To Boldly Go: The Graphic Art of Star Trek
The science fiction television series Star Trek premiered on NBC on September 8, 1966. Over the course of fifty years, what began as a simple TV show has evolved and endured to become one of the most iconic franchises in history. It’s basic narrative of a Utopian future where mankind has resolved its internal conflicts and has moved beyond planet Earth has resonated with millions of viewers around the world, while the show’s fictional technological advancements have inspired an untold number of scientists, engineers, astronomers and medical professionals to enter their chosen fields.
Thirteen months after the premier of The Original Series in September 1966, the first Star Trek comic book was released, and with the exception of a brief five year period during the early part of the Twenty First Century, illustrated narratives have been published non-stop ever since. In keeping with its mission of celebrating the cartoon and comic arts, the ToonSeum will pay homage to Star Trek with a special exhibit focusing on 49 years of illustrated narratives, including historic US comic books and British comic strips from the early 1970s as well as original comic art from the 1980s and 1990s and on into the present.
While the focus of “To Boldly Go: The Graphic Art of Star Trek” will be on the illustrated medium, the exhibit will also shine the spotlight on the numerous ties between Pittsburgh and the Star Trek franchise that, like the series itself, go back decades.
Leonard Nimoy, who portrayed Mr. Spock on the original series, made his Shakespearean debut at the Pittsburgh Public Theater in 1975, for instance, while Zachary Quinto, the current Mr. Spock in the new slate of big screen movie adventures, is a Green Tree native who attended Central Catholic High School in Oakland and Carnegie Mellon University before heading to Los Angeles.
Fans have likewise played an instrumental role during the five-decade history of Star Trek, and here again the ToonSeum will highlight various zines and fan fiction created in Pittsburgh, as well as a Star Trektacular convention held at the William Penn Hotel in 1975 that featured William Shatner, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan and George Takei among its attendees.
“To Boldly Go: The Graphic Art of Star Trek” opens at the ToonSeum on October 28, 2016, and runs through January 30, 2017 – a fitting tribute to the Star Trek franchise, its history within the comic arts, the fans who helped it endure, the STEM-career professionals inspired by its themes, and Star Trek’s ongoing connections to Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh, Pa – The ads called out to aspiring youngsters from the back of comic books, copies of Popular Mechanics, newspaper classifieds and, even, matchbook covers. The tags shouted, DRAW SPARKY!, DRAW SPUNKY!, DRAW WINKY!, DRAW THE PIRATE!, but more often then not, just DRAW ME! The gimmick was that on the basis of a simple drawing aptitude test (that no one ever failed), one could be chosen – or win a scholarship – for an elite, hands-on cartooning instruction program that would be conducted, via the US mail, by a roster of esteemed working professionals.
Hundreds of examples of the art from these programs will be on display in a new ToonSeum exhibit, DRAW ME! The Art of the Cartooning Schools and How-To-Draw Culture in America, opening August 20th. Also on display will be dozens of rare How-To-Draw cartoons books and forgotten mechanical devices created to assist young artists in their career aspirations.
“Before commercial art was called visual communications, the correspondence school was the principal American academy of art and an early training ground for American graphic designers,” said Steven Heller, Senior Art Director at The New York Times. “Scores of advertisements, like the famous ‘Draw Me!’ matchbook cover, offered willing aspirants the big chance to earn ‘$65, $80 and more a week’ in ‘a pleasant, profitable Art career.’ Although the ads often shared space at the back of cheesy pulp magazines with offers to learn, well, brain surgery at home, they offered a legitimate way for anyone with a modicum of talent, limited means and an existing job to train in their spare time for a new profession. Let’s call it the precursor of ‘distance learning.’”
The Draw Me! industry flourished during the golden age of magazines and newspapers, when the use of photographs was extremely rare and complicated, and when illustrations and cartoons were the primary images used in editorial pages and ads. It was also a time when a career as a cartoonist could be seen as incredibly lucrative. An 1926 ad for the Washington School of Cartooning in Popular Mechanics shouted that: “Cartooning does pay enormous money! Clare Briggs, Fontaine Fox, George McManus, Sid Smith and all other headliners earn more than the President!”
It is unknown just how many took the bait and got their parents to part with their hard-earned dollars for these cartooning correspondence schools, which thrived for decades and, indeed, still exist in some manner today. But a look at the roster of graduates from these mail order schools is astonishing. Charles Schultz and Mort Walker both not only took lessons from the Minneapolis-based Art Instruction, Inc. school (better known to many simply as the Draw Me! School), but they also served as faculty members there. Founded more than 100 years ago and still in operation today, the Draw Me! School claimed to have on staff early cartooning and illustration legends like Gaar Williams, John T. McCutcheon, Clare Briggs, and Fontaine Fox. Schulz has said that several members of his Peanuts cast were based on his co-workers and friends at Art Instruction.
There were many, many other similar schools in locations around the US from the turn of the last century and through the 1970s. And several of those schools boast similarly jaw-dropping alumni and “faculty” lists. One of its best-known competitors is the Connecticut-based Famous Artists School, which has offered lessons by mail since 1947 (at a price of $200 for the three year course). At its peak, the school had 40,000 students and ran ads in the back of Popular Mechanics featuring faculty members like Al Capp, Rube Goldberg, Stuart Davis and even Norman Rockwell; some of its students were even more famous than its instructors—Dinah Shore, Charlton Heston, Tony Curtis, and Pat Boone all studied there.
Rare instructional materials from these and dozens of other schools will be on display at the ToonSeum exhibit, which runs through December . An opening event is scheduled for Friday, August 26th at 7 pm at The ToonSeum and several workshops and lectures are planned for the run of the show.