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State of the Art Museum: What MoCCA Has Accomplished and Failed to Accomplish After Ten Years

In 2002, The Comics Journal (issue #242) interviewed Lawrence Klein, a New York lawyer who had conceived an ambition to launch a comic-art museum and annual festival in Manhattan at a time when two East Coast comic-art museums had just closed their doors for good and the debris had barely settled from the destruction of the World Trade Center. The Journal had a lot of skeptical questions: Why did he think his Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art would succeed where others had failed? How was he going to attract funding when the most prominent member of his board of trustees was cartoonist Ted Rall, who had just un-endeared himself to America by satirizing the venality of 9/11 widows?

Ten years later, Klein is entitled to have the last laugh. Although he had handed the reins of the museum to others by 2008, the museum is alive and … pretty well, all things considered. The MoCCA festival has flourished and a series of varied educational programs sponsored by the museum continues to thrive. As for the museum itself, well, at least it’s still here, and that’s more than some comic-art museums can say. It hasn’t gone virtual the way Kevin Eastman’s Words and Pictures Museum did in 1999. And it hasn’t been absorbed by a university like Mort Walker’s Museum of Cartoon Art, now a resident of the Ohio State campus. But if MoCCA is a success story, it’s also a story of compromises and struggle. It’s a story that may have much to tell about the place of comics in the East Coast art world. Because, for better or worse, MoCCA is the high-water mark for the level of respectability that comic art has been able to carve out for itself in its home town.

On the occasion of MoCCA’s 10th anniversary, therefore, the Journal decided to take stock of what the museum has accomplished and what it has failed to accomplish. The short answer is that it has survived and grown in various ways, but if a museum can be judged by its art collection, MoCCA has fallen short of the mark originally set for itself. Unlike most museums, MoCCA had no collection when it started, but Klein told the Journal back in 2002, “I’m certain the collection will come together.” Building a collection is among the goals posted on MoCCA’s website. But 10 years down the road, the museum is still not in a position to adequately build, store or display its permanent collection. Its resources are so limited that even when a major, historically important collection has been donated to MoCCA, the museum has had to break up the collection and sell off parts of it. As much as the museum aims to serve the history of comics, its survival has sometimes depended on actions that have damaged the record of that history.

In the report that follows (and in the accompanying interview with Lawrence Klein), we will try to understand how MoCCA has arrived at its current situation, a state of affairs that is both admirable and deplorable.

The trauma that was 9/11 created many of the conditions that allowed both the museum and the festival to come into being. Klein’s intellectual-property company, Visualization Technology, was located so close to the World Trade Center that it was cut off from electricity for months following the terrorist attacks, effectively putting Klein out of business and leaving him with time on his hands. At the same time, New York’s alternative-comics community discovered a new cohesiveness. The annual Small Press Expo had been scheduled to take place Sept. 14-16 in Bethesda, Md, but with air travel suddenly a question mark in the days after 9/11, the event was canceled. On Sept. 12, however, Matt Madden and Jessica Abel were already on the phone with Charlie Orr, asking if they could use his Greenpoint loft to mount a local indy comics gathering. Hundreds showed up Sept. 16 for an impromptu event calling itself SPX-iles. Kristen Siebecker (then promotional assistant for cartoonist Alex Robinson), who had witnessed the kind of response Madden and Abel had generated in a matter of days, approached Klein about organizing a permanent annual New York festival, and MoCCA was born. It turned out that New York was hungry for an opportunity to recognize its alternative comics scene and the MoCCA Festival, which began as a fundraiser and public relations event for the proposed Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art grew year by year into a high-profile happening in its own right.

The festival has had its ups and downs, culminating in a critical mass of complaints in 2009: Late start, not enough garbage cans, overpriced dealer tables and badges, poor communication, inadequate PR, and the suffocating heat of the insufficiently air-conditioned 69th Regiment Armory building in June. Not helping matters was MoCCA President Ellen Abramowitz’ head-in-the-sand press release after the show celebrating its “tremendous success” despite a few “warm moments and other minor glitches.” By simply moving the festival date to April the following year and each year thereafter, the sweltering heat was avoided without having to bring in expensive air-conditioning equipment. No longer threatened with heat stroke, festivalgoers have been in too good a mood to gripe and overall online comments have been favorable for a change.

The poster for the 2009 festival.

The relatively high fees charged to festival participants remain a sore point, but Abramowitz reminds critics that the festival is not a for-profit operation like some comics conventions. The funds it raises go to support the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art. Longtime MoCCA Trustee Jim Salicrup told the Journal that the bulk of the funds that keep the museum afloat come, not from the $5 donations requested of museum visitors, but from the proceeds of the festival. Some have objected to the unfairness of charging hefty fees to struggling alternative cartoonists and publishers in order to fund a museum that gears its exhibits to broad audiences rather than to indy aesthetic values. Ironically then, the museum is a rare instance of the alternative community subsidizing a more mainstream enterprise.

With longtime Marvel editor and writer Danny Fingeroth appointed to direct it, MoCCA’s other offshoot, its educational series of workshops and lectures, showed every likelihood of courting New York’s large mainstream superhero publishers. In fact, MoCCA’s administrators have described it as “balancing” the alternative emphasis of the festival. Indeed workshops by superhero-comics creators have been a mainstay of the educational programming. But, remarkably, the series has consistently mixed in quirkier sessions by people like R. Sikoryak, Peter Kuper and Bill Plympton. According to Abramowitz, the more alternative programming has held its own with the mainstream-focused classes and has regularly drawn substantial audiences.

The educational series, like the MoCCA Festival is an undeniable success, but there is a limit to how much success can be allowed it. The lectures and workshops are not held in some nearby lecture hall; they take place in the same space where the art is hung: the museum. When a class or workshop is held, rows of chairs are dragged out and set up in every available inch. According to Salicrup, although the educational events can draw anywhere from three people to more than 60, the museum strains to allow more than 20 bodies in the door at one time. According to Salicrup, “We’ve had programming where so many people showed up that we’ve had to close the doors. Some events we’ve declined to have, just because we knew they would be so popular that we couldn’t accommodate the crowd.”

