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Fanboy Mecca of the West:
The Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco

Okay, so I'm a giant geek.

I got my ass up at 7am and drove out to Fremont BART to get up to MacWorld for the day's opening. Using my free pass, I did a couple of laps, ogled a couple of Booth Bunnies and walked away, my pride and checking account intact.

Leaving the Moscone Center and heading out into the Windows-dominated world, I came across a beacon: The Cartoon Art Museum.

I've seen it before, had met with a couple of their volunteers at WonderCon last year and am even currently working with a former CAM employee. Even though I had known the name, even knew roughly where it was, I had never made plans to visit. And so, as I wandered lost trying to get from the Moscone Center to the Swiss Consulate (another story for another time), I stumbled upon it. It's a small building, hardly recognizable from the other offices that line Mission Street. They have a couple of simple sandwich board signs out front, which tipped me off.

As always, Luck was on my side.

The Cartoon Art Museum is a place where every fanboy should make a pilgrimage once in their life, or even better, every time they change their exhibits. The museum is dedicated to the medium of cartoon art, from comic strips to editorial cartooning, animation to comic books. It is a warehouse of the beloved artform.

Almost every square inch of wall is covered with various pieces of comic art, in all the various stages from sketch to proof to final product. It's amazing to see earlier version of strips that I recognized and the early sketches where you could see the erasures from paths not taken. The Permanent Display (if such a thing can be said to exist in museums) features examples of every style, with an Eighteenth Century editorial cartoon being the highlight for me.

They also have on display a great selection of Disney animation, which included drawings from Steamboat Willy. This alone made the visit worth it. But the rotating exhibits make it a must see.

The largest of the current rotating exhibits deals with turning comics into movies, titled Lights, Camera, ACTION!: From Printed Page to Silver Screen..

X-Men, The Hulk, Spawn, Blade, Spiderman, Hellboy, Daredevil, and Batman all get mentions, as I expected, but the museum goes far beyond. They mention L'il Abner, Blondie, Bringing Up Father, the early Dick Tracy serials, and even Conan.

They also don't shy away from the true turkeys, featuring Howard the Duck, Punisher, Popeye, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Brenda Starr as if they were just as significant as From Hell and Superman. They feature drawings, some stills from the films, and a few artifacts, including a life-sized Spawn, toys from the 1930s to the 1990s, and an awesome BatPlane prop.

For me, however, it was the American Splendor section, where they have a panel from Harvey Pekar's comic and a few sketches. I was most impressed that they went that far with it.

Another rotating exhibit is on outgoing San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown called Don't Parade On My Reign. They have a couple of dozen editorial cartoons about the Frisco Fashionplate, some of which were brutal. I've always been a big fan of the Mayor, but even the biting ones were great to see.

The Cartoon Art Museum also puts a spotlight on some Small Press Creators and Derek Kirk Kim, an artist who I had only heard of in a conversation at a con once, provides a few fantastic examples of his wonderful work (which can also be seen at www.smallstoriesonline.com).

The final current exhibit is on editorial cartoons called Too Hot To Handle: Creating Controversy Through Political Cartoons, which has controversial editorial cartoons (duh) of the recent past. The section devoted to 9-11 is touching, hilarious, and hard-edged. Great stuff through and through.

Make the trip. They are open Tuesday through Sunday, 11 to 5pm. Admission is 6 bucks for adults, 4 for students and old folks, 2 for six to twelve year olds. Anyone younger than that is free.

It's at 655 Mission Street, across from the California Historical Society. You can contact them at 415-CAR-TOON or at www.cartoonart.org.

Chris Garcia

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