cartoon of a soldier shooting his Jeep. Instead, the soldier reaches for a box of tissues — apparently to wipe his tears after hearing Mauldin died. George Mannes, senior writer for TheStreet.com, criticized the change, saying it “completely glossed over the dark humor that was an essential part of [Mauldin’s] appeal.” But a DaimlerChrysler spokesman said the ad was a “clever way to pay our respects.”




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