Tuesday, March 25, 2014

On History: The Watterson/Thompson Exhibit

This past Friday, I attended the opening of the Bill Watterson and Richard Thompson exhibits at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum. Hundreds showed up, including Thompson himself, battling the snarling traffic of college basketball crowds to see the works of the artists.

Watterson's and Thompson's works were each given their own room, and had decidedly different foci. Watterson's gallery was almost exclusively limited to his Calvin and Hobbes work. The few pieces there that weren't from Calvin and Hobbes itself were still fairly closely tied to that work. His pre-Calvin pieces, for example, showed a pretty direct line to his later, more well-known, work. To wit...

The Thompson gallery, by contrast, was a more full retrospective. It included not only originals from Cul de Sac and Richard's Poor Almanac but several of his caricatures, portraits and other spot illustrations. It were the these others that I was least familiar, and also the ones I found most impressive. They were done in a markedly different style than the sort of scratchy pen lines that I'm more familiar with, but very well done. It was almost annoying to see how many different styles and media Thompson seemingly has at his expert command.

As with any exhibit of original art, I quite enjoy studying the techniques used. Watterson's masterful brushwork in his inking was even more evident than in the printed versions we're all so familiar with, and Thompson's colors absolutely lept off the Bristol board. It's wonderful to be able to examine these pieces close up, and I should probably take a moment to apologize to curators Jenny Robb and Caitlin McGurk for any nose prints I may have left on the glass.

As I said, the opening night itself was fun. I was able to catch up with a number of industry type folks I know, as well as meet a number of new ones. (Even better: watching other creators who were examining these pieces and the Museum as a whole for the first time!) Several of us went out to dinner with Thompson later that evening and, while I never really talked with him, he seemed to have a grand time all evening.

I've talked at length before about the Billy Ireland, but this exhibit is yet another example of what a great resource it is. They're able to highlight a wonderous collection of comic art, make it available to the public, and educate everyone along the way as well. Whether you're a fan just reminiscing about the strips you used to read, an artist looking to study a hero's linework, a researcher trying to piece together the history of a creator's life, or a six-year old girl discovering how comics are made for the first time, this is a place you absolutely should visit. And even if you happen to miss these two exhibits (shame on you if you do -- they're up through August 3) there will undoubtedly be another fantastic set of works on display afterwards. I am so thrilled to live in a time when this type of thing is possible, and to see it done so well is amazing.

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