Last night, the Museum of Comics and Cartoon Art in New York City opened its latest exhibit, and for the first time webcomics made it into the world of culture and connoisseurs. I don’t get to too many museum exhibition openings, but I do know one thing — when the room is packed wall-to-wall and the air conditioning is insufficient to cool the air from all the people, it’s not because of the snacks or the booze. It’s because people want to see the pretty stuff on the walls. By that criterion alone, the opening of Infinite Canvas: The Art of Webcomics would have to be judged an enormous success.
The show was put together by a MoCCA volunteer/Art History & Archeology grad student (Egyptology, I believe) named Jennifer Babcock; this was her first show as curator, and it featured a wide variety of genres and implementations of webcomics. Per the show’s title, the centerpiece was a vertical-hanging, mounted-on-paper-towel-rollers print of Scott McCloud’s My Obsession With Chess; in the days before the laptop, McCloud would unfurl the full 23 foot piece at the conclusion of talks, but here the height of the gallery space limited Chess to about the first 12 feet.
Gathered around Chess were pieces from webcomics with originals displayed next to final renderings (Goats, Scary Go Round, Wigu, PhD, Penny Arcade) to all-digital creations without preliminary work (Diesel Sweeties, Get Your War On). The displayed pieces ranged in age from a nine year old Sluggy strip to the very first Something*Positive to a Questionable Content from four days ago.
Reinforcing the theme of “Infinite Canvas”, large screen LCD monitors displayed comics that spread beyond the traditional panel boundaries or existed in purely digital form: oft-referenced examples like When I Am King, Pup Ponders the Heat Death of the Universe, and Delta Thrives being joined by the likes of a particularly tall Order of the Stick. Nearby, a Narbonic strip that was drawn in four panels but assembled in a twisty, non-rectangular layout reinforced the theme.
While Babcock didn’t get contributions from all the creators that she wanted (specifically mentioning Kazu Kibuishi’s Copper), she did have more work than could fit on the walls. Those pieces that were gifted to the museum will become part of the permanent collection, she said, and will end up on display in rotation with the general collection, and as long as interest persists, she’d like to mount future webcomics shows.
She particularly mentioned a desire to explore the economic side of webcomics (how can a creator make a living by giving away the product?) and to see more female creators included in the next show (only Narbonic’s Shaenon Garrity and Finder’s Carla Speed MacNeil are to be found in Infinite Canvas). Intriguingly, Babcock would also like to include demonstrations of webcomics tools like Wacom Cintiq tablets.
Noted in attendance were Jon Rosenberg, Chris Hastings, Carly Monardo, David McGuire, Dean Haspiel, Wizard webcomic interviewer Brian Warmoth, surprise attendee (he realized he would be in New York the day before) Scott McCloud, and about a zillion other people. More photos of the event on Monday, after I have a chance to go through them.
Infinite Canvas runs until January 14, 2008. MoCCA is at 594 Broadway (just below Houston), 4th floor; admission is $5 (free for members) and the museum is open Friday through Monday, noon to 5pm.