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Hooked on comics
A collector gives fans a glimpse beneath the panels

Like most kids, Robert Cronin used to read Peanuts. He still does. " It just transcends the genre, " he says. " It seems to express something that’s universal. " But before long Cronin realized that the funny pages could also be something else entirely; in his parents’ Boston Globe, not too far from Simon-pure strips like Family Circus, he found Bill Griffith’s stealthily twisted Zippy The Pinhead. This discovery, it turns out, " happened to coincide with my earliest drug experiences. "

He was hooked. (On comics, that is.) A few years ago, Cronin started trolling sites like eBay and for original pages of comic art. Before long, his haul had outstripped the display capacity of both his Belmont home and his workspace at Harvard’s Freshman Dean’s Office. He had to do something. " My apartment walls filled up, my office walls filled up. So I decided I wanted to show off my collection and give the artists some props. "

Cronin will do so beginning this Tuesday at the Zeitgeist Gallery, where selections from his collection will be exhibited under the title " Comics As Art: Original Comic Art and Ephemera. " The artists amount to a who’s-who of the genre; and the 50 or so posters, panels, and original prints represent a perversely diverse concatenation of underground comics’ twisted history. The exhibit includes Jack Davis’s macabre panel from 1953’s Haunt of Fear #28, one of the last before the crypt-dwelling EC Comics was quashed by the dastardly Comics Code. Robert Crumb, who blew the whole thing open in the ’60s, is represented by two recent sketches of Franz Kafka. Pages from Dan Clowes’s Eight Ball are there, as are a sketch and a pin-up from Love and Rockets hombre Jaime Hernandez. There’s a poster for Art Spiegelman’s Maus (which proved comics could win Pulitzers) and one painted by Robert Williams for Boogie Down Productions’ 1992 Sex and Violence LP (which proved frazzled psychedelic relics could get down with hip-hop; in 1987, Williams had penned the original — and subsequently banned — cover for Guns N’ Roses’ Appetite for Destruction). Rounding it out are promising upstarts like Allison Cole, Susie Ghahremani, and Paul Lyons, as well as local dudes like Gloucester’s Greg Cook and Somerville’s Jef Czekaj, who drew R2-D2 Is an Indie Rocker and is himself an indie rocker.

" Comics are a form of literature, " Cronin says flatly. " Comics are comics, of course, but the combination of pictures and words gives them a certain power which is unique to the medium. "

Moreover, he says, comics, which by their nature are mass-produced facsimiles, breathe new life when gawked at in their original, hand-drawn form. " You can see paste-ups, you can see the blue-line penciling. You can see white-out, where people made corrections. Those are the things that are really interesting. I like the fact that you can see Crumb’s hand lettering underneath the text. You can also see every scratch and stroke of his pen, you can practically see the hand motions required to create his perfect images. "

Along with the suggested $5 donation, proceeds from the select works that are for sale (Rick Altergott donated six pages from his Doofus strip, Peter Bagge bestowed two from Hate) are earmarked to benefit NYC’s Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art. Boston, you may have noted, has no such establishment. So for the moment, the Zeitgeist show is the only way to get a close look at works like these.

Might Cronin like some day to erect a colonnaded edifice whose lofty halls would be devoted to displaying pieces of pen-scratched paper? " Definitely. I’ve had it in the back of my mind, but obviously there are financial issues. But it would be a great thing for the city. These folks deserve to be recognized as fine artists and authors in their own right. "

For more information, check out the show's homepage.

Comics As Art: Original Comic Art and Ephemera " goes on view this Tuesday, March 4, and will be up through March 23 at the Zeitgeist Gallery, 1353 Cambridge Street in Inman Square. An opening reception will be held March 8 from 3 to 6 p.m.; call (617) 876-6060.

Issue Date: February 27 - March 6, 2003

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