Showing posts with label Library of Congress. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Library of Congress. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Sara Duke discusses Steve Geppi's Museum donation to the Library of Congress


By Mike Rhode

Shortly after the announcement that Steve Geppi of Baltimore would be closing his Geppi’s Entertainment Museum in Baltimore and donating its holdings to the Library of Congress, I reached out to Library of Congress graphic arts curator Sara Duke (a personal friend of mine) for her thoughts on the donation.

MR: Whose idea was this donation? Did it come from the top down?

SD: My understanding is that Dr. Hayden and Steve Geppi have been long-term friends going back to her days at the Enoch Pratt library. The directive from inside the Library came from her, but the staff in the Prints and Photographs and Serials divisions were enthusiastic about the opportunity.

MR: Do you know what the offer consisted of originally? Was it the entire contents of the Geppi’s Entertainment Museum (GEM)?

SD: Yes, we were told that we could have whatever we wanted from the museum. We don’t collect many three-dimensional objects, even though we’re in the process of building three more storage modules at Fort Meade to store our book collection, but even with that we don’t have sufficient space to store objects properly. So the decision was made to be very selective about 3-D works of art, but to be inclusive of works of arts on paper, photographs, newsprint, comic books, Big Little Books, sheet music and even some recorded sound.


MR: How was material selected? Did each department in the Library handle its own specialty?

SD: Teams of people from the Prints & Photograph and Serials divisions went to Baltimore. We were provided with a spreadsheet from the Museum, probably created by an appraiser, and from the inventory list, we worked room by room deciding what was wanted, what was actually on the walls or in the cases but not on the inventory list, and trying to ascertain what would come to the Library. It took several trips to do that as you would imagine. We sat down as a team and we reached out to colleagues in other divisions about what they would and would not take. We created a list of desiderata to give to Mr. Geppi’s representatives.

MR: Was material that was not on display included as well?

SD: No.

MR: Where is some of the non-art or serial material such as the Big Little Books going?

SD: They’ll go to Rare Books. They already have a collection.
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MR: Are they taking all of them or cherry picking?

SD: I believe they’re cherry picking so they don’t create a duplicate set. But the Serials division decided they would be inclusive and make the Geppi comic book set the exhibit-only set, while the existing comics in the Library would be the reference collection that researchers could handle. It’s been a research collection, and people have been looking at them… it’s a double-edged sword. If we never let anybody look at them, they’d be pristine, but we’re a research institution and people are supposed to look at and handle things.
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MR: I’ve seen some lists of the donation in various press releases. What are the highlights for you or your department?


SD: There are memorable pieces like the nine-sheet Bambi poster. We have a few nine-sheet posters in our collection, some attached and some detached, but that’s in spectacular condition. I know we have the display space for it at the Library of Congress, but it’s never going to look like it did in Geppi’s Entertainment Museum. That makes me sad. It was an over-the-top lovely gem (pun intended) of a museum. What stood out to me beside that? There’s some great comic strip drawings, an overwhelming number of posters -- some of which may be duplicates of what we have, but without taking a photograph of every one on the wall and comparing them against our collection, we just don’t know, and we didn’t have time to do that. So we’re taking every single poster that was on the wall.

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And just because something wasn’t on the walls doesn’t mean it’s gone from the collection. Michael, the curator there, said he was forever moving art in and out. Between the times we went out during a snowstorm in March and then again in April, he had rotated things from the warehouse and the Museum.

MR: What does that mean for you guys? If you get to pick from the Museum, does that include the warehouse too?

SD: That has not yet been offered to us.

MR: When did this start? Obviously it would be a complex negotiation.

SD: Late last year, or very early this year. Mr. Geppi came to visit the Library two or three times last year. One time he saw the original art for Amazing Fantasy #15 (aka the first appearance of Spider-Man – MR). He came back down for a private conversation with Dr. Hayden and then we started talking about going up to Baltimore to figure out what it would mean as an institution to absorb his collection. For a lot of institutions, absorbing 3,300 items would be overwhelming but for us it’s routine.

MR: The material is going to be divided by divisions when stored in the Library?

SD: Right. There’s some pressed records that are quite rare that are going to Recorded Sound. There are some videogame sets that the Motion Pictures Division has expressed interest in. The Rare Book Division is in charge of the Big Little Books and maybe some of the early bound volumes. Prints & Photograph and Serials are the benefactors, overwhelmingly.