Something funny happened along the way to success: While the MoCCA Festival and educational programs were drawing larger audiences and increasing media attention, the museum that they had been intended to support and promote had come to take a back seat.

Consider the Museums of Comic and Cartoon Art of two alternate universes. In one universe, as reported on various obscure but enthusiastic websites (replicated verbatim on faveeo.com, furniturefashion.com and others), “Comic or rather ‘graphic novel’ fanatics will soon get to share their love with like minded fellows and no I don’t mean Comic-Con. The proposed Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art MoCCA will sited [sic] on a 14000sq ft lot in Manhattan’s lower east side near the Williamsburg Bridge from Brooklyn and seeks to be a hub for the most comprehensive comic and cartoon art collection. The design proposal lists spaces for gallery, classrooms, café, retail, theater, lecture hall, IT/computer lab, offices, archives, workshops, library, conference and convention center, and the idea to have a fully immersive environment. The project has been conceptualized by architects Reid Ynstrom and Alessandro Ortiz and I can’t wait to see it take shape” [sic throughout]. Unfortunately, like many Web news reports, this one was half-cocked. It turns out that the described museum was simply an entrant in a Web-sponsored contest to design imaginary facilities for MoCCA. Ynstrom and Ortiz were not even the winning architects.

More about the contest and its winner shortly, but first, consider the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art of a second universe, which happens to coincide with our own impoverished reality:

A visitor to the museum between Prince Street and Houston Street in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood is likely to walk past it a time or two before finding a nondescript, unmarked doorway between other business fronts. Inside, MoCCA can be found on a list of numerous building tenants next to an elevator. The museum itself occupies the first suite after the visitor steps off the elevator on the fourth floor. It is a quietly lit gallery space occupying about 975 square feet.

Comments by tourists on Yelp include the following:

“The exhibit area is so dense and really kinda tiny, so you feel like you’re browsing through the private collection of the hippest person on the planet. One slight drawback is it’s a really difficult place to find. There are no signs for it at street level and you have to enter a large office building, search for it on a directory and check in with a desk guard before riding the elevator up.” (Posted June 20, 2010 by John W.)

“This place has the weirdest hours and they don’t have them listed on the door. Sometimes even when I check online and head over it turns out to be closed.” (March 5, 2010, David A.)

“I think this museum is so important but it’s so damn small, there’s not enough room for anything!” (March 29, 2010, Lauren M.)

“A very nice cozy space, but don’t expect to see any signs in front of the building indicating that the museum is there. It is very very small. There is a salon in the same building that will wax your butt cheeks.” (Nov. 26, 2006, Henry Y.)

More than one visitor reported having their arms twisted to get them to fork over the $5 suggested donation.

When the Journal pointed out that the museum doesn’t exactly jump out at you on the street, Abramowitz said she was well aware of the problem: “That’s an issue that we get a lot. The question is: How come you don’t have signage, how come you don’t have a banner? And that comes down to a price issue and also an arrangement with the landlords. The landlord, at one point, had an arrangement with another large tenant, a bank for instance, who singly had the only right to have signage and a banner up. If we put a plaque on the front of the building, if they allowed us, we’d probably be paying a fee per month on it. Because when we’ve had some special events, they let us put up banners out front. But it is difficult to find. I agree and I heard that. I hear it.”

Not all the comments have been unfavorable. Several visitors who were able to find their way into the museum described the staff as helpful and knowledgeable and many found the exhibits, small though they may be, entertaining, informative and aesthetically impressive. When the Journal visited the museum last year, the exhibit was “Will Eisner’s New York: From the Spirit to the Graphic Novel”. Leaving aside the questionable ethics of having the show curated by Denis Kitchen, who, as agent and publisher for the Eisner estate, stands to profit from the promotion of Eisner’s work, the exhibit was intelligently focused on Eisner’s representations of New York and included work by artists influenced by Eisner.

There were no other visitors when the Journal was there. Museum registrar Mell Scalzi showed the Journal around and did her best to answer questions. The Journal asked about the controversy that had surrounded a recent Archie exhibition in which pages of art for the comics were displayed as corporate-owned properties with no identification of the artists who had done the work. Scalzi had only a vague recollection of the incident, but Dan Nadel (PictureBox publisher and TCJ.com co-editor) remembered it very well:

“I went to the Archie Comics show about three weeks into the run. There was no credit for any of the artists on the wall. There was a handout on the desk with credits, but nothing on the wall and also no explanation as to why Archie still had all of this art. (It all came from Archie). In particular, there was no mention of the way the company treated its artists, like Dan DeCarlo (i.e. like shit).” When the lapse was pointed out, the museum did correct the attribution error, adding labels crediting the creators for their respective works. Nadel posted a critique of the show, and later found himself blackballed from participating in panels at the MoCCA festival. According to Nadel, “I pitched a panel to Brian Heater [festival programming coordinator] and he told me I was not allowed to be on any panels.”

Heater, noting that he has no official connection to MoCCA, did not confirm or deny Nadel’s account and declined to comment on where such a directive would have come from. Salicrup acknowledged that Nadel was persona non grata at MoCCA that year. “We’re all human,” he told the Journal. “We’re going to get mad. And we have such a limited number of panels, it would have almost been ironic if we had said, ‘Let’s find the people who are the most critical of us and give them a panel.’” Salicrup added that MoCCA has no hard feelings toward Nadel today.

Asked about MoCCA’s ongoing policy on crediting artists, Abramowitz told the Journal, “All creators are credited unless they cannot be attributed, in which case we will indicate that on the subject card. Giving creators credit is of utmost importance!” The Journal asked if corporate pressures ever influenced the content of the exhibitions and Abramowitz said simply, “No.” Abramowitz, Salicrup, and Klein all told the Journal that the museum has not been corrupted by big-money donations from the large comics publisher partly because there hasn’t been any big-money donations from the large comics publishers.

