For many years now, Andrew Farago has been the curator at The Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco, overseeing art exhibitions featuring some of the greatest artists in comics. He’s also written a number of non-fiction books including The Looney Tunes Treasury, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Ultimate Visual History, and wrote the introductions to the collections of Bobby London’s Popeye.
The Cartoon Art Museum has had to deal with the problem that so many people, businesses and organizations have had to deal with in San Francisco -- rising rents. It forced them from their old location, but the museum has just reopened in a new location in the city with new exhibitions, including Mike Mignola’s Hellboy and the Art of Raina Telgemeier.
If that weren’t enough, Farago has three books he’s written out this fall -- Totally Awesome: The Greatest Cartoons of the Eighties, The Complete Peanuts Family Album and The Art of Harley Quinn -- so CBR caught up with him to talk about all of that.
CBR: For people who don’t know, what is the Cartoon Art Museum?
Andrew Farago: The Cartoon Art Museum was founded in San Francisco in 1984 by an art collector, author and publisher named Malcolm Whyte. He and some like-minded friends got together to start the Cartoon Art Museum as a way to share their collections and their love of cartoons and comics.
With the help of other collectors and artists, including Charles M. Schulz and his wife, Jeannie, they established the Cartoon Art Museum as the only museum of its kind in the western United States. We've got a full slate of exhibitions every year, ranging from 1800s illustration to contemporary animation and graphic novels.
Our mission has grown to include a big educational component, too, with classes and workshops for aspiring artists of all ages.
We left our previous location in the fall of 2015, when escalating Bay Area rents forced us to move out, but we've just reopened in a great new facility in San Francisco's historic Fisherman's Wharf district.
You have a busy fall for other reasons, as well. Do you want to say a little about the books coming out?
In the span of five weeks, the Cartoon Art Museum is reopening and I've got three new cartoon history books hitting the shelves. I started on the first one almost three years ago, the second a year ago and the third one back in February, and they're all coming out one after the other -- in the opposite order of when I started writing them. Go figure.
I like to keep busy, I guess. I fit in research and writing time whenever I can -- nights, weekends, lunch breaks, during my son's nap time -- it's rare that I'm not thinking about cartoons. I'm very, very fortunate that sitting down with a Calvin and Hobbes collection or kicking back with the new season of Voltron on Netflix counts as "work" in my world.
The first book out is The Complete Peanuts Family Album, a fun reference book for every Peanuts fan. It's a guide to all of the characters Charles M. Schulz created in his 50-year run on the strip. Every character who got a name, plus all the important unnamed characters, like The Little Red-Haired Girl. I provide an overview of each character's in-strip history, and the book's illustrated with relevant strips, spot illustrations by Schulz, rarely-seen production art and some new material created especially for the book.
Second is The Art of Harley Quinn, a complete history of Harley as a DC Comics character. I've been a fan of Harley's since day one, her first appearance as the Joker's sidekick in the Batman: The Animated Series episode "Joker's Favor," and it was a lot of fun reading all of her appearances in DC Comics, watching her evolve and grow as a character over the course of 25 years, and, best of all, interviewing the people who worked on those comics.
In addition to Paul Dini and Bruce Timm, who co-created the character, I talked to comics legend Denny O'Neil, favorite cartoonists including Ty Templeton and Karl Kesel, and the current Harley team supreme of Jimmy Palmiotti, Amanda Conner, Chad Hardin and John Timms. Amanda drew my all-time favorite Harley illustration for the cover, and it's an oversized 11" x 14" hardcover to really showcase all the great art from Amanda, Bruce, Terry Dodson, Mike Parobeck, Jim Lee and the other great artists who've worked on Harley's comics.
The third book, Totally Awesome: The Greatest Cartoons of the Eighties was either three or almost 40 years in the making. Chris Prince of Insight Editions, who'd edited my previous book, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Ultimate Visual History, called me up and asked if I'd be interested in doing a follow-up that covered TMNT plus a dozen more cartoons. I came up with a list of about 30 favorites, and we narrowed that down to about 20, in part so this didn't turn into a 10-year project.
I spent about a year conducting interviews and tracking down artwork for the book, about a year writing and revising the book, and then we spent about a year coordinating the publication with all of the different studios and copyright holders involved. No one's done an officially licensed book quite like this one before, and I'm glad I had Insight Editions to sort through all of that.
I feel like there are a lot of obscure Peanuts characters whose names none of us can remember. Like I know Snoopy had a lot of siblings but other than Spike and Olaf, I don’t think I could name them. Should we know any of these characters?
I'm biased, but Olaf's brother and traveling companion, Andy, has the best name in the strip, right? He's a fun character, though, and helps keep his brother grounded. Andy's drawn just like Snoopy, but shaggier, and was based on Charles Schulz's own dog of the same name.
Their sister, Belle, didn't get to show much of her personality in the strip, and she's had a much bigger impact in licensing than she did in the comic. The same is true of her brother, Marbles, who looks like a speckled version of Snoopy, and only figured into a week or two of strips in the early '80s. Out of all of Snoopy's family, Spike was the one who really seemed to click, and Schulz drew dozens of great strips featuring his adventures in the desert of Needles, California.
Having immersed myself in the strip for the past six months (plus my whole life before that), I can talk for hours about Peanuts, from Charlie Brown and Snoopy all the way down to Lila, who only appeared in a single, yet very memorable, panel.