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Commentary: Cartoon and comic art have made their mark nationally and in St. Louis

Who hasn't enjoyed a comic strip in the newspaper or a comic book or a cartoon in the New Yorker at one time or another? 

What a treat it was to enter the Ojai Valley Museum in Ojai, California and see an exhibition titled "Sergio's Cartoon Collection.” 

Sergio Aragones was born in Spain but grew up in Mexico. He was still a teenager when his first cartoons were published. At 24 he went to New York City where, much to his delight and amazement, he was hired by "Mad Magazine.” Over 50 years later, he continues to work for the magazine. His "Groo the Wanderer" is the longest running series of creator-owned comic books. Aragones has won every major award in the industry. 

According to Wikipedia, "A cartoon is a form of two-dimensional illustrated visual art. While the specific definition has changed over time, modern usage refers to a typically non-realistic or semi-realistic drawing or painting intended for satire, caricature or humor, or to the artistic style of such works.”

The concept originated in the Middle Ages and first described a preparatory drawing for a piece of art, such as a painting, fresco, tapestry  or stained glass window. In the 19th century, it referred to humorous illustrations in magazines and newspapers, and after the early 20th century, it came to refer to to comic strips and animated films. 

There are societies for cartoonists all over the world as well as museums and collections of cartoon art. Mort Walker of "Beetle Bailey" fame helped start the National Museum of Cartoon Art with the National Cartoonist Society in New York which after a couple of moves wound up in Boca Raton, Florida and changed its name to The National Cartoon Museum. It was open for several years until Ohio State University came into the picture.

Its wll-known Billy Ireland Cartoon Library contained innumerable works of cartoon art. One of the faculty members had been a board member of the Cartoon Museum and suggested merging the two collections and so they did. The new museum was named for Mort Walker as a tribute to him.

And of course St. Louis has its own cartoon and comic scene. Douglas Dowd, Professor of Art and American Culture at Washington University, also serves as the faculty director of the "Modern Graphic History Library" which he created. The library collects works and papers of illustrators and cartoonists, and is especially strong in American periodical illustration of the 20th century.

Professor Dowd not only teaches the history of illustration, comics and animation, he writes and illustrates his own work. Professor Dowd introduced me to his former student, Dan Zettwoch who is now a cartoonist, illustrator and printmaker in St. Louis. In addition to many self-published mini-comics his stories have appeared in prestigious national publications and he is in Yale University's anthology of Graphic Fiction, Cartoons and True Stories. 

Zettwoch says the comic scene in St. Louis is very diverse, from super heroes to New Yorker style cartoons to underground music and comics.

Writer Dale Singer, in an article about UMSL professor Dan Younger, noted  that Younger is a devotee of comic classics like "Fritz the Cat" and Walt Kelly's "Pogo.”  Younger meets with about a dozen students twice a week to guide them in fine points - sometimes literally - of how to make their hand drawn creations come to life on the page.

The Cartoon Museum of London recently acquired work by some of Younger's former students and UMSL student cartoons are also part of the Mort Walker Museum at Ohio State University.

Cartoon and comic art were once considered a lesser art but have climbed the ladder of sophistication not only nationally but also have made quite a mark in our city.

Nancy Kranzberg has been involved in the arts community for some thirty years on numerous arts related boards.

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