MR: Will there be a Geppi Collection, or is the material being integrated into existing material? Is there going to be an organizing principle so someone could rebuild the collection?

SD: That will depend, division by division. We’ll be sitting down to hammer out a plan, but Prints & Photographs will record the provenance to the nth degree and it will be known as the Stephen A. Geppi Collection of Comics and Graphic Arts.

MR: Is he giving you any money to catalog the material?

SD: No.

MR: Do you have any more personal favorites besides Bambi?

SD: It’s a sweet poster, but there’s some spectacular early Yellow Kid material, there’s some really great trading cards, some patches minor league baseball teams and a poster marketing them… What’s really intriguing in the ability with this acquisition to tell a story that you would think we could tell through copyright deposits, but cannot. Some of it is so ephemeral that I don’t think people thought to copyright it and some of it, more recent material, hasn’t been required to be deposited for copyright so we just didn’t acquire it. As an institution that has been so dependent on copyright deposit for its growth, until 1978 when the rules about what was required to be deposited changed, it’s really refreshing to have a popular culture collection come into the institution. It resets that type of collection and gives us what we’re lacking.

MR: I’ve heard that the Copyright department doesn’t necessarily keep a lot of what comes in…

SD: The majority of material sent in is reproductions, so if it’s not up to a standard that we consider acceptable, such as color photocopies, we are selective about what we acquire for the permanent collections. We want as original and as best an edition as we can possibly have. The changes in copyright law meant that people have copyright protection from the moment of creation so they no longer have to pay a fee to protect their interest and copyright, so we just don’t get the volume that we got 100 years ago.

MR: Did you take the Yellow Kid buttons?

SD: We’re intending to. We’re also getting the Mickey Mouse animation drawings for Plane Crazy, so sitting next to the ‘birth certificate’ for Spider-Man will now be the ‘birth certificate’ for Mickey Mouse and that’s a pretty enormous acquisition for the Library.

MR: The ones he donated to Mort Walker’s museum and then had to buy back when they auctioned them off to keep their doors open?

SD: It’s sad [when you consider] the number of cartoon museums that have closed in the last twenty years. Art Wood’s to Mort Walker’s to the Toonseum in Pittsburgh, and now Geppi. It’s a hard economy for something that’s so popular with America. It’s interesting that George Lucas is now opening an entertainment museum in California, but it seems like it’s a hard sell. Why is that? Is it that people of a certain income are willing to patronize fine art, but are not willing to patronize cartoon art? Is it just not enough of a draw to make people go back again and again? I certainly went to the Geppi Museum several times, and my son always had it on his required activity list for Baltimore. But apparently it wasn’t on enough people’s required activity list unfortunately. So who has benefited? It’s been larger repositories. 
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MR: My suspicion is that most mid-size cities have a comprehensive art museum, such as Indianapolis or Omaha, that covers 1000 years of art history without anyone thinking twice about it, but a standalone specialty museum probably always have more trouble than any other type. You can have a science, or natural history, or art museum and people can find enough different things to keep coming back for. When it’s a specialized museum that doesn’t change, or not as often, it probably affects attendance.

SD: For small museums, with small staffs, I think it’s hard to build programming to get people in the door consistently. And for all museums, they’ll never make more than 15% of their revenue in admission fees. They’re dependent on grants, memberships, special events, things like that.

MR: What else should I have asked about?

SD: What I try to make clear to everybody, is that while the Library is honored to have this collection, we are very saddened by the circumstances that led it to coming here. They did the right thing. The museum code of ethics says you don’t sell your collection, but you donate it to another institution. It’s a magnanimous gift. It really is. Quite frankly, it blows my socks off. We could never afford to buy or build this collection. People think the Library of Congress has bottomless pockets, but we don’t. We can’t afford to compete at auction for comic books and cartoon art and posters. We can buy selectively, but very few items come to us each year by purchase compared to what we get from gifts. This gift is amazing.

I think we can do it justice. There will be people that will resent that we can’t recreate GEM in its entirety and we can’t, but anybody with a reader’s card is welcome to come in and make use of the collection.

MR: There’s always going to be a difference between a museum, a library, and an archive, and no museum can put everything on display anyway.

