Meet a Visiting Comics Curator: A Chat With Andrew Farago
Andrew Farago isn't typical of the people I interview because he doesn't make comics. Instead he organizes exhibits of them and writes about them. Andrew works at the Cartoon Art Museum, one of the few U.S. cartoon museums (the other big ones are the soon-to-reopen Billy Ireland Library and Museum at Ohio State University and Pittsburgh's Toonseum. Our own Library of Congress has a standing exhibit space for cartoons in the Jefferson building). In 2o11, Andrew led a successful Kickstarter campaign for an exhibit catalog From Bloom County to Mars: The Art of Berkeley Breathed.
Washington City Paper: Why will you be in Washington?
Andrew Farago: My wife, Shaenon Garrity, is an invited guest at Intervention (Internet + Convention), and I’m along for the ride.
WCP: What type of comic work or cartooning do you do?
AF:I’m the curator at San Francisco’s Cartoon Art Museum. I arrange all of our exhibitions, I do a lot of work as a historian and archivist, teach classes, fund-raise... a little bit of everything. I do a little bit of writing and drawing as my schedule permits.
WCP: How do you do it?
AF: Beats me.
WCP: When (within a decade is fine) and where were you born?
AF:1970s, in northeast Ohio.
WCP: What is your training and/or education in cartooning?
AF: I’m a lifelong fan and comics reader, and have been drawing as far back as I can remember. I’ve got a degree in Studio Art from Colorado College, although that focused more on illustration and painting than comics.
WCP: Who are your influences?
AF: Museum-wise, people like Jenny Robb—formerly of the Cartoon Art Museum and now running Ohio State University’s Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum—were a big help in getting me started. Historians like Bill Blackbeard, publishers like Gary Groth and Kim Thompson of Fantagraphics, and hundreds of cartoonists and animators... quite a lot of people, really.
WCP: If you could, what in your career would you do over or change?
AF: Not much. There are a few little mistakes here and there that I’d fix, to save myself the headaches that went along with them, but apart from making museum curator the highest-paid profession in America, I wouldn’t do too much differently.
WCP: What work are you best-known for?
AF: Probably my 10-plus years at the Cartoon Art Museum. Possibly the book I wrote for Running Press, The Looney Tunes Treasury.
WCP: What work are you most proud of?
AF: Generally speaking, it’s whichever exhibition I’ve just installed at the museum. I’m getting better at this job all the time, and each time around, I think I’ve figured out a few more things.
WCP: How many exhibits have you done for CAM? What's your favorite(s)?
AF: I’ve curated and/or overseen more than 100 exhibitions at this point, and I’ve always got at least two or three in the pipeline that I’m really excited about.
A few of the shows that stand out for me include our Mary Blair solo exhibition, which led to a much larger version of that show in Japan; our Spider-Man 40th anniversary exhibition, the first big show that I curated; our Gene Colan solo exhibition (co-curated with author and friend Glen David Gold), which Gene and his wife absolutely loved; and our current Superman exhibition, which celebrates the character’s 75th anniversary. As a kid who grew up near Cleveland, Superman’s hometown, that’s always been an important connection for me. And my first exposure to comics in a museum setting was when my sixth grade class visited Washington, D.C. during Superman’s 50th anniversary, where we saw the Smithsonian’s Superman exhibition, and that must have planted the seeds for me going into museum work. I made sure to include the “I Am Curious—Black!” comic book in our current Superman: A 75th Anniversary Celebration show, since I saw that as a kid and was thoroughly confused by it. I felt an obligation to baffle the next generation of Superman fans with it, too.
WCP: What would you like to do or work on in the future?
AF: I hope to just keep doing what I’m doing, maybe with a couple of extra interns to help me get a little bit ahead of schedule on some projects. I do some writing and art on occasion, and the farther ahead I am at the day job, the more time I’ve got for side projects.
WCP: What do you do when you're in a rut or have writer's block?
AF: Read some comics, watch some TV, just start doodling... probably the same as most people.
WCP: What do you think will be the future of your field?
AF: Increased awareness of comics as an art form, more educators incorporating comics into the classroom, world peace through comics... the sky’s the limit.
WCP: Why do you keep attending Intervention? What makes it special for you?
AF: Second time for me, third for Shaenon. It’s a great convention. The organizers love what they do, and they, the convention attendees, and the other guests made us feel very welcome last year.
AF: Chris Sparks told me about the idea way back when, and I knew right away that I wanted to be involved. Richard’s one of my favorite cartoonists, and he’s a great person, and I wanted to do at least some small gesture as a thank you for his work and in the hopes that we can make some real progress in Parkinson’s research.
WCP: What's your favorite thing about D.C.?
AF: The museums. I always wish I had an extra week or three to visit.
WCP: Least favorite?
AF: Least favorite thing about Washington, D.C.? That’s a good straight line, but I’ll avoid making any political jokes here.
WCP: What monument or museum do you like to or wish to visit when you're in town?
AF: The Smithsonian’s always a favorite.
WCP: Do you have a website or blog?