Currently running at MoCCA until April 29 is a Batman exhibition (including work by Batman artists, Chip Kidd’s collection of 1960s Japanese Batman memorabilia and items documenting the inspirations and career of Batman producer Michael Uslan) and The Art of Howl (featuring background drawings for Eric Drooker’s graphic-novelization of Allen Ginsberg’s epic poem). Each of these shows is one in a perpetual series of temporary and visiting exhibits. Whenever you go to MoCCA, you will see an exhibit that is passing through on its way to somewhere else; you won’t see the museum’s permanent collection. Scalzi explained that the permanent collection was in storage. When the Journal asked about where it was stored, Scalzi, not wanting to tempt burglary, was reluctant to identify its exact whereabouts. In facilities as small as MoCCA’s, however, it wasn’t hard to narrow down the possibilities to a doorway that Scalzi admitted led to the resting place of the museum’s permanent collection. This door was in a moveable wall that did not extend all the way to the ceiling, which meant it was possible to see over the moveable wall to the back wall of the storage area. The entirety of MoCCA’s permanent collection, everything it has accumulated in its ten years of existence, inhabits a space roughly the size of a walk-in closet.

(continued)


81 Responses to State of the Art Museum: What MoCCA Has Accomplished and Failed to Accomplish After Ten Years

  1. Robert Boyd says:

    “The Catch-22 that museums labor under, as Mort Walker discovered, is that you can afford fine facilities in the wilds of Florida, but you don’t have access to the kind of community interest and funding possibilities that a publishing Mecca like New York offers.”

    This is the explanation that many have given for the failure of Walker’s museum, but it doesn’t ring true. There are great museums and art spaces all over the country, often in very out-of-the-way places. In fact, great museums in New York City can suffer the same financial difficulties that a museum anywhere in the country might have. For example, the American Folk Art Museum almost collapsed last year. As it was, it had to sell its building (to MOMA) and become a renter. It also got some big checks from people who, presumably, thought that it would be a crying shame for such an important museum to dissolve.

    “I don’t have access to very much funding,” Abramowitz corrected the Journal. “The city doesn’t have it. The publishers don’t have it. The artists don’t have it. But I think having a museum in New York is really a special thing. I think it has an appeal to visitors and I think it has a great appeal to artists.”

    This is what I find kind of dispiriting. According to MOCCA’s 990, they had total revenue of $270 thousand. That is miniscule. That is the kind of revenue I expect to see from a non-collecting, artists-run institution, not from a collecting museum. And their rent in 2009 was $108 thousand, according to their 990!

    I wish the article had dealt more with their fund-raising. This is a challenge for a non-profit, but there are lots of techniques. Indeed, I’d like to see a break-down between support (grants and contributions) and income (money earned from MoCCA and other programs). How is their grant-writing? Do they have a gala? Etc. With such small revenue (relatively speaking), it seems like they are not particularly good at rounding up support.

    Perhaps support for this kind of museum is difficult. Maybe it’s easier for people to support artists’ spaces and performance art venues than a comics museum, although that seems hard to believe. But given that almost half their annual revenue goes to pay a landlord for a cramped 4th floor location with no signage, I’d say that their biggest problem is location. For that annual rent, you could get pretty roomy ground-floor accommodations in many other cities in the U.S. And the fund-raising would not be any more difficult elsewhere.

    • Rob Clough says:

      Mort Walker’s museum wasn’t exactly in the wilds of Florida. It was in Boca Raton, an extremely posh but mostly elderly city. The museum was in a high-rent shopping center and took up a huge amount of space. It was very nice (I visited it when they had an extensive Hank Ketcham retrospective), but I instantly wondered how they made any money–especially when there’s a fairly low population of children living in that town and Miami is a good 90 minutes away. The museum had the high-expense problems of New York without the sort of population that might actually be interested in visiting it.

  2. Joe Wos says:

    There are three museums right now dedicated to the comic and cartoon arts in the United States. The ToonSeum in Pittsburgh is somewhere between the two, we are larger than Mocca and smaller than San Francisco. Two galleries, a public hall gallery, and an outdoor comics reading courtyard in downtown Pittsburgh. While we have only been in existence for 5 years, and downtown for only three, we have had paced sustainable growth.
    We did a 400 page study on the feasibility of a cartoon art museum in Pittsburgh and examined both CAM and MOCCA closely pulling what worked and fit us from both to shape our vision.
    Our collection is now about 2000 pieces or so stored offsite at a climate controlled facility. We recently added a small library area as well, about 1000 books in rotation. I invite you to get to know us.
    I can be reached at joe@toonseum.com
    Thank you,
    Joe Wos
    Executive Director
    ToonSeum

  3. Brendt Rioux says:

    It’s pretty disheartening to read that such basic concerns of rent and location – issues which all mass-culture oriented non-profits face – have led MoCCA to make some questionable decisions, clearly at the expense of building a collection for longevity’s sake. Yes, it is an imperfect, invisible location, clearly lacking in support and outreach. Programming is hit and miss. (Could care less about what’s there now but wish I’d seen the Jaffe show — that’s just me.) And that contest looks so ludicrous and misguided!

    But I’d like to give credit where credit is due: I greatly appreciated both the Kim Deitch retrospective in 2008, and the NeoIntegrity show in 2010. I don’t know the degree to which MoCCA was responsible for putting these events together, and sure, they might have benefitted from expanded gallery space and more informative curatorial information. But any occasion for the public to see originals by the artists in those shows should be cause for celebration, whatever the circumstances. And hey, Gahan Wilson’s doing a class soon. Cool. I’ll hope for another, better 10 years, in which the museum faces up to the concerned criticisms here and makes some improvements.

    • As a contributor to NeoIntegrity: the Comics Edition (one of hundreds!) I can speak to that show. It was curated by Keith Mayerson, an outside curator and artist, but specifically for MoCCA and with the full contribution and participation of the MoCCA staff, without whom it never could have happened. Also, when I co-curated the 2009 “Silent Pictures” show at CUNY, MoCCA volunteered to organize a panel discussion in connection to it, and the attendance was fantastic, standing room only. So it does seem to have connected with its intended public, and I think there is a certain amount of goodwill toward it.

