Archie CEO talks MoCCA and creator credits

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200911191422 Archie CEO talks MoCCA and creator credits
The blogosphere has justifiably been astir over the matter of the current Archie show on display at the Museum of Cartoon and Comics Art in Manhattan. I attended the opening night in November and although it was a vibrant night full of some great artwork and great attendance, unfortunately, the first thing I noticed about the show is that the art wasn’t credited. And I was, frankly, appalled.

The show is arranged by decades, showing the development of Archie through the ages, with wonderful, iconic art by Dan DeCarlo, Harry Lucey, Stan Goldberg, Bob Bolling, Gus Lemoine, and others. It is a fitting platform to show the lasting appeal and impact of the Archie characters — however, that appeal and impact comes from the men and women who created the stories and art, and there was no way to connect them to the art the way the show was set up.

There was also the matter of the descriptive copy on the walls, which definitely spoke about Archie as a company and character, but made no reference to the great artists on display. It was something of an unexpected slant for a show at MoCCA, which traditionally showcases artists.

I immediately started asking MoCCA personnel and show curators why there were no art credits. I was told that the cards had arrived late and would be put up at a later date, but a handout with the creators’ name was available that night. Later I found out that the art had arrived from Archie mostly unidentified, and the process of ID’ing it had only been possible when Archie editor Victor Gorelick had come to MoCCA to supervise it. There hadn’t been time to get the wall credits up before the opening.

Not all that satisfactory, and not a great way to open a show that IS worthwhile. However, I felt that everyone I spoke with understood that getting the creator’s name on the walls so people could connect their names to their work was a matter of importance and would be taken care of. It seemed like common sense.

Because, you see, not connecting the names of comics creators to their work is, sadly, the shame of the medium. Let’s set aside the matter of creators not getting compensated for the billions of dollars their creations have garnered — just getting CREDIT has been an uphill struggle. It’s a disgrace that has helped keep comics in the cultural gutter for a long time, and only now, in this slightly more enlightened era, is it being righted in some places, thanks to research and outrage.

201001130350 Archie CEO talks MoCCA and creator creditsUnfortunately for MoCCA, getting the wall placards in place wasn’t prioritized. Dan Nadel–himself the curator of a fantastic show of David Mazzucchelli’s art at Mocca this summer — went to visit the Archie exhibit some three weeks after it opened, and there were still no wall cards for the art. He had the same reaction I’d initially had.

To me, this is dark, sad stuff. Archie Comics has a great artistic legacy—one worth examining. But it’s been over two decades since the Kirby v. Marvel fight, and over a decade since the nasty business over Dan DeCarlo came to light. We all understand (or should) the financial and moral issues at play and I’m not going to reprise them here. In the case of DeCarlo, a man who made Archie millions of dollars was fired in his twilight years and denied any share in the characters he created. It’s somewhat grotesque to use his work to “celebrate” the company without even acknowledging the issues at play. Was DeCarlo’s family invited to contribute to or comment on the show? Were any of the deceased artists’ families asked?


Nadel’s post brought immediate and justified support from Tom Spurgeon, Dirk Deppey and Johanna Carlson.

Frankly, it was dismaying to realize that the wall cards hadn’t been put up for three weeks after the opening. I was poised to chime in on the criticism, but received a note from Ellen Abramowitz, the chairman/president of MoCCA, offering to talk about the situation. During our conversation, Abramowitz stressed that everyone at MoCCA knew the importance of giving creators credit, and she personally had made sure that at least the handout was available because she felt the credits were so essential. Later she issued the following statement:

The Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art believes strongly in creators’ rights, particularly the right of artists to be credited for their work. Due to a logistical snafu we regret, when THE ART OF ARCHIE opened the wall cards had not been completed. Instead, we presented visitors with handouts that provided, among other information, the name of each piece and named the artist(s) who created it. Fortunately, a few weeks after the opening the cards identifying each piece and each artist arrived and went up on the walls, and the use of handouts was discontinued. 

We invited Mr. Nadel to come to discuss his issues with the show with us in the gallery, in part so he could see for himself that this was true, but as he said in his blog post, his schedule seems to have prevented him from attending such a meeting. 

