press release

The Hammer Museum and The Museum of Contemporary Art jointly present MASTERS of American Comics, a large-scale exhibition comprising in-depth presentations of work by 15 artists who shaped the development of the American comic strip and comic book during the past century. With over 500 objects on view, the exhibition provides understanding and insight into the medium of comics as an art form. The exhibition will be on view simultaneously at both museums.

About the Exhibition Comic strips and comic books were among the most popular and influential forms of mass media in the 20th century. The exhibition is an in-depth examination of work by 15 key American artists. Their masterful innovations defined an original form and raised it to the highest levels of artistic expression, reflecting on American culture with critical insight as well as popular appeal. MASTERS of American Comics features an extensive selection of over 500 original drawings, progressive proofs, printed Sunday pages, and comic books by Winsor McCay, Lyonel Feininger, George Herriman, E.C. Segar, Frank King, Chester Gould, Milton Caniff, Charles Schulz, Will Eisner, Jack Kirby, Harvey Kurtzman, R. Crumb, Art Spiegelman, Gary Panter, and Chris Ware.

Comic strips from the first half of the 20th century will be shown at the Hammer Museum, and comic books from the 1950s onward will be featured at The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA). At the Hammer, the exhibition traces the beginnings of American newspaper comic strips through the influential work of pioneering comic artists such as Winsor McCay ("Little Nemo in Slumberland") and George Herriman ("Krazy Kat"), who set the stage by defining the formal attributes of the genre in the early 1900s. Focusing on the great achievements of this new art form through the century’s first decades, the installation also includes the groundbreaking work of Lyonel Feininger (“The Kin-der-Kids” and “Wee Willie Winkie’s World”), E.C. Segar (“Thimble Theatre”), Frank King (“Gasoline Alley”), Chester Gould (“Dick Tracy”), Milton Caniff (“Terry and the Pirates”), and Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”).

At MOCA, the second part of the exhibition will consider comic books from the early Golden Age to the rise of the independent comics movement. Comic books began as a form in which newspaper comics were reprinted and, with the rise of such series as Jack Kirby’s “Captain America” and “Fantastic Four”, became the dominant popular medium for narrative illustration. In addition to Kirby, particular attention is also paid to Harvey Kurtzman, whose “Mad Magazine” transformed the medium into one capable of great artistic expression and social commentary beginning in the early 1950s. By the mid 1960s, R. Crumb’s work in “Zap Comix” added a new level of personal expression and extended the significant role of independent and underground comic books, and graphic novels. This medium continues to be revolutionized today by the innovations of such major artists as Art Spiegelman (“Maus”, “In the Shadow of No Towers”); Gary Panter (“Jimbo”), and Chris Ware (“Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth”).

MASTERS of American Comics is co-curated by scholars John Carlin and Brian Walker, and is coordinated by MOCA Assistant Curator Michael Darling and Hammer Museum Deputy Director of Collections and Director of the Grunwald Center Cynthia Burlingham.

The exhibition will be accompanied by an extensive, fully-illustrated catalogue co-published by Yale University Press. It features an essay by John Carlin and contributions on the individual artists by a variety of novelists, historians, and artists. Contributors include Tom DeHaven on Winsor McCay, Brian Walker on Lyonel Feininger, Stanley Crouch on George Herriman, Jules Feiffer on E.C. Segar, Karal Ann Marling on Frank King, Robert Storr on Chester Gould, Pete Hamill on Milton Caniff, Patrick McDonnell on Charles Schulz, Raymond Pettibon on Will Eisner, Glen David Gold on Jack Kirby, J. Hoberman on Harvey Kurtzman, Françoise Mouly on R. Crumb, Jonathan Safran Foer on Art Spiegelman, Matt Groening on Gary Panter, and Dave Eggers on Chris Ware. Designed by award-winning graphic designer Lorraine Wild, the publication will feature 185 color reproductions.

MASTERS of American Comics is jointly organized by the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles and The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. The exhibition is made possible, in part, by the National Endowment for the Arts. 89.9 KCRW is the Official Radio Sponsor for the exhibition.


MASTERS of American Comics

mit Winsor McCay, Lyonel Feininger, George Herriman, E.C. Segar, Frank King, Chester Gould, Milton Caniff, Charles Schulz, Will Eisner, Jack Kirby, Harvey Kurtzman, Robert Crumb, Art Spiegelman, Gary Panter, Chris Ware