      What MoCCA most direly needs, though, in my opinion at least, is a curator with art historical training, one specifically trained to deal with, and care for, art objects. Until someone like that is hired, bringing with them the responsibility toward art objects inculcated in such training (which is why I’m insisting on art history, and not just museum studies; similarly, I don’t think simple training as an artist would be enough in this case), their handling of their own collection will remain subjected to many of the problems described here.

      • I should add that there are plenty of people with such training–and specializing, specifically, in works on paper–in the NYC area. Even hiring someone like that on a part-time basis could greatly benefit the collection.

      • Robert Boyd says:

        You have to have money for that. From what I could determine, MoCCA’s 2010 990 indicated that over $150K of their $270K revenue for the previous year was spent on rent and one salary. Adding another salary would require a large increase over their (2010-level) support.

  4. The Comic Guru says:

    Too much whining !!!

    My G__ —- this article,, while purporting to be balanced, does nothing but whine too loudly about “problems”.

    The museum has done a great job of providing a service and space for all those in love of comics in NYC. Yes – it seems to have funding issues – but lets be realistic. As was pointed out in the article, those in love with comics are not generally the type of people who are donating to the MET, and they are not donating to MOCCA either.

    Has The Comics Journal ever considered making a small donation or doing something to help out ?

    And all the nonsense with Dan Nadal ….. please. This guy is a frustrated industry participant who operates on the periphery, and is self promoting trying to make a bigger name for himself. He constantly bashes MOCCA because he is trying to develop his own fair as a competitive event. As the article pointed out – he could run a show in the Everglades at lower cost, but whats the point. The cost of the MOCCA FEST is huge in manhattan, their space is expensive, and no one in this industry wants to provide any financial support – like the guy who didnt want to pay $5 for admission. Everyone in the Comics industry thinks that because they are “indie”, they are entitled to get everything for free or at low cost.

    How many people in the industry try to negotiate their entrance fee at that for profit, commercially driven nightmare known as New York ComicCon?

    Stop whining about the education program having limited seating. The program is great. The cost is low (and often zero for members). What is the alternative? Renting space somewhere else so more people could attend, and complain that the costs are too high because the museum had to rent space.??

    Every organization has its ups and downs – 10 years later, MOCCA has done a great service to the comics community in New York. No one thinks every show at MoMA is perfect, and not every show has raving reviews. It is not a question of good and bad. It is simply a reflection of the fact that different people, and different reviewers, have different opinions. Nadel is a cry baby. Writers from TimeOut are enthusiastic. So what? If you dont like to cook, stay out of the kitchen —- but dont keep coming back to a restaurant that you dont like, so that you can keep complaining that the food is not up to your standards. That is what some in this community, like Nadel, seem to be doing.

    All those who complain about MOCCA seem to say the same things over and over. It’s old news. What you never hear about is any constructive suggestions. Like – ok – if the fee to have a table at MoccaFest is too high, than how should MOCCA raise money elsewhere to keep the museum operating? I dont believe I have ever heard or seen a single suggestion.

    The problem is not with MOCCA. It is with an industry and community that has little money, and even less to provide support. There seems to be an entitlement issue at hand. Those indies complain that everything is too expensive, and at the same time, that the museum should be doing more and more.

    It is an immature attitude coming from individuals with that sense of entitlement.

    I applaud the efforts and results of MOCCA for surviving for 10 years, in one of the most expensive cities in the world, with one of the most demanding constituencies in the world, who have among the least economic resources in the world. BRAVO.

  5. Chris Jones says:

    Interesting article. MoCCA is a name you hear floating around the internet much more than that of the Cartoon Art Museum so it’s curious to hear that the former is apparently a more dire institution on the whole. Robert raises an interesting point although it seems to me that the point of the museum is that it IS in New York and wants to stand alongside high art museums in the same area. Their efforts are commendable although I have to admit my heart sunk when I read the part about them selling off the Axis cartoon collection. What was the Art Students League’s reaction to that?

    I’m sort of bad at visualizing space-about how big is 975 square feet?

    • patrick ford says:

      Picture a tiny one bedroom house.

      “Within three years of acquiring the collection, MoCCA began auctioning off pieces of the collection”

      Appalling. Were there no pictures of Batman they could sell instead?

  6. CitizenCliff says:

    So in 10 years, from conception to the present, the biggest mistakes were selling some art because MoCCA needed money, not having air conditioning at an event, leaving some names off some art, and no markings on the building — scandalous! Did anyone think to contact 60 Minutes about this?

    Not only are MoCCA’s problems not shocking, they’re understandable, given the limited resources and manpower. What the article fails to mention is the benefits to the NYC comics community that MoCCA provides. The MoCCA Thursdays panels, often run by Danny Fingeroth are entertaining and highly informative, and feature comic legends and others who worked behind the scenes. There is no other setting I know of where such a small audience can freely ask questions and afterward meet the speakers.

    The classes at MoCCA are excellent. Want to learn about making comics or cartoons? You can learn from people like Howard Chaykin, Paul Levitz, Liza Donnelly, Bill Plympton, Gahan Wilson, Chris Claremont, Denny O’Neil, and many others. About two years ago I took a storyboarding class taught by Stephan DeStefano. The class was masterfully taught, and we had a lot of fun as well. I made some great friends in that class, who I still get together with.

    For those who are critical of MoCCA, I would simply say: get involved. Volunteer your time, your services, your expertise. Come to planning meetings for MoCCA Fest. MoCCA is far from perfect — but it is ours, and we can make it into what we wish. I for one, am grateful it exists, warts and all.

  7. The Comic Guru says:

    Another few points about this article – which in the end is reasonably well balanced.

    1. More whining about the permanent collection. I have seen the permanent collection a few years ago. Yes – it may be largely stored in what may be equivalent of a large walk in closet – BUT everything is stored unframed in flat files. You can store a considerable amount of work in a flat file with drawers up to the ceiling.

    2. Selling part of the AXIS collection? So what? Museums deaccession work all the time. The best quality was kept (I think). The lesser quality was let go.

