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“Faster Than a Speeding Bullet: The Art of the Superhero” Exhibition

The Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at the University of Oregon opened the special exhibition “Faster Than a Speeding Bullet: The Art of the Superhero.” Featuring rare and valuable works by some of the most admired artists in the history of superhero comics, gathered from private collections from across the country, the exhibition also presents an extremely rare copy of “Action Comics # 1,” featuring the first appearance of Superman. The exhibition breaks new ground in its critical evaluation of the art and cultural importance of this particular comic book genre.

“Faster Than a Speeding Bullet: The Art of the Superhero” is on view in the museum’s Coeta and Donald Barker Gallery from through January 3, 2010.

“Action Comics #1,” published in April 1938 (cover date June) by National Allied Publications, a corporate predecessor DC Comics. It is notable for the first appearance of Superman, created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Fewer than one hundred copies of the original print run of 100,000 are known to have survived; the issue included in the exhibition is considered one of the best preserved. Also featured in the exhibition are “Superman #1,” the first issue of the character’s own comic book from 1939 and “Famous Funnies #1,” one of the first nationally distributed comic books in 1934, consisting of reprinted newspaper strips. These rare comics are on loan from Darrell Grimes, a private collector and owner of Nostalgia Comics in Eugene, Oregon.

On display are key representations of such characters as Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Fantastic Four, Spider?Man, the X?Men, and many others, by their most important and influential artists, as well as pages from more recent “mature audience” superhero comics such as Alan Moore’s “The Watchmen” and Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns.” In addition to its aesthetic focus, the exhibition examines the complex relationship between popular power fantasies and the forces of social change in subsections on the female superhero and superheroes of color.

Guest?curated by Ben Saunders, a professor of English at the University of Oregon, “Faster Than A Speeding Bullet” explores the imaginative world of some of the most compelling fantasy figures to emerge from twentieth?century popular culture — the superheroes of American comic books. Consisting primarily of “original art” — the large?sized pen?and?ink pages from which comic books are printed — it also includes painted cover images alongside a handful of private commissions.

?Although some comic artists have been lauded within our institutions of culture, so called “mainstream” comics — particularly superhero comics — have been overlooked. Such academic neglect is ironic, given that the public interest in superheroes has never been greater,” says Saunders. “This exhibition constitutes what is perhaps the first serious attempt to gather major works by some of the most prominent artists in the superhero genre, from the 1940s to present. We believe that the best superhero comic art of the last sixty years is at least as aesthetically valuable and worthy of attention as the more academically fashionable genres of underground and ‘alternative’ comic art.?

The exhibition features over 150 pages of superhero comic art from the 1940s to the present, including several complete stories and key works by many major creators in the industry, including Neal Adams, C. C. Beck, John Buscema, Gene Colan, Steve Ditko, Will Eisner, Bill Everett, Lou Fine, Ramona Fradon, Dave Gibbons, Don Heck, Carmine Infantino, J. G. Jones, Gil Kane, Jack Kirby, Joe Kubert, Mort Meskin, Frank Miller, George Perez, H. G. Peter, Mac Raboy, Alex Ross, Marie Severin, Bill Sienkiewicz, Matt Wagner and many more.

Also on view are three original works, commissioned by the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, for the exhibition by artists Mike Allred, Ramona Fradon and Stuart Sayger.