Editor's note: The Montclair Art Museum provided source material to Resource Library for the following article or essay. If you have questions or comments regarding the source material, please contact the Montclair Art Museum directly through either this phone number or web address:


Reflecting Culture: The Evolution of American Comic Book Superheroes

July 14, 2007 - January 13, 2008


The Montclair Art Museum (MAM) has announced the July 14th opening of a first-of-its-kind exhibition, Reflecting Culture: The Evolution of American Comic Book Superheroes on view until January 13, 2008. The exhibition traces the way in which comic books have reflected an ever-evolving American culture   through more than 150 original drawings, rare comic books and graphic novelsfrom the Golden Age of comics (1938-1946) to the present. Never-before-seen original drawings and other work from the private collection of area resident Michael Uslan, Executive Producer of Batman and Batman Begins, will be the cornerstone of this exhibit, which unites seminal work of the genre from private collections around the country.

Curated by MAM's Chief Curator Gail Stavitsky, with assistance from Curator of Native American Art Twig Johnson, and award-winning film producer and comic book collector Michael Uslan,  Reflecting Culture:  The Evolution of American Comic Book Superheroes examines the modern comic book, from its humble origins in 1934 as the reprinted pages of Sunday newspaper comic strips, to its ascent as a thriving industry that has fueled the American imagination, to the enormous successes of its contemporary offspring, the Hollywood blockbuster film. 

A second exhibition, Comic Book Legends: Joe, Adam, and Andy Kubert, will feature the original drawings of the comic art dynasty that has influenced generations with their work. The exhibition of select art from the Kuberts' oeuvre will hang in the Shelby Gallery.

"By September 2007, a significant portion of MAM's galleries will be devoted to the comic book genre, with all of its cultural, artistic and social relevance," says Patterson Sims, Director of the Montclair Art Museum, "The September unveiling of a new, site-specific mural by Greg Hildebrandt, and the September opening of the exhibition of contemplative and thought-provoking work by Dulce Pinzón will further the Museum's exploration of the this facet of popular art."


Reflecting Culture: The Evolution of American Comic Book Superheroes

From the time of its inception in the early '30s, the modern comic book quickly grew into a thriving industry that became the most popular producer of reading material for children and young adults.   This dramatic growth was fuelled by the proliferation of the new superhero comic book characters that appeared in the era of the Great Depression and World War II.  Like the mythological heroes of ancient Greece, the comic book superheroes became manifestations of American history, culture, and folklore. As Uslan has observed, "the ancient gods of the Greeks, Romans, the Egyptians, and the Norse still exist today, only they're clad in spandex, capes, and masks."

This exhibition traces the way in which comic books have reflected national events, aspirations, and attitudes -- from the battles waged against Axis powers and corporate corruption by the invincible Superman, Batman, and Captain America, to the era of the 1960s when Spider-Man emerged as the quintessential superhero of his time -- an adolescent who had to contend with his own insecurities while fighting evil.  This reworking of the formulas for superheroes was also evidenced by greater diversity in comic books with the introduction of African American, Native American, and other minority characters.   The exhibition concludes with an open-ended section exploring the impact of the 9-11 crisis as superheroes of the new century worked alongside real, ordinary heroes to address the greatest catastrophe on American soil.

The exhibition is divided into the following five sections:

Superheroes Go to War: The Depression and New Deal 1938-1945
Cold War, Conformity, and Censorship: Comic Book Superheroes in the Postwar Era and 1950s
Questioning Authority:  Comic Book Heroes and Sociopolitical Change in the 1960s and 70s
Diversity and Moral Complexity: Comic Book Superheroes of the 1980s and 1990s
Spider-Man at Ground Zero:  The New Century and a 9-11 Postscript


A movie theatre has been constructed in the gallery, which will offer regular screenings of the film Comic Book Superheroes Unmasked (2003) which addresses both the history of comics and their adaptation as mass media entertainment in radio, television, and movies.

An exhibition catalogue will be published this fall in conjunction with the exhibition, which will include a forward by Michael Uslan, with essays by Gail Stavitsky and Twig Johnson.   

