Archie Exhibit Rewrites History; Did MoCCA Know?

Via today’s Journalista comes word that “The Art of Archie Comics” exhibit at New York’s Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art (MoCCA) continues the company history of lying about who created their characters.

Dan Nadel (who has previously curated exhibits with MoCCA, so he’s familiar with the organization inside and out) went to the exhibit and didn’t like what he saw.

There are some fine Harry Lucey pages. Gorgeous Dan DeCarlo examples. But something is missing on the walls: art credits. There are no attributions to be found except on a rather confusing handout available by request at the desk. What little information there is about the material on display is written in a kind of corporate press-release speak, filled with misinformation (or outright untruths, like the notion that John Goldwater was the sole creator of Archie) and nicely omitting (a) the notoriously shabby way the company treated its artists (artists who still don’t receive credit in the various reprints) and (b) the rather “interesting” fact that the company has retained all, or most, of its original art. To me, this is dark, sad stuff. … Was DeCarlo’s family invited to contribute to or comment on the show? Were any of the deceased artists’ families asked?

I’d say this is another “Marvel vs. Kirby”, but in this case, no one’s surprised that the Archie Comics company behaves this way. Heck, I’ve been complaining about missing and wrong credits for years. They’re more interested in protecting the brand for merchandising and licensing than treating their work as art — although maybe that’s changing with new leadership and upcoming artist-focused reprint projects. I doubt the creator claim will be corrected, though, because that would open them up to possible lawsuits over ownership and royalties.

Dirk Deppey sums up the problem:

If this is an accurate description of the exhibit, then one must note that such inexcusable behavior calls MoCCA’s very legitimacy into question. Why go to a museum if you can’t believe a g**damned thing they tell you about the art on their walls? Actual Archie creator Bob Montana must be spinning in his grave right now.

But note that the exhibit description pretty much tells you that this isn’t an independent history but a company promotion:

Welcome to Riverdale! Join the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art – MoCCA in celebrating the world of Archie Comics, one of the oldest and most beloved family-friendly brands in the comic book industry. Thrill to the exploits of Archie Andrews and his friends, Betty, Veronica, Jughead, Reggie, and the rest. And don’t be surprised if you see a cameo from Josie and the Pussycats, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and some of Archie Comics’ other supporting players.

“Most beloved family-friendly brand”? “Welcome to a fictional city”? This is the language of PR, not art study. Nadel elaborates on the problem and the museum’s lack of response:

Obviously the Archie show is not intended as history in any intellectually serious way, but it’s hosted and organized by MoCCA, which is, in fact, the only “museum” of comics on the East Coast. I happily curated a show at MoCCA and support its mission in the abstract. The medium needs institutional support. But it needs to be serious support. This startling lack of scholarship and disregard for the moral rights of artists was, I imagine and hope, unconscious and not malicious — I doubt anyone at MoCCA even knew about or researched the situation. But that’s not much of an excuse.

I wrote to MoCCA with questions about all of the above issue, but aside from an invitation to come to the museum and chat, which I couldn’t fit into my schedule, I wasn’t able to get a response via email or phone.

I hope, at least, the company sponsorship is disclosed at the exhibit itself. This kind of “independent” validation helps Archie Comics in its increasing attempts to make its characters and brands relevant and marketable. It also calls into question the museum’s commitment to true art scholarship in the lack of identification and attribution, so I hope what they got in return was a suitable reward for lending their stamp of significance to the company’s efforts.

16 Responses to “Archie Exhibit Rewrites History; Did MoCCA Know?”

  1. John Mundt, Esq. Says:

    Ugh. Very disappointing. Again, it seems like the biggest obstacle in the path of comics being accepted and studied as “Art” is the comics industry itself. The mere fact that comic books, for whatever else they became, were first products produced for businesses – and a sometimes less than model businesses at that – has tainted the entire medium for any serious overall artistic consideration. I had an Art teacher who said that comics, even those made purely as self-expression, will never be more than “High Craft.” Her argument was that any such artwork, for which the very nature of who actually “created” it was subjective, could never be on a par with the “classics.” After reading this article, I’m starting to think that she was on to something there. Sigh.

  2. Johanna Says:

    Some of the greatest art in the world was produced for those funding it, whether patrons or businesses, so I don’t have a problem with that. But wouldn’t it be weird to see the credit “Sistine Chapel ceiling by Pope Whichever” instead of Michelangelo?

  3. Sarah C. Says:

    It’s unfortunate that many museums are facing severe budget cuts right now and do have to rely on donors or sponsors in order to be able to continue operating. It’s very tricky dealing with sponsors because it’s very easy for a sponsored exhibit to end up looking like a conflict of interest or, in this case, calling the museum’s credibility into question.

    The article says that the exhibit was organized and hosted by MoCCA, but I have to wonder how much corporate meddling was involved. I wonder if MoCCA actually had little to do with the exhibit other than being a place to display it. It almost sounds like the exhibit was really organized by the company and then just handed over to MoCCA, so I wonder if that’s why the artwork went unattributed. It’s a slippery slope for the museum. Do they just take the show with uncredited art and (hopefully) receive some sort of donation in return? Or, assuming that the museum staff recognized the lack of attribution, do they dispute this and risk the company walking away with the exhibit and, thus, funding? Either way it sounds like the museum loses.

