Cartoon Art Museum is Back, Spotlighting Hellboy and Raina Telgemeier

The subtitle of Totally Awesome is “The Greatest Cartoons of the Eighties” -- so I have to ask, what are the five best cartoons of the '80s?

Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends was my absolute favorite from the early '80s. I planned my Saturday mornings around that one, no matter how many times the episodes had already aired. The writing holds up pretty well, the character designs were inspired by John Romita Sr.'s art, and at least a few of the episodes had some of the top animation studios working on them.

Like most boys who grew up in the '80s, I raced home from school every weekday to catch G.I. Joe and Transformers, back to back from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. where I grew up. I bought the toys, read the comics, and years before I even knew I'd be writing Totally Awesome, I bought the complete DVD collections.

The studio behind those shows, Sunbow, also produced Jem, a series that I watched every Saturday morning. Christy Marx created an outrageous cast of characters (had to say that), and since we didn't have cable when I was a kid, that was the next best thing to having MTV. Plus I had a huge crush on Jerrica, Jem's alter ego.

It's hard to pick a fifth one, just like it was hard to narrow down the list for my book, but I'll mention Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for my fifth choice, or Kevin Eastman will give me a hard time about it next time I see him. My three-year-old son loves TMNT, too, so that's a safe pick.

How is putting together a book like The Art of Harley Quinn like curating a gallery show?

At the outset of a show or a book, I have the basic concept in mind, then I start doing all the legwork. For a Harley Quinn exhibition, I'd make a list of the most notable artists who worked on her comics, then I'd track down artists and collectors to figure out what's available, and I'd build up a show based on what I could locate.

For The Art of Harley Quinn book, I had access to literally every page of Harley art that DC had ever published. It was tempting to just fill the book with nothing but Bruce Timm's art from Mad Love, but I had to pick a selection of images that illustrated each era of Harley. The early books based on Batman: The Animated Series, her first appearance in the DC Universe during the big No Man's Land crossover, the Karl Kesel/Terry Dodson solo series, all the fun alternate reality versions of Harley, the Amanda Conner/ Jimmy Palmiotti era... it was a lot of fun, but I was reading comics 'round the clock to make my art selections.

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You have three new exhibitions to open the new space at the museum. What are they?

The biggest show in our opening lineup is “Smile! The Comics of Raina Telgemeier,” and it features work from her four "solo" graphic novels as well as her Baby-Sitters Club graphic novels. Raina's a San Francisco native, a friend and a true comics superstar, and she was always my first choice for our opening exhibition at the new Cartoon Art Museum.

We've also got “A Tribute to Mike Mignola's Hellboy,” an exhibition featuring 35 artists who created Hellboy artwork for the Cartoon Art Museum for an online fundraiser auction we held this past spring and summer. Mike very graciously allowed us to organize the fundraiser, and through the tireless efforts of our board of directors, especially John Butler, and with a big assist from Felix Lu of Felix Comic Art and his stable of artists, we were able to hit the ground running when renovations wrapped up at our new space.

Our third exhibition features another of my favorite artists, Nidhi Chanani, a Bay Area artist whose first graphic novel, Pashmina, kicks off our Emerging Artists Showcase. Introducing our patrons to new and emerging artists has always been a high priority for me as a curator, and I'm glad we're able to continue those efforts at the new Cartoon Art Museum.

Art by Kent Willams.

Whose work is in the Hellboy show?

We've got a lot of great friends in comics and animation, and we were floored by how many of them offered to help out when we told them about our auction plans. Jeffrey Brown, Sam Kieth, Mike's longtime pal Steve Purcell, Cliff Chiang, Kent Willams -- every single piece in the show is a knockout. And Mike Mignola himself donated a piece for the auction, and that's the highlight of the show. I love that I'll get to look at a Mignola Hellboy drawing every day when I come into the office -- for the next few months, at least.

Tell me about what’s in the Raina show?

Since Raina lives in San Francisco, I was able to visit her studio and we were able to pick some of her favorite sequences from Smile, Sisters, Ghosts and Drama, as well as The Baby-Sitters Club graphic novels. Longtime fans of her work are going to love this exhibition, but I think anyone who sees this show is going to walk away with a deep (or new) appreciation of her work.

We've got some "deep cuts," too – copies of Raina's earliest minicomics, her actual dental records and photos taken by her orthodontist dating back to the period when the events in Smile occurred, plus I've got some other surprises we'll roll out as the exhibition progresses. The Cartoon Art Museum's program coordinator and education director Nina Taylor Kester has some fun interactive activities planned, too, and we'll be working closely with Raina to develop those.

The Cartoon Art Museum is (re-)open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursdays through Tuesdays (closed Wednesdays) at 781 Beach Street, San Francisco.

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