    3. The article itself concludes with:
    ” But ultimately, the only way that MoCCA will grow the way that it needs to is if the comics community holds the museum to high standards, supports the achievement of those standards…… ”

    Well its fine for all those indies to hold the museum to high standards – what about also doing some contributing??? It’s difficult to maintain high standards when the audience is constantly griping about a $5 admission fee, or the cost of a table at MOCCA Fest. It would have been nice to see this reporter suggesting that the community could also to more to support the museum, rather than just focusing on what the museum can do for the community.

    4. Abramowitz does a great job – for no salary. Again, some compliments, support, and thanks, would be in order, rather than criticism that she couldnt make a meeting.

    BRAVO MOCCA

    • In response to your point 2, that MoCCA sold the illustrated Saul Steinberg painting (a rare early work, and in a medium which Steinberg only rarely used) clearly demonstrates that “the best quality” was not kept, nor was work of clear historical importance. This is why a professional curator is needed, to be able to make such judgments.

      Secondly, the AAMD guidelines as paraphrased by Dean state that funds obtained through de-accessioning “can be used only for the acquisition and care of other art.” This pretty clearly does not include installing shows, as Abramowitz seems to think it does, which falls rather under operating expenses, not under care of the art. I greatly appreciate much of the work that Abramowitz and the other volunteer members of the board have done–but, again, a professional is needed here in order to bring the museum, in its treatment of the art, up to standard.

      • The Comic Guru says:

        Andreii,
        Have you ever thought to volunteer some of your time, rather than criticizing the museum???

        I’m not familiar with the Steinberg painting – so cannot comment – but perhaps it had condition problems or other issues that the museum didnt want to deal with. Much of the Axis collection was a mess.

        Further, the Axis collection was not strictly de-accessioned. It was donated to the museum, to be done with as best needed by the museum. The pictures sold never formally entered the collection. They were sold off before cataloged, with the permission of the donor. The donation was made to the museum, to be used as best serves the museum.

        Andrei —- would you please consider making a donation to the museum – which could be earmarked as initial funding to hire a professional curator. Please put your money where your mouth is.

        Thank you !

      • Jeet Heer says:

        Upton Sinclair: why are you so negative in your criticism of the meat-packing industry? Why don’t you open up your own meat-packing firm and show us how it is done?
        Ida Tarbell: why are you exposing the faults of Standard Oil? Why don’t you get a job with John D. Rockefeller and improve things from within?
        Ralph Nader: you are so down on the car companies? Why not put your money where your moth is and buy General Motors.

      • Eric Reynolds says:

        Comic Guru, your comments would be taken much more seriously if you signed your name. I can’t fathom why someone would feel compelled to defend the museum’s honor anonymously. If you believe in them, tell us who you are, because right now it reads as if you work at the museum. You may well not, I’m not saying you do, but I’m saying your message is hard to take seriously without the weight of a real name.

  8. Confused donor says:

    I’ve very much enjoyed going to MoCCA over the past year. FWIW I was a donor/member last year; my membership lapsed recently but I have yet to receive any kind of reminder from the organization. No email, no letter asking for me to re-up. It’s a bit startling.

    • Robert Boyd says:

      It is startling. They obviously could use the money. My takeaway from the article reading between the lines is that their fundraising, even after ten years, is not good. Most non-profits I have joined or given money to constantly pepper me with reminders to re-up, with reasons to give them more money, etc.

    • Robert Boyd says:

      By the way, the reason this is of interest to me is because I am the treasurer of a small 501 (c)(3) (Freneticore, which is a theater and a dance troupe) and I deal with many of the issues discussed here all the time. In addition, I have given decent money (by my modest standards) to many local non-profits that are roughly the same size as MoCCA, and I usually do research before I write a check (via GuideStar). I want to see MoCCA prosper, but to me it seems like they are continuously operating with such limited support that they can’t do a lot of what one might want a comics museum to do (collecting and maintaining comics artwork). I don’t live in New York, so my comments should be taken as coming from someone who is a disinterested observer. I must add that their public outreach through panels and speakers seems excellent–MoCCA appears to be executing one aspect of its mission very well (I follow MoCCA on Facebook, so I get invitations to these talks very frequently, and they seem really interesting and varied).

      • Confused donor says:

        I agree. I expect their volunteer time is so constrained that they haven’t put priority on retaining membership. That strikes me as shortsighted. Hopefully mine simply fell through the cracks, but I’ve received so little from them recently that I wonder.

        At any rate I hope they don’t go away.

      • CitizenCliff says:

        Actually, MoCCA will be implementing a new web based membership service which will send out a reminder to renew annually.

  9. Frank Santoro says:

    Use a real name to comment, please.

    • Confused donor says:

      Nope, not in this case. In virtually all other cases sure, but using a real name would simply flag me to MoCCA.

      If you want to delete, go ahead. I’m only trying to help.

    • patrick ford says:

      What, you expect the Comics Guru to just give up his secret identity? That would be like asking Spider-Man to tell people he was Peter Parker.
      Why doesn’t THE COMICS GURU ask Stan Lee to support the museum, they do events to promote him often enough.

      • The Comic Guru says:

        ok – Now you got me.
        The Comic Guru is Stan Lee.

        And Jeet – I was going to open an auto dealership, And a gas station, In the meat packing district but I was looking for some Indie support and they all told me they go to NJ to buy their gas because its cheaper over there.

  10. Comic Guru must hang around with Jim Salicrup quite a bit, because he writes a great deal like him and has similar thoughts on MoCCA. I remember when I wrote a critical piece on the Archie show, and a bunch of anonymous posters showed up at the Beat accusing Dan Nadel of having a diminished manhood. When your biggest supporters can’t even sign their real names….you have a problem.

    I think the piece was very balanced, and the problem is clearly NOT ENOUGH MONEY.

    So I would ask The Comic Guru for some ideas for fundraising, grant writing and so on, beyond the Festival itself. This is clearly where the most effort is needed.

      • No Fake Heidi, it doesn’t, however us webmasters with our godlike powers can easily check IPS and ban fakesters such as yourself.

