Cartoon Exhibits Put Gender History on Display

Thursday, August 10, 2006

A major retrospective exhibit on female cartoonists was scheduled to close in September. But its New York stay has been extended to coincide with a new museum exhibit of cartoon masters that excludes women.

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(WOMENSENEWS)--Trina Robbins, a cartoonist, author and pop historian of women in comics, has a good sense of humor.

But she didn't think it was funny when she learned that a major museum exhibition of cartoonists spanning the 20th century included no women.

Over a year ago, Robbins was planning "100 Years of America's Women Cartoonists," an exhibit that opened in May at the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art (MoCCA) in New York City and was originally scheduled to close in September.

Coincidentally, the "Masters of American Comics" exhibit, organized by the Hammer Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, ran November 2005 through March 2006. That exhibit features 14 of "the most innovative and influential American comic artists."

When Robbins discovered that exhibit was all male she complained; the Hammer Museum later invited her to give a talk.

"The fact is that the comic strip and comic book fields have been dominated by men," says Brian Walker, an independent scholar and co-curator of the "masters" exhibit. "We welcome the debate that this exhibit has generated and hope that future exhibits will have a broader range of artists."

Robbins meanwhile, defends the female-only limits of her own show, which features 50 artists and 100 artworks. "We are not so much excluding men as we are including women who are usually excluded," says Robbins.

"The majority of female comic book cartoonists working today are self-published, on the Web, in zines or books from small presses because mainstream comic books are focused on boys," Robbins says.

Exhibit Run Extended

The all-female cartoonist exhibit has been extended until Nov. 6 to overlap with the all-male "masters" exhibit, which is opening on Sept. 15--at the Jewish Museum in New York and the Newark Museum in New Jersey--and running through Jan. 28, 2007.

Both museums will offer programs with female cartoonists and Robbins will speak at the Jewish Museum on Nov. 16.

In the meantime, the extended stay of the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art exhibit gives visitors more time to mull over the major milestones for female cartoonists, whose story begins in the early 1900s when their work first began appearing on Sunday newspaper pages and in women's magazines.

Rose O'Neill, who created cupid-like creatures that she called "Kewpies," was one of the pioneers. Until the 1920s her Kewpies appeared as cartoon characters in women's magazines and her Kewpie dolls are still manufactured and collected today.

Grace Drayton's cherubic urchins also emerged in the early 1900s, appearing in comics, magazines, children's books and as paper dolls. In 1905, her apple-cheeked Campbell Soup Kids appeared in the company's first marketing campaigns. Nell Brinkley inaugurated a new school of glamour art to capture the 1920s "New Woman," the flapper-influenced feminine ideal that emerged with the proliferation of the mass media. Her signature Brinkley Girls, with a mound of stylish curly hair, were accompanied by commentary on working women, suffrage and women in sports.

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