It’s our policy as a museum to give proper credit to every piece of art on our walls. We regret the wall cards not being finished closer to the actual opening of the show, and resorting to the necessity of handouts, but they are up there now and will have been there for the majority of the time the show was open to the public.

We thank the comics community for their understanding and continued support.


Although everyone was well intentioned, the “snafu” still has given something of a black eye to what should be an enjoyable look at, as Nadel put it, a comics legacy that should be examined. But it’s no secret that Archie Comics has had a controversial past when it comes to some of its greatest creators — the family of artist Bob Montana sued for co-creation credit on Archie—the credits now credit John Goldwater as creator and Bob Montana as “creator” of “the original characters’ likenesses.” —and Dan DeCarlo — their most influential artist and creator of Josie and the Pussycats and Sabrina — had a bitter falling out before his death over credit. It isn’t just Archie’s characters that are unchanging throwbacks to a simpler time — as a family-run business with its roots in the Golden Age, many of Archie’s business practices have been long unexamined.

201001130355 Archie CEO talks MoCCA and creator credits
But the exhibit comes at a time when new management is moving the crew from Riverdale into the modern world of branding and transmedia under the leadership of new co-CEO Jon Goldwater who took over running the company following the death of his older brother Richard in 2007. Goldwater has impressed many with his enthusiasm and energy, which were honed in a career in the music business, and it’s evident that Archie has been moving in some very progressive directions lately.

Upon contacting Archie’s PR person about the exhibit snafu, I was quickly put into contact with Goldwater, and he acknowledges that the problems with the show were because of the too-short time frame to put it together, but he regrets that it gave the impression that Archie was continuing with its tradition of failing to give credit to creators.

“I can’t speak for things prior to my being here,” Goldwater says, “but things that have gone on previously with how artists were treated has nothing to do with where we are now. We support every artist, every writer, every employee of Archie. They are valued. They are treasured.”

Goldwater says he wasn’t aware until two months ago that many stories in the Archie digests went out without credits, but now that he’s aware of the situation, “Going forward, I give you my word as CEO of Archie Comics that every writer, every artist, and every penciler, every inker—whatever the credit may be—in every digest will be credited. It’s absolutely insane that it wasn’t in the older digests. It may take a moment, but that is the way going forward.” He added that during his career he’s sometimes had his credits left off albums, so he knows what it feels like.

201001130357 Archie CEO talks MoCCA and creator creditsHe didn’t leave much room for waffling. “For as long as I’m here, Archie Comics is going to give the credits that people deserve.” When he took over, the credits issue wasn’t on his radar. “There were so many things going on here, you had to pick and choose your battles. But it is being corrected — that I can guarantee you.”

I asked Goldwater about complaints that the exhibit materials that were on display didn’t do enough to credit the individual writers and artists. He responded, “Everything was oversight. It was rushed. People had the best intentions to give people an enjoyable experience, everything should have been done. There was no malice involved. But as CEO, I’ll take the blame.”

After talking to everyone involved, I’d tend to agree with this assessment. Not getting the art ID’d and the wall cards up in time for the opening is a function of MoCCA’s chronic problems with under-funding and under-staffing. It’s doubtful that the show’s curators– MoCCA’s Abramowitz and director Karl Erickson, and Archie freelancers Alex Simmons and Arie Kaplan—intended to do something that reinforced decades of the very worst practices of the comics industry. Unfortunately, it comes at the end of a year when MoCCA has been on the receiving end of a lot of criticism over the handling of their annual art show (see Cheese Hasselberger’s comments in The Beat’s year end survey for a sampling.) MoCCA’s board and trustees need to understand that to move forward they need to acknowledge these problems in order to solve them. While a museum is a way to treasure the past, there are a lot of things that need to be left in the past, and denying creators credit for their work is one thing we really don’t need to be reminded of.

(Archie Comics art in this post by Dan DeCarlo, Bob Bolling and Harry Lucey. Ironically, I couldn’t find the name of the Exhibition poster artist, but I’ll add it as soon as I get it.)

