Anyone who loves “Peanuts” knows exactly what will happen when Lucy holds the football for Charlie Brown to kick. She'll pull it away at the last second, and the hapless Charlie Brown will fall flat on his back with a great thud.
Familiarity with the running gag only makes it all the more fun to look at Charles Schulz's original drawings, many of which are now on display at the Hammer Museum as part of the groundbreaking exhibit, “Masters of American Comics.”
Jointly organized with the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles (MOCA) and currently on display in two parts, one at each museum, “Masters of American Comics” is the first major museum exhibition to examine the development of comic strips and books from their genesis at the beginning of the 20th century to the present.
The exhibit features 15 influential artists and a staggering 900 sketches, drawings, proofs, newspaper Sunday pages and comic books.
The Hammer portion of the exhibit traces the beginnings of American newspaper comic strips through the work of pioneers such as Winsor McCay (“Little Nemo in Slumberland”) and George Herriman (“Krazy Kat”), who set the stage by defining the formal attributes of the genre in the early 1900s. In addition to works by Schulz, Hammer viewers can also see original strips by Lyonel Feininger (“The Kin-der-Kids,” “Wee Willie Winkie's World”), E.C. Segar (“Thimble Theatre”), Frank King (“Gasoline Alley”), Chester Gould (“Dick Tracy”), and Milton Caniff (“Terry and the Pirates”).
The MOCA half of the exhibit looks at comic books from the early Golden Age to the rise of the independent comics movement. Artists include Will Eisner (“The Spirit”), Jack Kirby (“Captain America” and “Fantastic Four”), Harvey Kurtzman (MAD Magazine), R. Crumb (“Zap Comix”), Art Spiegelman (“Maus,” “In the Shadow of No Towers”), Gary Panter (“Jimbo”) and Chris Ware (“Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth”).
Fans of contemporary comics will be excited to learn that three of the four living artists represented in the exhibit will appear at the Hammer as part of the museum's free Hammer Conversations series. Panter takes the stage on Jan. 11, followed by Spiegelman on Jan. 31 and Ware on Feb. 25. All conversations start at 7 p.m.
Members of the campus community may also want to stop by the Hammer for free docent tours of the exhibit, held at 1 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays and 6 p.m. Thursdays. Tours are led by UCLA undergraduates.
The exhibit closes March 12, then heads to Milwaukee in April and New York/New Jersey in September.
Admission to the Hammer is free for BruinCard holders. MOCA admission is $8 for adults and $5 for students. For a complete list of public programs hosted by the Hammer in conjunction with the exhibit, visit the Hammer Museum's website on its comics programs.