Michael Uslan, Executive Producer of Batman Begins, served as principal consultant for Reflecting Culture: The Evolution of American Comic Book Superheroes, providing critical assistance, key loans, and guidance with every phase and aspect of the production of this project.   Major lenders who generously shared their expertise and works from their collections include Joe and Nadia Mannarino, All Star Auctions, Stephen Fischler, Ben Smith, and Vincent Zurzolo, Jr., Metropolis Collectibles at Metropolis.com,   Srihari S. Naidu, M.D., Joe Kubert, Ankur Jetley, and Richard Sheinaus.


Wall panel texts and images for the exhibition:

Please click here to view texts and images from six wall panels.


(above: Carmino Infantino, cover penciller and Neal Adams, cover inker, Superman #240 (DC Comics, July 1971), SUPERMAN and © DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.)


(above: John Buscema, Cover Artist, The Silver Surfer#1 (Marvel Comics, August 1968). Collection of Michael Uslan,© Marvel Comics)


Also on view: Comic Book Legends: Joe, Adam, and Andy Kubert

This exhibition is the first museum presentation of works by the legendary comic book artist Joe Kubert and his sons Adam (b. 1959) and Andy (b. 1962).   A multi-faceted, prolific talent in the comic book industry for over sixty-five years, Joe Kubert (b. 1926) has worked in all genres, from military themes and horror to westerns and superheroes.  He is best known for his masterful work on Sergeant Rock, Hawkman, Tarzan, Tor, Firehair, Viking Prince, Ragman, and many other memorable characters which reflect his unique combination of careful research and bold, fluid draftsmanship.  He has recently had published critically acclaimed graphic novels titled Yossel, Abraham Stone and Jew Gangster.

Joe Kubert began his career at age 12 when, as a promising young artist, he was allowed to ink some pages of the teen-humor comic book Archie.   In 1942 Kubert first worked for DC Comics, Inc., the company with which he has been most closely associated during his career.  Kubert served as an editor for DC Comics from 1967 into the 1980s. In 1976, he and his wife Muriel founded the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art in Dover, New Jersey.  This first and only fully accredited school of its kind has educated many of the industry's leading comics artists, including Adam and Andy Kubert who now serve as instructors there.  

Occasionally collaborating with their father, Adam and Andy Kubert have developed highly successful careers of their own. Andy is best known for his work at Marvel on the X-Men titles and Wolverine: Origin as well as his subsequent work at DC Comics since 2006 on Batman. Adam, also affiliated with DC Comics since 2006, has developed his reputation for drawing Superman in the Action Comics series. While at Marvel Comics, Adam launched two of their highly successful Ultimate series: Ultimate X-Men and Ultimate Fantastic Four. Before that, Adam drew numerous X-Men titles along with the Incredible Hulk.  Bringing a multitude of comic book characters to life, the highly talented Kubert family is truly a legendary presence in New Jersey.  


(above: Joe Kubert, The Greatest Heroes of the 1950s, 1990, Watercolor on paper. Collection of the artist  © DC Comics)


Coming this fall:

Greg Hildebrandt: Golden and Silver Age Superheroes, September 16, 2007 - January 13, 2008

New Jersey illustrator Greg Hildebrandt has been commissioned by MAM to create a monumental mural that will be on view in The Blanche and Irving Laurie Foundation Art Stairway.  This colorful mural will feature key superheroes associated with DC and Marvel from the late 1930s to the 1960s by the renowned illustrator and former Kubert School teacher.  The DC mural features Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Spectre, Green Lantern, Hawkman, the Joker, and Lex Luthor.  The Marvel mural features Captain America, the Sub Mariner, Human Torch, Dare Devil, Thor, Red Skull, and Green Goblin.

Dulce Pinzón: The Real Story of the Superheroes, September 16, 2007 - January 13, 2008

Dulce Pinzón: The Real Story of the Superheroes includes 20 large-format color photographs that pay homage to the Mexican immigrant worker; men and women that manage, without the help of any supernatural power, to withstand extreme conditions of labor in order to help their families and communities survive and prosper. Each subject is dressed in the costumes of popular American and Mexican superheroes including Superman, Batman, and The Incredible Hulk, among others. Descriptive labels for this exhibition will be printed in both Spanish and English. 


RL readers may also enjoy:

rev. 6/25/07

Read more articles and essays concerning this institutional source by visiting the sub-index page for the Montclair Art Museum in Resource Library.

Visit the Table of Contents for Resource Library Magazine for thousands of articles and essays on American art.

Copyright 2007 Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc., an Arizona nonprofit corporation. All rights reserved.