Comments

  1. Credits next to a piece of work hanging in a gallery are as important as the actual work hanging.

    As someone that lives and learns daily though…once something like this happens and is brought to the attention of others, the chances of it happening again are slim to none. Because of this, some good things came out of it.

    That all said…it looks like an awesome show and I am glad all these artists are getting some proper attention for their works.

  2. I’m satisfied.

    But Bob Montana still deserves more credit.

  3. Being privy to the treatment of the artist nationally and abroad, from my humble perspective, the credit of the of sole the artist, writer or artist, in the US is in it’s fledgling state when compared to that of European comics.

    The hand became more important than the vessel(characters or arc). The creator, whether it was his creation or not, was given credit for the sake of creating beautiful art (both drawn and written) and that was where the appreciation came from. It is more about following an artist and not a set character or a set story arc, IMHO.

    I know the people behind the Archie show were absolutely dedicated to giving as much credit as possible. It sounds like a sad snafu, but they couldn’t let this be a show stopper. The show had an opening reception and a party, it would have been more of a mess if they pushed that. It was a rock and a hard place situation.

  4. Nate Horn says:

    What’s this? A tiny museum most people in this tiny niche hobby don’t even know about didn’t put artist identification on the works? This is certainly up there with the Haiti earthquake, indeed….

  5. I also wish there had been more hard-hitting news coverage about a natural disaster in another country on this comic book blog.

  6. Beauregard Montgomery says:

    This is a great show! What’s the huge deal with the artist credits being acknowledged via a handout instead of wall labels for the first three weeks? Most galleries in Chelsea have attributions on checklists you ask for, not on the walls, and even big museums sometimes have salon-style exhibitions with so much work on the walls that they give details as to the artists, etc., on paper or handouts as to not to disturb the aesthetic arrangement. It seems that the artists names in the show were ALWAYS acknowledged, and it seems that MoCCA had from the beginning worked with this goal in mind. To attack this small and fledging institution, especially on this matter–paper vs. wall–is based on subjective opinion. MoCCA that has done so many great shows especially in the last couple of years, in addition to their events, evenings, and festival, is sad. We should be supporting this museum, which is so valuable to the community, and is obviously trying hard to stay afloat and pertinent.

  7. Kate Fitzsimons says:

    Beauregard, the history of comics creators being dismissed and hidden as irrelevant in comics franchises makes this a very sensitive subject. Not having attributions on the walls can make it seem as if the artist’s contributions are seen as unimportant. It can cause a lot of bad feeling and should be relatively easy to fix.

    Minor criticisms like “you should have the names next to the pictures” can *completely* coexist with support of a wonderful institution. No one is saying “Mocca, you are bad and you should feel bad! No one go there!” at all.

  8. The Beat says:

    Beauregard:

    What is the HUGE DEAL? YOU have GOT to be kidding. A museum is intended to inform and educate audiences — it is not the same thing as an art gallery and to suggest that it is shows a total lack of understanding of the purpose of a public institution.

    How are people going to learn about Archie and its rich history without knowing who the artists are, especially given the shameful treatment of them in the past? It is understandable that the cards weren’t there opening night. but the delay in mounting them is troubling.

    MoCCA is not a “fledgling” institution. I can’t find the date of its founding on the website, but it has been around in one form or another for the better part of a decade — the first festival was held in 2002! If after 8 years the Museum is so underfunded and understaffed that it cannot properly credit the artists of one of the great comics characters after three weeks, that is very troubling indeed.

  9. Beauregard Montgomery says:

    Evidently, they did put up wall labels ASAP, and to delay the show because the artist attributions would be listed on a handout instead of on the wall for three weeks would have been overcompensating. While artist attribution is of course incredibly important, it seems that Archie and MoCCA were striving to do this, and did do this before the show opened and so everyone is in agreement. While I understand this is a sensitive subject given comics history, to chastise MoCCA so severely for giving the public artist credit in one form instead of another for the first days of this show seems egregious.

  10. ~chris says:

    “denying creators credit for their work is one thing we really don’t need to be reminded of”

    Denying creators credit for their work is one thing we really don’t need to continue. People do need to be taught about it and reminded of it, to prevent it from happening again.

