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Friday, September 22, 2006 

NY Jewish Museum's presents Masters of American comics

The Jewish Museum of New York City has a new exhibition of comic book art from masters like Jack Kirby and so on, so large in fact that the other halves are going to be exhibited in states like New Jersey and California.
THE Jewish Museum's new show of comic book art is only half an exhibition - the other half being at the Newark Museum (in New Jersey) - and, even including the Newark half, it amounts to a truncated version of a much bigger show that began in Los Angeles. And yet it is eminently worth viewing for the light it sheds on the most American of art forms.

Best of all, it gives us the chance to see the often unvarnished sketches for works that were destined to be reproduced in the millions, only to end their lives as insulation, refuse and fish wrappers. Finally to see their hand-drawn originals, with all those wobbly lines and preliminary pencil markings, is by itself worth the price of admission.

Some of the artists included in the Jewish Museum's exhibition, devoted to comics from 1950 to the present, are Jack Kirby, creator of Captain America and the Fantastic Four; R. Crumb, virtually the inventor of underground comics, and Chris Ware, one generation younger, who has largely inherited his countercultural crown.

This exhibition traces the development of the art form from the un-ironic, postwar muscularity and all-American heroism from men like Will Eisner and Harvey Kurtzman, through the sly subversions of Crumb, to the post-modern coolness of the most recent generation.

But as fine as some of these works are - especially those of Crumb and Ware - no artist of the last half century has surpassed, and few have ever equaled, the sheer brilliance and the mercurial wit of the very earliest practitioners of the art.

True, Crumb is a first-rate draftsman, and Ware has an incomparable sense of placement upon the page. But even they cannot hold a candle to the turn-of-the-century works of Winsor McCay (on display at Newark), creator of Little Nemo and Dreams of a Rarebit Fiend. Through his endless inventiveness and transcendant color sense, we seem to sail into a parallel universe whose enchanting loveliness, for all its delicacy, is indestructible.
Here's the New Jersey Jewish News' own article on the exhibition in NJ, which'll be held at the Newark Museum.

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