SD: Right, and our exhibit space represents the wealth of the Library’s collections, so the graphic arts display is always going to be much smaller than GEM’s footprint. We will start exhibiting selections later this summer and we have every intention of creating a space in which comics and other works from the collection are featured prominently. It’s going to be very difficult to get it down to the Library. The Bambi and Ten Commandments posters are 90 x 90 inches. Finding physical room to store it and make it accessible to researchers is going to be challenging to say the least, but it’s a labor of love.

There were about 125 pieces of ‘original art’ – hand-drawn comic strips and animation cels – but we consider the posters and ephemera to be original art, so what’s coming to Prints & Photographs is probably equal to the number of comic books. It might not be equal in monetary value, and people would argue if it’s equal in historical value, but I make a case that it is. Monetary value aside, original art, posters and ephemera are equally important in understanding American popular culture. It’s a very, very generous gift and not one that we could replicate any other way.

Monday, June 18, 2018

June 21: Library of Congress Swann Fellow's Lecture on U.S.-Mexican War "Villains to be Vanquished"

Art historian and current Swann Fellow Erika Pazian will discuss her research on imagery of the U.S. – Mexican War, --specifically how each side portrayed the other.

Her talk "Villains to be Vanquished: Envisioning the Enemy in the U.S. Mexican War, 1846-1848," will be at noon, June 21, in the West Dining Room, 6th floor, Madison Building, Library of Congress.



Sunday, June 03, 2018

Arnold Blumberg, Geppi's Entertainment Museum's first curator, remembers the museum


by Mike Rhode

Geppi's Entertainment Museum (GEM) in Baltimore closed for good earlier today. It was one of my favorite museums with an overwhelming amount of fantastic material on comics and cartoons and I'm sorry to see it go. The only positive thing is that Steve Geppi is donating a lot of the Museum (3,300 items I'm told) to the Library of Congress in the coming weeks.

I've reached out to a few people to get their thoughts on the Museum. Dr. Arnold Blumberg was the first curator of the museum, and was very generous with his time over the years. As he has been this weekend, when he answered a few questions about the museum and his role in it.

I was proud to be Curator and part of the team that developed a one-of-a-kind display of 230 years of pop culture history, shedding light on the many ways we defined ourselves through the decades as a nation and as people. I think it's wonderful that so many media artifacts will now be available for public view. The collection will surely provide opportunities for future historians to examine the ways entertainment shaped and reflected the American experience

When were you curator?

I was Curator beginning in the summer of 2005, hand-picked by John Snyder, and worked on building the museum with the rest of the team for that next year until our opening on Sept. 2006. John was President of Geppi's Entertainment Museum when we started, and had already been running Diamond International Galleries before that and also Gemstone Publishing, which is where I was working as Editor when he tapped me to move over to the museum. I left in October 2010.

What did the work entail?

I was charged with being the intellectual custodian of the history behind all those amazing artifacts, coordinating educational and other programming in conjunction with other staff members, conducting tours and doing community and media outreach - lots of morning TV interviews! - writing most of the material on the walls and in various publications associated with the museum, and helping to care for and manage the collection alongside Registrar Andrew Hershberger. There were lots of other things in an average day, but that's the basic overview.

What was your favorite item or exhibit?

My favorite room was the museum within a museum - the comic book room, showcasing the history of that medium from periodicals and artwork stretching back centuries to the formal comics timeline of the 1930s to the present. One of my personal favorites was the Oscar Goldman action figure from the Six Million Dollar Man Kenner toy line in the 1970s room, mainly because it was one of the few things from that line that I never got myself.

Did you expect an outcome like this? It's a pretty munificent gift.

It's been years since I've been involved in the museum or in contact with anyone associated with it, so I have no particular insight into the reasons behind the museum's closure and the donation of the collection, but it's nice to know that all those items that give people so much joy and allow them to travel back into their own pasts will now be made available to view for free and at a facility that will respect their historical importance and preserve them for future generations.

After leaving the Museum, you put together your own publishing house?

Yup, since 2012 we've put out a number of titles from ATB Publishing, and we just put out our first book on comics and superheroes, Storytelling Engines, this past May!

We'll be checking in with Arnold in the coming weeks to find out more about how he went from being a museum curator, to a college professor, to a book author and publisher...

