I’ve been to a few comic museums – Toonseum in Pittsburgh, the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco and recently the Billy Ireland Cartoon Museum at OSU and so far I haven’t seen that perfect cartoon museum, or at least the one big feature I want to see. I mean all of the facilities I mentioned are very nice – but none of them are made for the comic medium itself and that is the biggest issue.
Comics are sequential art. Comics usually tell a story. Comics usually are not a static moment like paintings are, like photographs are, like statues are. Comics are a serial art form and while a single page can show a lot, it doesn’t capture what a comic is – a way to tell stories. If you only give part of a story, devoid of context, you loose a lot. It becomes all about the art and writing for that page, not how everything ties in, and it removed the comic as a tool to tell stories. When you start posting single pages of original sets of art on the wall for a comic museum, devoid of context, unless that page is an entire story, you’ve messed with the art form. You don’t cut a hand off of a full body statue and put it in a museum as a solitary piece of art. If you post a single movie still, that is not the same as showing the actual movie – and sure it may be helpful to illustrate a directorial style but you miss the context and the actual format of the art itself. A well shot still from a movie is not a movie itself. A single page from a multi page story is not itself.
I am not opposing the idea of hanging art in comic museums though – seeing an original Kirby piece is one amazing thing, seeing original Calvin and Hobbes artwork is great too. I am not saying that seeing original art is bad, just that it should not be the focus because at that point the comics cease to be comics the way there were meant to be seen.
Imagine for a second a large circular gallery with the sun shining down through a skylight. As you walk in from the museum entrance hall you see the walls of the room adorned with the collection of original pages, framed and hung up. There are other wings in the museum – they have costumes from some movie and a few special exhibits with original art and designs from books – but then, in the middle is a massive wooden monolith towering over everyone – a large circular bookcase filled with graphic novels and single issues and indie comics that you can take in read. Around the room are all sorts of chairs – benches to lay down and read, overstuffed plush armchairs, sofas. Comfortable places to enjoy comics. This isn’t just a small comic library with stiff wooden chairs, this is a place you can enjoy comics without people judging. This is a place made for comics to be read in.
And the books themselves, minus a few recommended reads that are good starting places, are swapped in and out every few months along with any well loved copies. They’ve got a few longboxes around, donated back issues. This is a place where you can actually read comics in the format they were created for, not just hung up on a wall, unfinished. These are comics as art as comics.
That is really what I want in a comic museum, a place you can actually read and enjoy comics. A place where yes, comics are seen as a respected art form, but they don’t need to just be pages devoid of context or story. Where the pages can be completed and read the way they are supposed to be read.
Yes it is nice to have galleries of original art or costumes from comic movie adaptations but if you want people to understand the joy of comics themselves, give them full access to comics, give them the ability to sit down and read the classics. You don’t just put up an image of the corner of the Mona Lisa, you show it in the format it was meant to be read.
Everything beyond a collection of comics you can read is superfluous to the idea of what a comic museum should be. Otherwise you’ve got a pop culture museum with a comic art focus and that devalues the art in the end.