        ON my site that would be a banning offense. Don’t know how the TCjers treat it.

        [EDITOR'S NOTE: Heidi was responding to a commenter who posted under her name. The counterfeit comment has been removed, and the IP address linked to it has been banned.]

      • Jonathan Lee von Strausberg III says:

        This is unbelievable !!!

        BRAVO !!!!

        Criticizing MOCCA, after seeing this list of guests. No one else in the U.S could put something like this together.

        BRAVO !!!!

        Since 2002, MoCCA Fest has supplied New York with a great venue for comic lovers and creators alike to showcase and celebrate the diversity of the medium: discover comics, mini-comics, web comics, graphic novels, animation, posters, prints, original artwork and more. The festival brings established and emerging talent together for the comics community and the public at large to enjoy. Each year, the Festival invites dozens of established and emerging creators, scholars, and other experts to participate in two days of lecture/discussion panels on a variety of comics and cartoon topics. Find out what the buzz is all about — and where the buzz will be coming from — below.

        (Click for the full image)

        KLEIN AWARD RECIPIENT 2012: GARY PANTER
        The award will be presented by comics critic and educator Bill Kartalopoulos.

        Born in Oklahama and raised in Texas, Gary Panter has been a prodigious painter and multimedia artist since his youth. Equally influenced by art history and the psychedelic counterculture, Panter emerged as a visual force in the L.A. punk scene of the late 1970s. While illustrating album covers and fliers for musicians including Frank Zappa and the Screamers; Panter began publishing a series of comics in Slash Magazine featuring his post-apocalyptic punk/hillbilly alter ego, Jimbo. Panter’s groundbreaking comics, which introduced the expressiveness of painting and the aesthetics of printmaking to the comics form, subsequently gained an international audience in Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly’s avant-garde anthology series RAW. Throughout the 1980s, Panter also collaborated with Pee-Wee Herman, winning three Emmy Awards as production designer on the innovative children’s television series “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse.” Panter continues to paint and his work has been exhibited internationally. He regularly performs and records music and has collaborated with Joshua White on light show projects. His books of comics include Cola Madnes, Jimbo in Purgatory, and the forthcoming Dal Tokyo. Panter’s work was included in the 200! 5-2007 t raveling exhibit “Masters of American Comics”, the Phoenix Art Museum in 2007. He was the recipient of a 2000 Chrysler Award for Design Excellence. He is currently represented by Fredericks & Freiser in New York. Gary Panter lives and works in Brooklyn.

        GUEST OF HONOR: P CRAIG RUSSELL
        P Craig Russell provided the stunning artwork for the 2012 MoCCA Fest poster.

        P Craig Russell has run the gamut in comics as a writer, artist and illustrator. His evocative artwork has defined dozens of titles, including his Eisner-award-winning work with Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde, Elric: Sormbringer, Dr. Strange, Ring of the Nibelung, as well as Sandman #50: Ramadan, the highest-selling issue of the series. More recent work includes graphic novel adaptations of both Neil Gaiman’s Coraline and Gaiman’s Sandman: The Dream Hunters. His latest book is The Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde: The Happy Prince, from NBM Publishing.

        OTHER GUESTS
        MoCCA Fest is pleased to feature great talent at this year’s festival with programming and special signings & appearances, including Jessica Abel, Derf Backderf, José-Louis Bocquet, Joyce Brabner, Box Brown, Domitille Collardey, Leela Corman, Mike Dawson, Stephen DeStefano, Matt Forsythe, Drew Friedman, Tom Gauld, Dean Haspiel, Jason, Daniel Johnston, Michael Kupperman, Peter Kuper, Matt Madden, Nicolas Mahler, Catel Muller, Kevin Pyle, MK Reed, Joseph Remnant, Hans Rickheit, Alex Robinson, Olivier Schrauwen, Raina Telgemeier, GB Tran, Lauren Weinstein, & Shannon Wheeler !

        MoCCA Fest News & Updates
        Where do I go for news about the festival? If you’re not already doing so, follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Linkedin, but that’s not all!

      • Tim Hodler says:

        “Jonathan”: Are you formally affiliated with MoCCA? Either way, I think you owe it to the rest of us (and to the museum) to make that status clear.

      • Jonathan Lee von Strausberg III says:

        Would the real Heidi McDonald please stand up.
        Please stand up.

      • Tim Hodler says:

        Okay, bye bye then, “Jonathan.”

        I don’t know if you’re affiliated with MoCCA or not, but you’re clearly not doing them any favors, and are basically just acting like a troll now. Feel free to e-mail me with an explanation if you want to be reinstated.

      • No one else could put this together?
        This festival, organized by artists within the Chicago Community, boasts a far more ambitious guest list
        http://www.cakechicago.com/?page_id=105

    • The Comic Guru says:

      Hi Heidi,

      ok – Now you got me.
      The Comic Guru is Jim Salicrup.

      All kidding aside. I always go by the name CG. I”m not hiding anywhere.
      As for ideas on fund raising, as I have suggested, I believe everyone who benefits from the museum should contribute to it.

      Have you made a contribution of $100.? If not – why not ? I believe as a professional, you gain alot from the museum. Have you supported it?

      Everyone agrees the problem is not enough money. The other problem is that no one in the comics community feels they need to make any financial contributions – in fact, as I stated, its just the opposite. Everyone feels that MOCCA charges too much for everything. Therein lies the problem.

    • The Comic Guru says:

      Heidi !!

      Have you contributed to MOCCA?

      Are you even a member ??

      What are your suggestions about raising funds for the museum??? I presume you must have some intelligent ideas ??

      • Jim, maybe I will not contribute money until I see that the people RUNNING the museum have solid ideas about how to spend it or also raise money? Also, responding to even even handed criticism by calling the complainers whiners does not inspire confidence in me. I do like MoCCA and its events and support it through publicity and participation.

      • Jonathan Lee von Strausberg III says:

        Heidi,

        Is your contention that you support MOCCA by going to their events, but that it is not worth supporting with a financial contribution ???

        Is that logical ??