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Library of Congress Receives Valuable Comic Book, Popular Art Collection from Steve Geppi


Library of Congress logo

NEWS from the LIBRARY of CONGRESS


May 30, 2018

Largest Donation of Comic Books in Library History Includes the 
Original Storyboards for the Creation of Mickey Mouse
      The Library of Congress announced today that collector and entrepreneur Stephen A. Geppi has donated to the nation's library more than 3,000 items from his phenomenal and vast personal collection of comic books and popular art, including the original storyboards that document the creation of Mickey Mouse.  This multimillion-dollar gift includes comic books, original art, photos, posters, newspapers, buttons, pins, badges and related materials, and select items will be on display beginning this summer.

      The Stephen A. Geppi Collection of Comics and Graphic Arts has been on public display in Baltimore, Maryland, for the past decade and is a remarkable and comprehensive assemblage of popular art.  It includes a wide range of rare comics and represents the best of the Golden (1938-1956), Silver (1956-1970) and Bronze (1970-1985) ages of comic books.  The mint-condition collection is also noted for its racially and socially diverse content as well as the distinctive creative styles of each era.
      The collection also includes motion picture posters and objects showcasing how music, comic book characters, cultural icons and politicians were popularized in the consumer marketplace.  Among these are Beatles memorabilia, a collection of flicker rings popularizing comic book characters and political figures such as Martin Luther King Jr., Richard Outcault's The Yellow Kid printing blocks and the No. 2 Brownie camera model F from Eastman Kodak Company.

      One signature item in the collection represents the birth of one of animation's most iconic characters. Six rare storyboards detail the story layout and action for Walt Disney's 1928 animated film, "Plane Crazy."  It was the first Mickey Mouse cartoon produced, but the third to be released, after sound was added, in 1929.  "Steamboat Willie" was the first Mickey Mouse cartoon to be theatrically released, on Nov. 18, 1928, which marks its 90th anniversary this year.

      "The Library of Congress is home to the nation's largest collection of comic books, cartoon art and related ephemera and we celebrate this generous donation to the American people that greatly enhances our existing holdings," said Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden. "The appeal of comic books is universal, and we are thrilled that this new addition to the collections will make them even more accessible to people worldwide."

      "When I began collecting comic books as a young boy and then in earnest in 1972, I would have never dreamed that a major portion of my collection would find a home at the Library of Congress, alongside the papers of 23 presidents, the Gutenberg Bible and Thomas Jefferson's library," said Geppi.  "This gift will help celebrate the history of comics and pop culture and their role in promoting literacy."

      Geppi is the owner and CEO of Diamond Comic Distributors, based in Baltimore.  A fan of comic books as a child, he later began seriously collecting them and turned his passion into a series of pop culture businesses.  Over the years, Geppi amassed one of the largest individual collections of vintage comic books and pop culture artifacts in the world.  

      Geppi will continue to be an active collector and will be considering other donations to the Library of Congress in the future.  "I view this newly established connection to the Library of Congress as the beginning of a long-term relationship," said Geppi.  

      The Library holds more than 140,000 issues of about 13,000 comic book titles, dating back to the 1930s.  The collection includes many firsts and some of the most important comics in history, including the first comic book sold on newsstands; the first series featuring Batman and other iconic characters; and All Star Comics #8, which introduced fans to Wonder Woman.  The Library also holds a copy of Amazing Fantasy #15, which tells the origin story of Spider-Man, and the original artwork that Steve Ditko created for that issue. The Geppi Collection expands and enriches this strong foundation and fills gaps in specific issues.

      The Serial and Government Publications Division maintains one of the most extensive newspaper collections in the world.  It is exceptionally strong in United States newspapers, with 9,000 titles covering the past three centuries. With more than 25,000 non-U.S. titles, it is the largest collection of international newspapers in the world. Beyond its newspaper holdings, the division also has extensive collections of current periodicals (40,000 titles), comic books (13,000 titles) and government publications (1 million items). The collection of comic books is available for research use by scholars, collectors and other researchers in the Newspaper and Current Periodical Reading Room.  More information can be found at http://www.loc.gov/rr/news/coll/049.html.
     
The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division holds more than 15 million photographs, drawings and prints from the 15th century to the present day.  International in scope, these visual collections represent a rich array of human experience, knowledge, creativity and achievement, touching on almost every realm of endeavor—science, art, invention, government and political struggle, and the recording of history.  More information can be found at loc.gov/rr/print/.