  4. Prankster Says:

    When Alan Moore has calls out the American comics industry for its “gangster mentality”, this is the kind of thing he’s talking about. Sadly, the whole comics biz was founded by shysters and profiteers…and literal gangsters, in the case of Charleston…and stayed that way for far too many years. It’s kind of ingrained. Say what you will about DC and Marvel, but they at least grew out of (or were dragged, kicking and screaming, away from) the “artist as faceless hack” mentality. Which isn’t to say it doesn’t linger, but Archie, which hasn’t really altered its business model for decades, is the real relic of the bad old days.

    At least fanboys aren’t going to enable this behaviour. They only care about superheroes.

  5. Johanna Says:

    Archie has done the occasional “creator name” push over the past few years, as when they were promoting diversity or promoting new character designs. But yeah, they’re all about the properties.

  6. Ellen Abramowitz Says:

    The Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art believes strongly in creators’ rights, particularly the right of artists to be credited for their work. Due to a logistical snafu we regret, when THE ART OF ARCHIE opened the wall cards had not been completed. Instead, we presented visitors with handouts that provided, among other information, the name of each piece and named the artist(s) who created it. Fortunately, a few weeks after the opening the cards identifying each piece and each artist arrived and went up on the walls, and the use of handouts was discontinued.

    We invited Mr. Nadel to come to discuss his issues with the show with us in the gallery, in part so he could see for himself that this was true, but as he said in his blog post, his schedule seems to have prevented him from attending such a meeting.

    It’s our policy as a museum to give proper credit to every piece of art on our walls. We regret the wall cards not being finished closer to the actual opening of the show, and resorting to the necessity of handouts, but they are up there now and will have been there for the majority of the time the show was open to the public.
    We thank the comics community for their understanding and continued support.

  7. Johanna Says:

    Thank you very much for clarifying that.

  8. MoCCA Rep Responds to Archie Comic Exhibit Criticism » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] a comment posted to my post about the question of artist credits at the MoCCA Archie Comics exhibit, Ellen Abramowitz, a member of the MoCCA Board of Trustees and one of the exhibit creators, […]

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  10. archie bunker Says:

    Read Ms. Abromowitz’s note. The credits were handed out the day the show opened. What difference does it make if they were on handouts or on the wall? Many museums use handouts.

    It seems Nadel did not do his research and never took the time to re-visit the sho to see for himself. I guess he is too busy selling books.

    There are other motives here I believe for Nadel. Everyone should be aware of that.

  11. Johanna Says:

    The difference between a handout and wall credits is that the latter is immediately obvious to the viewer, while the former has to be sought out.

    And attacking Mr. Nadel for bringing the problem to public view, a problem that the museum has apologized for, is tacky and irrelevant. Especially from someone unwilling to sign their real name.

  12. archie bunker Says:

    Hi Johanna,
    Actually – my real name is Archibald – but my last name is not Bunker.

    I am not sure that I saw the full release from MoCCA, but I did not get the impression they apologized – I thought they explained the situation and said they believe fully in attributions.

    Your comment about distinguishing between handouts and wall credits is exactly the problem I am referring to. Frankly – you have no right to demand wall credits. Any institution has the right to display art, and information, anyway they deem fit. what you are suggesting is something similar to complaining that you didnt like the arrangement of the work and they should have been exhibited in a different order. Many museums DO NOT put up labels – but provide the information on other ways. It is a question of aesthetics. There was a similar comment somewhere from someone named Beauregard that said a similar thing.

    You are focused on the hole and not the donut. Your opinion is your opinion – but it is not deemed correct by everyone. Different strokes …….

    Mr. Nadel is a childish fool who seems to only know how to criticize MoCCA, and anyone else that is not part of his vision of the world. I still believe the Mazz show was great – but his writings werent so good. I heard he had to beg MoCCA to curate that show, which is why he is now on their case. And his Brooklyn show might as well have been held in a 2-car garage from what I could tell – yet he has told everyone he has done a better job than MoCCA ! Who is he kidding?? Nadel is only out for his own glory – which to him is the same as a glory hole. Anyone who is simply not his friend can read him like an open comic.

  13. Johanna Says:

    An organization saying twice “we regret” is as close to an apology as businesses come these days.

    I think clear credits is a basic must in displaying art. You disagree? Fine. As you said, “your opinion … is not deemed correct by everyone.”

    And your continuing attacks on Mr. Nadel — whom I’ve never met, as far as I know, so I wouldn’t presume to call him friend — reflect more on you than him.

  14. archie bunker Says:

    I read the statement from the Museum above — I do not interpret that line with the word regret – as an apology. It’s like saying —- It is unfortunate that the wall cards were not available when the show opened.

    And for the record – we disagree on the importance of the wall cards. Again – the issue here is on the form of attribution – not whether the attributions were given. Nadel seems to accuse the museum that they do not care about attributions. He is focused on the wrong thing – and that accusation it seems is misguide s it is wrong.

    [Insults to Nadel deleted]

    and by the way – I appreciate the fact that you do NOT censor your comments.

  15. Johanna Says:

    I’m sorry to disappoint you. I do remove (or in your case, edit) comments that are disrespectful to other people. People can say what they want all over the internet — I require a certain level of civility here on my site.

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