        I would not call you a supporter. I would call you a user. In fact, of the worst kind. You use the organization for what you can skim from it, but you give nothing back.

        SHAMEFUL.

      • Oh and Jim, the further down the list I go, your insulting replies to Austin (who eats sleeps and breathes comics) also do not inspire confidence.

        Going around and insulting people who don’t agree with you for valid reasons is not good PR.

      • Jonathan Lee von Strausberg III says:

        Heidi Maam,

        I do not insult people who dont agree with me. I only disagree with them.

        I believe you will find that a large number of people on here, when critical, get pretty insulting.

        I am merely trying to find a proper balance… the yin and the yang … the in and the out … do you get my drift ???

      • Jonathan Lee von Strausberg III says:

        ok Heidi,

        But you use the museum for your benefit, and admit to giving nothing back.

        If you cannot make a financial commitment, have you ever thought of volunteering, like so many others do ?

        Is this insulting? Or a constructive approach to discussing how so many people take but do not give ?

        Thank you.

  11. NRH says:

    Reading this article and the interview published simultaneously, it seems like MoCCA is basically a comics community center and cultural hub, with everyone agreeing that the festival, classes, panels, etc. are generally good. It does not appear that they are equipped at doing the job of being a comics culture museum.

    I don’t say “comics art museum” because it doesn’t seem like they have anything in the way of being an art museum in the contemporary sense of the word – it would not be hard to imagine a comics based contemporary arts institution that is interested in arguing for a place for comics towards the center, rather than the margins, of 21st century art practices. But it really doesn’t seem like MoCCA has any interest in doing so. Whether that’s a worthwhile goal in the first place is also open to question…

  12. This thread mirrors the intense disorganization of the MoCCA museum in a way that the article itself could never do.

    • The Comic Guru says:

      Austin,

      Your comment is the most ridiculous on here ! The fact that the audience at large has different views support some notion that the museum is disorganized ?????? Maybe you should move to Cuba, where different views arent allowed. Perhaps you will feel more comfortable there.

      • I would love MOCCA to do well. But I think the people who run the museum would agree that it has a lot of problems, many of them barely covered in this article. I look forward to a more in depth article in the future.
        Thanks for the tip on Cuba. I will check that out.

      • The Comic Guru says:

        Thanks Austin,

        A more in-depth article ??? I could hardly finish reading this one it was so long and tedious !

      • Okay, we’ve reached reductio ad Castro. Can we shut down all the pseudonymous comments now?

      • Scott Grammel says:

        I’d second that. And, frankly, if you’re not Madonna or Bono, how about using two names as a handle, as well.

  13. A minor error:

    “Hilda Terry, known for her Broom Hilda comic strip”

    Hilda Terry was known for “Teena”. “Broom-Hilda” was done by Russell Myers (from an idea by Elliot Caplin).

  14. Chris Jones says:

    So do you guys get trolls like Guru very often? I’ve only recently started checking this site’s comments section so I don’t have a very good handle on the Comics Journal Rogues Gallery.

    • The Comic Guru says:

      Hi Chris,
      Nice question. Come by here more often !
      We all have our views. There are many who dont like tp publish a name, but that doesnt mean they are often not the most articulate views in the threads. Enjoy.

    • No, this kind of “silly username” thing is pretty rare, even on the contentious threads.

  15. James says:

    Fuck anonymity, if one doesn’t have the balls to sign a name to it it’s not worth reading

    • The Comic Guru says:

      James,

      Please DO NOT read my comments. You do not seem to have the intellectual capacity to understand why some people (not just me), do not like to post with their real names.

      of course anyone could also just make up a name instead of stating they are anonymous. Would that be better for you ???

      THE COMIC GURU

      PS – Please refrain from using language like F___. It’s immature, and their are also children who read this site. You embarass yourself.

  16. Jonathan Lee von Strausberg III says:

    Hello everyone,

    There have been some comments seeking all anonymous contributors to stop posting in that manner, and only post with their name. After some consideration, I thought that there was no reason to hide behind a mask.

    Please feel free to simply call me John.

    Thanks, and continued happy reading.

  17. A note to all: I’ve been informed that Jim Salicrup only became aware of this brouhaha over the weekend when MoCCA’s Jack Walsh told him about it. So it seems our little trickster was also fibbing when s/he said s/he was Jim Salicrup. Apologies for throwing even more murk into this.

    That said, MoCCA needs more supporters like Cliff Galbraith who sign their name and stand behind their comments, and less like The Comic Guru, whoever s/he is, who is the worst kind of “defender” anyone can have.

    • Jonathan Lee von Strausberg III says:

      Heidi,

      1. Is this the “real” Heidi, or the fake Heidi ?
      2. As previously reported, I believe I read that the Comic Guru was really Stan Lee – and who is Jim Salicrup?
      3. Is a defender who is anonymous not as good as a defender who lists a false name?

      Your post seemed to be the real murk? Talk about the issue at hand please. Your postings always seem to focus on what is going on around the periphy – and never get into any real substance. This has been the case with your writings for years. It is not a good approach for a professional writer.

    • Kim Thompson says:

      Insofar as Comic Guru/Jonathan followed his “admission” that he was Jim Salicrup (in response to Heidi’s heavy hints that he was) with “all kidding aside,” I don’t know that very many people took this confession at face value, except for Heidi, who started calling him “Jim.” (Or thought that Jim Salicrup, a professional editor since before many of the people in this debate were born, had forgotten how to use apostrophes.)

      Comic Guru’s “why don’t you go to Cuba if you can’t stand disagreement” response to Austin English was more idiotic than insulting, I’d say.

      • Jonathan Lee von Strausberg III says:

        Yes – Heidi thought I was Jim?
        I thought it was pretty clear I was not.
        It provides some insight to Heidi’s thinking, and her often criticism of MOCCA.
        I would like to see her volunteer.

    • CitizenCliff says:

      I could use my real name, Cliff Galbraith, but I’ve been CitizenCliff around the web for many years. I have no problem with anonymity. I do have a problem with people who have no idea what they are talking about. MoCCA, while small in overall square footage, is vastly complex in its programming, festival, fund raising, membership, book signings, classes and budget woes. I really don’t get all the bitching and finger pointing.