      The Library of Congress is the world's largest library, offering access to the creative record of the United States—and extensive materials from around the world—both on-site and online. It is the main research arm of the U.S. Congress and the home of the U.S. Copyright Office.  Explore collections, reference services and other programs and plan a visit at loc.gov, access the official site for U.S. federal legislative information at congress.gov and register creative works of authorship at copyright.gov.
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PR 18-072
05/30/18
ISSN 0731-3527



Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Touring the LoC's Drawn to Purpose exhibit with curator Martha Kennedy


Anita Kunz
by Mike Rhode

Last November, the Library of Congress opened a new show in the historic Jefferson building on women cartoonists and illustrators, curated by Martha Kennedy of the Prints & Photographs Division. Martha has a long-standing interest in the subject, and works in the division that collects original art (in spite of its name). She’s previously curated a show and book of Ann Telnaes’ work, but this is the first exhibit to look at the wide world of women artists. The online description of the show reads: 

Features the rich collections of the Library of Congress and brings to light remarkable but little-known contributions made by North American women to the art forms of illustration and cartooning. Spanning the late 1800s to the present, the exhibition highlights the gradual broadening in both the private and public spheres of women’s roles and interests, and demonstrates that women once constrained by social conditions and convention, have gained immense new opportunities for self-expression and discovery. 

Martha was kind enough to give me a tour of the exhibit one day recently. The exhibit is in the Swann Gallery of the Jefferson Building, and will have two rotations of artwork, and an accompanying book.



Martha Kennedy: The show reflects a new approach to exhibit design here at the Library, in that you don’t see item by item labels. We have additional information on each piece on sheets at the entrance. The kind of design being used gives greater visual emphasis to the artworks themselves, and groups highly-varied kinds of illustrations and cartoons in ways that makes sense. The exhibit introduction defines six types of illustration and cartooning that are being highlighted. The exhibit is clearly intended to celebrate the contributions that women have made to both of these art forms, roughly from the late 19th century into the 21st century. We’re doing this by showing some of the very best examples of these art forms held in the Library’s collections.




We have in the Themes and Genres introduction examples of the six different kinds of illustration and cartooning that we’re featuring in the exhibition. The types are Golden Age illustration, early comics, new voices in comics, editorial illustration, magazine covers and cartoons, and political cartoons. This grouping overall also shows the two main threads running through the exhibition: 1.) how imagery of women and gender roles and relations changes over time; and 2.) how the subject matter broadens and quickens especially near the end of the 20th century and into the 21st century. These threads you’ll see in the groupings to various degrees.

For the Golden Age of illustration, we have Alice Barber Stevens showing the new woman, a social phenomenon of the end of the 19th century, as two aspiring artists. For early comics, a page of Little Lulu by Marge originally published in the Saturday Evening Post. Anita Kunz is our example of an editorial illustrator’s work; she carries on the theme of how the images of women change. This dates from 2001 and was commissioned by Working Women Magazine and shows the quandary of everyday women still today, seventeen years later. The cell phones are a little out of date, but a lot of women still feel fragmented in their lives. Barbara Brandon Croft is our example of new voices in comics greatly broadening the subject matter of women’s concerns with her strip “Where I’m Coming From” that ran in the ‘90s. For magazine cartoons and covers, Roberta MacDonald did a wonderful New Yorker magazine cartoon from the wartime 1940s depicting role reversal during World War II. Finally, we have a beautiful example of Ann Telnaes’ editorial cartooning created just after 9/11. It’s just a sparkling example of her cartooning and really succinct text and commentary. 


Mike Rhode: How did you decide to do an exhibit on women cartoonists and illustrators?

Martha Kennedy: I’ve been working on this project for quite a while. When I first started, I remember being really impressed by the quality of work by women in different parts of the collection in Prints & Photographs. And also amazed and saddened by the fact that a lot of these women aren’t known. They’ve been overlooked in the histories of both art forms. I could see that there was collection development work and acquisitions to be done in both of those areas, and I have worked to build up those areas.

Mike Rhode: So the Telnaes art came in during your time, as you did an exhibit of her work. I remember when you brought Anita Kunz in to speak.



Martha Kennedy: Yes, and the some of the others were in the stacks, like Roberta MacDonald who deserves to be better known. But out of this exhibit, I acquired art by Gillespie, Barry, Price, Bechdel, Jetter, Chast, Wilkinson, Sherman, Benson, Mergen (over 600 drawings), and from rotation 2, Donnelly, Beck, and Tamaki.

Mike Rhode: How did you decide who to include in the show and the book? Was it women represented in the collection of the Library?

