Following the sudden closing of its physical space earlier this year, the fate of New York’s Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art was in question. Now its future direction has been announced: MoCCA is transferring its assets to the more than 100-year-old Society of Illustrators. The SoI, as it is known, will install a permanent gallery from MoCCA’s holdings, as well as stage special exhibits, the first of which will be 2013’s “The Comic Art of Harvey Kurtzman,” which opens in March. The Society of Illustrators will also continue running the MoCCA Festival in its Armory location.
The release pledges a continuing of the talks, lectures, workshops and film series which had made MoCCA a mainstay of the New York comics community. In this regard, the Society of Illustrators building, located on 63rd Street, is ideally suited—it is already host to a full schedule of activities, and has kitchen facilities and a cash bar on the premises. It has two galleries which will allow for fairly sizable exhibits.
Both MoCCA’s Ellen Abramowitz and SoI’s Executive Director Anelle Miller are quoted in the release, but from the wording, it sounds like Miller and her staff will be taking on running what is left of MoCCA’s activities and mission. Although a hallowed institution in its own right with a fantastic collection of art from the golden age of illustration (Leyendecker, Flagg and so on), in recent years the Society of Illustrators had been suffering from the effects of the general malaise in the illustration business. A visit to its premises can’t help but conjure up visions of the golden age of Rockwell and Parish—the bar was long a clubhouse for the elite, and membership in the Society conferred an air of hanging with the swells.
Under her tenure, Miller has been very active in bringing new programming to the Society, including a number of very well attended comics programs. In recent months, the Big City Dare 2 Draw life drawing workshops had moved to the SoI. Bringing the cash-poor but energy-rich world of comics to the Society of Illustrators is definitely a classic move to inject new blood.
Where once illustrators looked down on lowly comics artists—even while creators such as Milton Caniff and Al Capp belonged to both worlds—nowadays, more and more artists straddle the worlds of comics and illustration. The merging of the two institutions certainly expands upon this narrative—even if it’s unlikely that the MoCCA name will be chiseled into the marble plinth, as is Society of Illustrators. That was a different era.
The Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art (MoCCA) and the Society of Illustrators have announced plans for MoCCA to transfer its assets to the Society, creating a single cultural institution supporting and celebrating illustration, comics, and animation. This will give MoCCA a long-desired street-level location, in the Society’s building at 128 E. 63rd Street.
MoCCA, which celebrated its tenth anniversary earlier this year, has long been a haven for comics and cartoonists. MoCCA Trustee Jim Salicrup, Editor-in-Chief at Papercutz, noted, “A cultural institution such as MoCCA, dedicated to all forms of comic and cartoon art, was long overdue in New York City,” adding that New York is the birthplace of American comics, as well as of countless cartoonists. MoCCA fulfilled this mission in a variety of ways, mounting exhibitions honoring legends of the medium, offering master classes, hosting “MoCCA Thursday” events, and holding the annual MoCCA Fest, one of the premier independent comics festivals in the country.
Commenting on the transfer of MoCCA’s assets, including its permanent art collection and the MoCCA Fest name, Society Executive Director Anelle Miller observed, “The Society of Illustrators has a long, proud history of promoting the art and appreciation of all genres of illustration. We are honored to be able to spearhead the expansion and growth of the incredible foundation that MoCCA has created over the past ten years.” Artist and animator Bill Plympton, a member of both institutions, called this new development “a match made in cartoon heaven!”
For over 100 years, the Society has been honored to number among their members cartoon and comic industry icons including Will Eisner, Milton Caniff, Al Capp, Mort Walker, Winsor McCay, Rube Goldberg, Chic Young, Ernie Bushmiller, sports cartoonists Willard Mullin and Bill Gallo, and Al Jaffee, Mort Drucker, and Jack Davis. Many of these artists are also represented in the Society’s Permanent Collection, as well as in their Hall of Fame, along with Arnold Roth, Bill Mauldin, Frank Frazetta, and renowned political cartoonist Thomas Nast.
The Society will continue and expand MoCCA’s mission in a number of ways: staging MoCCA Fest in its current location, dedicating a gallery in the Society building to MoCCA’s Permanent Collection, continuing MoCCA programming, and curating a special exhibition of works from MoCCA’s Permanent Collection in their Hall of Fame Gallery (on display March 5-May 4), which will run in conjunction with a major exhibit, “The Comic Art of Harvey Kurtzman,” curated by graphic designer and comics-anthology editor Monte Beauchamp. There will be extensive arts programming around both of these exhibits, including lectures, workshops, film and music series. Current MoCCA memberships will be honored at the Society of Illustrators.
MoCCA President Ellen Abramowitz added, “The Society of Illustrators is the perfect fit for MoCCA and its members. MoCCA’s fundamental principles will continue to be guided by the steady hand of the Society and its terrific staff. The two organizations are a wonderful match, where attendees, members, and fans will have it all under one roof in New York City. To be welcomed into the home of celebrated artists and publishers by a first-rate organization will serve to ensure that the foundation upon which MoCCA was built will continue to have a bright future.”
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.