Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Getting in the Holiday Spirit

My wife and I love visiting San Francisco over the holiday season. Though we live in Southern California, I have family in Northern California, which means we usually are in the Bay Area around Thanksgiving or Christmas. I've always felt San Francisco comes closest to capturing the vibe and energy of New York City where I was raised, and that's particularly true during the holidays. Walking around San Francisco bundled up during this time of year in the cold weather among throngs of holiday shoppers always puts us in the holiday mood.

We've done it so many times, we have a fairly regularly routine, which usually includes visits to two San Francisco landmarks I'd like to mention in this post, apropos of a comics-related blog: the Cartoon Art Museum and the Tintin/European character store called Kari'kter on Sutter Street's gallery row.

The Cartoon Art Museum has been in its present space since 2001 and is conveniently located not far from the Market Street/Union Square area of San Francisco. (It's the third location I've visited for the museum over the years!) During the time of my visit, exhibits were in progress on Edward Gorey's design work for the stage show of Dracula; of Disney animation conceptual artist Mary Blair; and Bay Area cartoonist Lark Pen. While I have passing familiarity with Gorey, I otherwise was not aware of Blair or Pen, and I enjoyed discovering their work.

The highlight for me, however, always is the opportunity to view the museum's pieces from its permanent collection. I saw originals from Roy Crane's Buz Sawyer, a Will Eisner Spirit page, a Milton Caniff Steve Canyon, as well as a very early Blondie, Popeye, Gasoline Alley, etc. It's always inspiring and revelatory to see comic artwork in their original state--the opportunity to see them full size and to examine the brushstrokes, use of white paint, etc., gives students of the form valuable insight into the way the methods of the masters.

Kari'kter is a delightful upscale store for aficionados of Tintin and other cartoon icons from the Continent, such as Asterix, Wallace and Gromit, the Little Prince, Babar, etc. They carry Tintin books, T-shirts, figurines, maquettes, prints, and a lot of terrific licensed properties. The store is both for serious collectors as well as families wishing to find a unique way to trick up their homes and children's spaces. Most of the items they carry may be found online.

By the way, another of our traditions when we're in the city is to visit the Japantown center (where we usually grab lunch or dinner) and, particularly, the Kinokuniya Bookstore. This is a terrific authentic Japanese bookstore with tons of Japanese magazines, books, CDs, etc.. There also are many English-language books featuring translated Japanese authors, Japanese art and architecture, cooking, children's books, etc. During this visit, we discovered they had just re-modeled and completely moved all their manga (Japanese comics) to a new dedicated space on the lower level of the mall where the bookstore is located. (In fact, the mall itself has received a much-needed facelift, and "J-town" looks like it's undergone a much needed minor facelift).

Anyway, if you're ever in San Francisco, I recommend you visit these places!

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