Martha Kennedy: Yes, it’s entirely collection-based. What we have in the collections is what inspired me to do a project of this kind and scope. I worked on it for years. This has been a special focus for me, even though previous curators had built up wonderful holdings of some of these artists. I have worked hard to add to and strengthen the holdings of work by women.




The next grouping focuses on the Golden Age of Illustration which dates roughly from 1880 to 1930. A lot of women ended up working in children’s books or fashion illustrating. Some exceptional ones branched out and illustrated works of literature in books or short stories in magazines aimed at adult readers. For example, Mary Hallock Foote is an interesting figure. She did most of her work in the west. Her husband was a mining engineer, and when they got married in the 1870s, she went west with him. She already had established a career and had good contacts; she knew the editor of Scribner’s and Century Magazine and continued illustrating, and then writing. She’s someone who should be better known. She took wood-engraving blocks with her that she worked on. Jessie Gillespie should be better known too. She did fashion illustration early on, and we show a 1914 satirical fashion illustration of women wearing pants.






Mike Rhode: 100 years later, her drawing would still work as a standalone illustration, if slightly redrawn.

Martha Kennedy: She’s also recognized as an incredible silhouette artist. We have some of those too, which are fairly newly acquired.

Mike Rhode: Even though the work is 100 years old, she wasn’t in the collection before?

Martha Kennedy: No, and we have a stunning piece of advertising art by her that will be in the second rotation. There will be two rotations of this show; the second one will go up in May. We will end up having about 40 artists represented overall with 70 works which is just a fraction of what we have.

Mike Rhode: Will it be a complete rotation?

Martha Kennedy: It will be. Some artists from the first version will also be in the second – people like Lynda Barry, Allison Bechdel and Lynn Johnston.
 
Our next grouping is Early Comics. Women found it hard to enter the comic strip field in the late 19th century and tended to be channeled into a narrow range of subjects if they were successful and featured babies, cute children and animals in their strips. Rose O’Neill’s comic strip The Kewpies is just an incredible example, I think. She just raised the bar for that kind of comic strip. Our example is a 1935 Sunday page, from when she revived the strip which originally ran 1917-1918 and then 1934-1935.

Mike Rhode: She’s working very large and is using two pages of paper to make one page of artwork.

Martha Kennedy: It’s incredible to see her at the height of her powers and her drawing technique is so accomplished and amazing. This piece is an amusing story about the Kewpies trying to convince people that ghosts really exist, but what’s really striking is the incredibly detailed notes to her colorist Miss Hess along the margins. She goes through frame by frame.

Mike Rhode: It looks like it would have been faster for her to do a color guide and color parts of it herself.

Martha Kennedy: Yes, you’re right. Why she did it this way is unknown.

Other famous characters are Grace Drayton’s Campbell Soup Kids. She’s best known for this creation, although she created successful strips, several of which featured cute kids who looked like the Campbell Kids. The Kids were created in 1904 and appeared in the Lady’s Home Journal.

Virginia Huget’s flapper strip, Molly the Manicure Girl is one of the few comics featuring a flapper who is also ostensibly a working girl. It’s very light-hearted. Her work is really rare. In the book that’s going to come out in March, there are bullet point biographies for all these cartoonists and illustrators and more. There are about 123.

Mike Rhode: Is it a catalog of the show in addition to a book about women cartoonists?

Martha Kennedy: It’s not a catalog of the show, but there are six chapters that correspond to the sections of the exhibit.



Mollie the Manicure Girl by Huget

Mike Rhode: Also in this section is a 1965 Brenda Starr by Dale Messick, with Brenda sobbing over the missing Basil St. John… it really was a romance comic by that point. 

Martha Kennedy: For me, this era ends on a triumphant note, with Dale Messick winning syndication for Brenda Starr in 1940 which is a big deal because it was one of the first adventure strips with a female heroine. Starr would go off in search of news stories as a reporter. It was less of a romance strip in the early days.

I also want to note three years prior to that, Jackie Ormes, one of the few  African-American cartoonists, published her first strip called Torchy Brown – From Dixie to Harlem in 1937 in the Pittsburgh Courier. Her strip featured a young heroine in an adventurous life as she moved north in search of a career. It ran initially only two years, but she revived the strip later on. We have no original work by her unfortunately, and this is a tearsheet on exhibit. We’ve tried to get some, but it is very rare. She did two other comic features, and engages with broader issues such as environment, race… and paper dolls. Paper dolls frequently appear in women’s strips including Trina Robbins, Grace Drayton…

The next group is New Narratives, New Voices which includes recent comics. We have an example of a beautiful silk-screened example of a mini-comic by Lille Carre collected from the Small Press Expo (SPX). 




