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Cleveland Cartooning

There is a Hungarian Heritage Museum and the Dettrick Medical History Center and a firefighting museum and, smack in the middle of the modern city built by heavy manufacturing, the Dunham Tavern Museum to remember a couple who moved to the area in 1819.

You know about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame already.

Did you know Cleveland is also the hometown of the two Jewish creators of Superman?

Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel. They changed American pop culture. There’s no museum dedicated to them or to northeast Ohio’s knack for producing great artists in this very American art form, cartoon storytelling. Cleveland spawned memoirist Harvey Pekar and writer Brian Michael Bendis (if you love the first decade of Marvel movies, thank Bendis; Hollywood pulled a lot from his groundbreaking comic book stories). “Calvin and Hobbes” creator Bill Watterson is from a Cleveland suburb. “Funky Winkerbean” creator Tom Batiuk is from Akron, just down the road. There are many others who have drawn here or started here in the past 100 years of cartoon storytelling.

Now I’m here. Jerry Siegel’s childhood house is two miles from where I now work, the Cleveland Museum of Art. I’m thrilled to be doing philanthropy communications in my day job, helping to raise support for spectacular shows such as the current Michelangelo: Mind of the Master, in which you can see the famous artist doodling his ideas on scraps of paper (like a cartoonist). I draw inspiration from working among the world’s great art every weekday. It’s easy to see how my Chester Comix education and marketing work transects my work to promote the museum. There is artistic synergy everywhere: the CMA was founded at the same time American newspaper comic strips were roaring to life a century ago.

Cleveland’s culture was really stamped in the American Century. It makes sense that a city of blue collar manufacturing also produced cartoon writers and artists, because cartooning is a democratic art form, printed on cheap paper and requiring no formal training to get to the moment of creativity. Cartooning is an easy vehicle for the children of immigrants or factory workers to express their American dreams.

Being in Cleveland inspires me. Williamsburg, Virginia, was a wonderful incubator for history comix in the 23 years I lived there, but it was a bit false to my art form. The mishmash was the idea: I was applying a modern, popular form of storytelling to the formal, distant and not-very-visual lives of colonial Americans. And I drew a LOT of those stories, digging in to all the details provided by the work of the historians and archaeologists who were my neighbors. But Patrick Henry himself would not have understood my storytelling. I was applying one American culture to another.

Being a cartoonist in Cleveland feels much more organic. And I’m short on my storytelling about 20th century America anyway. I’m looking forward to drawing in my evening and weekend hours in my Cleveland apartment, like so many of my predecessors have done. And when I need inspiration, I’ll drive by Jerry’s house on the East Side. It isn’t open to the public, but American folklore magic was created there. And maybe part of my work in the coming years will be to find a space where we can honor these American storytellers.

This entry was posted on Sunday, October 13th, 2019 at 8:33 am and is filed under Author's Purpose. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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