    “A museum is intended to inform and educate audiences”

    How about an exhibit of creators who had been denied credit, to teach young comics fans how important this is?

  11. I’d be even happier if Archie Comics actually did value and treasure its creators. They have one of the worst work for hire agreements I have ever seen. I refused to sign. Because I have too much respect for myself, not to mention Dan DeCarlo.

  12. “The Beat has an important article concerning MoCCA’s Archie Comics exhibit and the issue of addressing creators’ credits at the show…”

  13. Gary Brown says:

    Thanks for taking this on, Heidi. In the past, Archie has gone up and down like a roller coaster with crediting artists and writers, but not doing it at an important museum show is NOT acceptable. Let’s hope they begin to do more of crediting the people in their books. How much effort does that take?

  14. elaine bunker says:

    After reading all of thes comments above it is clear that the only person taking a sensible stand is Beauregard. The bottom line it seems is not whether or not the museum gave credit. It seems the issue that everyone is whining about is whether the credit had to be on the wall, and whether it was NOT acceptable to be on a handout. This is pure nonsense. Stop your crying. Youa re all comtemplating your navel and should have something better to do than to focus on what form the credits are given.

    It would be like someone saying that everyone producing a comic BETTER HAVE THE ARTIST NAME ON THE COVER, BECAUSE IF IT IS ON THE INSIDE FIRST PAGE – THATS NOT GOOD ENOUGH ! ! ! ! ! And we’re going to blast you all over the blog world. I bet we could find some crap to find wrong with Nadels books. I think he is loser who is trying to stip up oroblems because it brings him attention. he i insecure, and has a small d___, which is why he likes to beat his chest.

    Get a grip people. You’re focused on the wrong things which is why you are not as successful as you should be.

    And dont tell me again that attribution is the wrong thing. THE WORK HAD THE ATTRIBUTIONS FOM THE FIRST DAY !

  15. The Beat says:

    Elaine Bunker, come on down! You have just won CRACKPOT AD HOMINEM IDOL! This is definitely the kind of post I would normally take down but it touches on so many amazing things, it is almost a work of art. What would Siderman do, indeed.

  16. CBrown says:

    That is indeed the most awesome post I’ve ever seen.

  17. elaine bunker says:

    Thank you CBrown.

    You can all laugh – but you know that there is truth to my views. You are all trying to count the number of comics artists on the head of a pin. I think most museum shows look better without all the crap distracting you from the work itself. If it were up to me – I would never put up attribution labels and just have the viewers walk around with handouts.

    Better yet – I dont know why MoCCA doesnt provide the information via an audio tour. This would mean a clean installation of art – and all the attributions could go directly into your brain via commentary from Dan nadel —- if he would be kind enough to lend his voice to the museum.

    Seriously – I think an audio tour is the way to go. Everyone blogging here is seriously behind the times. You think wall labels are so much better than handouts????? Well, an audio attribution tour is better than wall labels.

    The museum should provide such a service, and raise their admission price to $20 like MoMA.

  18. elaine bunker says:

    Has anyone noticed how bad the attributions are on the Comics Comics blogsite???? They are printed in microscopic print, in a purpole color so close to the blue background, that it renders them almost impossible to read. Why arent they in larger print – near the top, in bolder colors – so we can all see them immediately ?????

  19. Gary Brown says:

    It’s clear neither Elaine nor Beauregard have the slightest understanding of comic book history or, in particular, that of Archie Comics. If you did, you’d realize that what you are TRYING to say isn’t even close to being correct. Move away from the blogiverse and into real life for the answers.

  20. The Beat says:

    The MoCCA defenders’ continued obsession with Dan Nadel and inability to look at their own problems is a lot more revealing than they think.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Update: Heidi Macdonald talked to Archie co-CEO Jon Goldwater about the exhibit and the company’s changing policies on credit. Going forward, I give you my word as CEO of Archie Comics that every writer, every artist, and every penciller, every inker — whatever the credit may be — in every digest will be credited. [...]

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