Mike Rhode: SPX is probably bringing in a lot of works by women cartoonists given that the show is probably approaching parity with equal numbers of men and women exhibiting.
Martha Kennedy: SPX is incredible. And so many women are winning top prizes at SPX and San Diego Comic-Con and other venues where awards are given. Peers are recognizing peers for their work.

We have Trina Robbins represented by an example of a cover for Wimmen’s Comix. She’s such an important figure in the whole history of comics and the chronicling of comics’ history. She did both writing and art in underground and mainstream comic books, and then became a ‘herstorian.”

Since the 1940s, one of the distinctions between the comics in this section and the earlier ones, is that the creators have turned to their own lives and are drawing on their own experiences and the experiences of people they know well.

Mike Rhode: On display here is original art by Allison Bechdel, Hilary Price, Lynn Johnston and Lynda Barry, in addition to the printed works we’ve already discussed. I’m wondering about the absence of Cathy Guisewite?



Martha Kennedy: She’s in the book. I wish we had more examples of her work. She’s certainly important in this era of women’s comics. 

I would like to point out the Lynda Barry piece as really interesting. It’s from one of the stories in 100 Demons, her breakout book from 2002. In this piece, she’s resurrecting and transforming her childhood memories of smell, when she noticed that every single house in her neighborhood had a different smell, including her own. She’s very funny as she describes the smells and ascribes significance to them.

Mike Rhode: Under the strip is a collage…

 Martha Kennedy: All her title pages in the book are double-page spreads and they’re amazing multi-media works with ink, water color, photographs, dried flowers… She refers to her approach as autobiofictionalography.

Mike Rhode: I don’t think that term is going to catch on with anyone else. She’s a great creator though.

Next to this section is a video screen with other examples?

Martha Kennedy: Yes, we’re seeing some later Little Lulu strips by Ward Kimball. Marge was very entrepreneurial. And there are other examples of Brenda Starr and art by Marie Severin. It has some art from every section of pieces I wished we could include, but weren’t able to.
Whitney Sherman

The next section is Editorial Illustrators as exemplified by Anita Kunz. Especially interesting is this pairing of Sue Coe and Frances Jetter. They’re both commenting on the 1991 Persian Gulf War, and have created very strong statements. Jetter’s may look like fine art, but it was published in Time Magazine and that’s the way she works. She chooses to work in linocut. She does more fine art now, and works mostly in sculpture, but she went through a period when she published a lot of illustrations. This very strong statement about the enemy war dead was published in Time, whereas Coe’s piece was commissioned by The Progressive, a strongly pacifist magazine, and is a universal indictment of war. It’s a powerful, haunting piece showing her drawing technique and the influence of German Expressionist Kathe Kollwitz. Whitney Sherman’s piece is an editorial illustration for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s annual report about the easy availability of drugs at schools and really hits hard on this. She’s in charge of the graduate illustration program at MICA. 

Bernarda Bryson Shahn is perhaps the godmother of editorial illustration, and her piece is from 1935. She drove her famous husband around the South and the Midwest as part of the WPA project, but was taking her own notes, looking at his photographs, thinking about the state of the country, and coming up with her own idea for a series. She called it The Vanishing American Frontier, and got some funding to work on it, but never finished it, because like other women, life interfered. She was supportive of his career, and had three children. It wasn’t until the 1990s that the work was published and exhibited, and we know from that catalog that she intended the series to be published as a book. It wasn’t intended as fine art, but meant for broader distribution in the tradition of editorial illustration. There will be another example of her work in the next rotation.


Bernarda Shahn


Mike Rhode: To me, this piece looks like she’s quoting Grant Wood’s American Gothic…

Martha Kennedy: She claimed she didn’t know about his painting at the time.



Anita Kunz

Mike Rhode The next section is Magazine Covers andCartoons. I see a Roz Chast cartoon, and another Anita Kunz – you snuck two in…
Helen Hokinson
Martha Kennedy: I did! She’s just so colorful and compelling. This was for Ms. Magazine showing how a cover highlights a feature in the magazine, in this case a Satanic cult victimizing children. This horizontal piece of art was used as a wraparound cover.