      True, MoCCA can be better, so let’s make it better. Let those who voice the most criticism, become the most active — no one will bar the door from your entrance. MoCCA needs real help, committed volunteers — and not just the pimply faced youths who are only too glad to help, but grown-up business experienced adults who can and should get things done. Bring your area of expertise, bring your innovative ideas, do it for the pure love comics.

      Why bicker and call each other names, when that time and energy could be put to better use helping MoCCA. We all love comics, and MoCCA is for those who love comics. As shaky as MoCCA appears at times, it has survived and grown over ten years. Lets work together to make the next ten years of MoCCA a successful home for an artform whose time is long overdo.

  18. James says:

    I know Jim and don’t think he’d be so ridiculous. I havcan;t be bother at this point to guess who someone is that uses a fake name. I can understand why people would do such a thing, but then they have to figure that not standing behind their words gives whatever they say no weight of conviction.

  19. Ian Harker says:

    If I was pulling the strings at MoCCA the first thing I would do is hire Dan Nadel to run everything. If you can’t beat ‘em, hire ‘em. It’s worked beautifully for .tcj.com.

  20. Bill Kartalopoulos says:

    One major premise of this article that I’d take issue with is that the MoCCA museum represents “the place of comics in the East Coast art world” or “the high-water mark for the level of respectability that comic art has been able to carve out for itself in its home town.” There have been a number of successful, interesting, and frequently well-reviewed comics and cartooning-related exhibits in NYC over the past ten years at venues other than MoCCA. The Jewish Museum has held exhibits devoted to Ben Katchor, William Steig, and Maurice Sendak, and hosted the post-war half of the Masters of American Comics exhibit; The Adam Baumgold Gallery has exhibited work by Seth, Charles Burns, Chris Ware, Marc Bell, and many more; Crumb’s work has been exhibited at the Society of Illustrators and Tony Shafrazi; Gary Panter and Glenn Bray curated a Zap show at Scott Edlin Gallery last year; Basil Wolverton’s work was recently exhibited at the Barbara Gladstone Gallery; my own “Cartoon Polymaths” show was up at Parsons last year, and SVA mounted a large comics exhibit called “Ink Plots” recently as well; the Rubin Museum currently has a comics exhibit up that I contributed wall text to; and the list goes on.

    Nearly all of these shows have garnered reviews or other attention in The New York Times, Artforum, ARTnews, and other mainstream venues. I think these indicate that there is a growing space for comics in the NYC art world. In this context, I don’t think one can take the current status of the MoCCA museum–whatever it is–as a sole, objective measure of the climate for work like this in NYC.

    • Jonathan Lee von Strausberg III says:

      I disagree with this premise.

      Having a one off comics show (or even 2 or 3) over a period of 3-5 years, is not nearly the same thing as being a comics museum. Comics are the blood of the museum. The others are largely doing a profit driven show because they had something to sell.

      This is why no major museum will ever hire a former dealer.

      • Bill Kartalopoulos says:

        Other than the Baumgold shows, very few of the exhibits that I noted featured works that were up for sale (many are museum exhibits, and even some of the gallery shows listed here, such as the Zap show and, I believe, the Wolverton show, were only exhibiting — not selling — work). Not that it matters as much as you suggest. But my larger point is that the success or failure of MoCCA at any given moment is not strictly indicative of broader NYC artworld interest in comics. That’s happening independently of MoCCA.

      • Jonathan Lee von Strausberg III says:

        OK.
        I agree.
        But having worked in a commercial gallery, I know that ultimately, any show that is produced is only done with the objective of enhancing the commercial viability of the gallery – whether the works are for sale or not.
        Nuff said.

      • Robert Boyd says:

        “This is why no major museum will ever hire a former dealer.”

        Except for MOCA hiring Jeffrey Deitch and the Pasadena Museum of Art, the Corcoran Gallery and the Menil Museum hiring Walter Hopps.

        (I know–don’t feed the trolls. Sorry.)

  21. Frank Santoro says:

    Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right – here I am – stuck in the middle with you…

  22. ed says:

    After reading the travails and criticisms of MoCCANY, thank Kirby for the CARTOON ART MUSEUM here on the Left Coast!

    Always have made a point of dropping by on my Bay Area visits; so nice that they’ve expanded and grown from that cramped walk-up setting to the roomier digs just a walk down SFMOMA…

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  25. Nick Dupree says:

    Some of the criticism of MoCCA is legit, and some is totally unfair and/or outright nonsense. Oh well, welcome to the internets.

    I would like to see a better location (in the same neighborhood, wouldn’t want to lose the walking distance from our apartment.) I was left feeling punk’d by the architecture competition to design a new MoCCA on the Lower East Side, I thought there really was going to be a new MoCCA location at that site.

    I’m a guy who writes, draws and inks my own comics; I need a ventilator to breathe, and get around in a large wheelchair, and I visited MoCCA in November 2010. I’d like to swing by MoCCA again in the next few months and renew my membership. If anyone affiliated with MoCCA ever reads this, please contact me at comics (at) superdude (dot) org, because I’d love to get involved in the NYC comics community, and have someone to talk to as I create comics.

    Nick

  26. Mocca website currently says ‘Museum is currently closed to the public.’
    http://moccany.org/
    Events cancelled with very little explanation. Guess that $15 fine for attendee’s at the festival wasnt steep enough, huh?

  27. Rob Clough says:

    Makes one wonder if there will even be another MOCCA festival…or more to the point, if there SHOULD be another festival if they can’t keep their doors open and pay their employees. If that’s indeed what is happening.

  28. Frank Santoro says:

    Cage Match! The Battle of the Indie Festivals begins!

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  30. Such sad news. I wish I’d gone out there more recently, but it did provide me with many good times. Hopefully they’ll find a physical space sooner or later. NYC needs a comics museum. I donated about ten years worth of TCJ back issues and a ton of foreign comics to them a couple years ago. I hope it helped at least a little!

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