- Posted by Johanna on January 8, 2010 at 4:47 pm
- Category: Archie Comics
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.