Helen Hokinson is next. She’s a magazine cartoonist for the New Yorker who died in the 1949.

Mike Rhode: I think she’s their most famous woman cartoonist until Roz Chast arrived in the 1970s.

Martha Kennedy: They used other women cartoonists such as Barbara Shermund. Roberta MacDonald did 100 cartoons and then they accepted less and less. In her book, Liza Donnelly traces the history of women cartoonists in the magazine.

 Two magazine cover designs we exhibit show the change in gender relations. The 1920s Vanity Fair by Ann Harriet Fish shows dancers moving with great freedom, and she designed over thirty covers for them. She published in other magazines such as Cosmopolitan. 

Mike Rhode: I think part of the reason some of these people have ‘disappeared’ is that their magazines failed, whereas the New Yorker has continued publishing, and publishing cartoon collections, and raiding their back stock, while other publications are gone.

Martha Kennedy: The Golden Age of magazines is over.

Mike Rhode: The next section is Political Cartoons, and you’ve chosen some of the usual suspects such as Signe Wilkinson (one of the two Pulitzer Prize winners) and alternative cartoonist and Herblock prize-winner Jen Sorenson. Lisa Benson is less familiar, working in a smaller market.




Martha Kennedy: Benson started in a California paper and is one of the few conservative editorial cartoonists. She’s part of the Washington Post Writers Group’s Cartoonist Group, and you see her in the Post’s Saturday roundup once in a while, signing drawings as “Lisa.”
 
Ann Mergen was the editorial cartoonist for the Miami Daily News from 1933-1956. She turned from fashion illustration to editorial cartooning, and basically worked herself into a job. That paper did not have an editorial cartoonist. She should be better known. For over 20 years, she was their editorial cartoonist, and we have over 600 of her cartoons. The paper won a Pulitzer when she was on staff and her editor sent her a telegram saying, “Don’t let anyone tell you it wasn’t Mergen cartoons that won us the Pulitzer. “ She did cartoons about the environment and the Everglades; Southern Florida Historical Society has that work. Ohio State’s Billy Ireland Library did a solo show on her work, and I’d like to do more on her work. Some editorial cartoonists’ most powerful work is almost timeless, because some of the issues they address are ongoing.
Mike Rhode: Why aren’t there more print publications in the exhibit beyond the two or three? You could have included more cartoonists if you had used books or comics from other divisions.

Martha Kennedy: Space was limited. We did use some supporting material, and more is in the book. I would have liked to show more of how multi-faceted some of these women were, doing different kinds of illustrations, cartoons and book illustration and some doing book design as well. My book is intended to spotlight the great diversity and the range of inventiveness and innovation that these artists were capable of. So many of these women had to earn a living; they had talent and they wanted to use it and they moved in directions that offered them outlets.
Hilary Price


Mike Rhode: Who would you like to have included in the exhibition but couldn’t?

Martha Kennedy: Several who come to mind are cartoonists Martha Orr and Alice Harvey and illustrators Violet Oakley and Florence Scovel Shinn.

I have a whole section on caricatures in the book that I wasn’t able to include in the exhibit due to lack of space. Some are on the video screen in the exhibit. And we don’t have a lot of work by women animators. The book will be a co-publication between the Library of Congress and the University Press of Mississippi. There will about 230 illustrations and it comes out in March. We are planning some public programs too.

There are probably less than ten books on women cartoonists, so I’m hoping this exhibit will spur further research and more acquisitions, and generally more recognition of what women have contributed.

Jen Sorenson


Mike Rhode: Regarding future acquisitions – you only have limited money to buy items, but people can give you gifts and you’d be happy to talk to people about that right?

Martha Kennedy: Yes, definitely. Some types of illustration and comics that my colleagues and I would like to acquire for the Library include excellent examples of original comic book, graphic narrative, and children’s book illustration art. Acquiring excellent examples of original drawings by Kate Carew, other female cartoonists and illustrators commenting on the woman suffrage movement, Fay King, and editorial cartoons by Edwina Dumm would also be of strong interest.

Drawn to Purpose
November 18, 2017–October 20, 2018, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Graphic Arts Galleries, Ground Floor, Thomas Jefferson Building
Washington, DC 
https://www.loc.gov/exhibitions/drawn-to-purpose/about-this-exhibition/