In comics, characters return from the dead all the time.
Superman has mastered the trick. So has Green Lantern. Captain America is just back.
Stan Burdick knows the end is near for the cartoon museum he has operated in northern New York for the past 12 years. Unlike fictional characters in capes and masks, he says there will be no new lease or no new life in the Adirondacks for his collection of color and black and white drawings.
“I’m just so sorry that we’re going to close up at the end of August,” he said, sitting near the front door of his Ticonderoga Cartoon Museum on a recent Friday afternoon.
Sometime in late summer or early fall, his drawings will go to the ToonSeum, a museum in Pittsburgh, Pa. that specializes in and promotes comic art. People who want to see original drawings of characters like Mutt & Jeff, Prince Valiant and Pepé Le Pew in Burdick’s Ticonderoga showplace only have six more weeks to do so.
Since April of 2004, he has displayed 700 pieces of original art and copies of strips in the basement of the Ticonderoga Community Building at 132 Montcalm St. Before that, the museum was located in the nearby Adirondack town of Hague for six years. Burdick figures about 3,000 people have visited since 1998.
The museum’s lease at the community building expires at the end of August, and he said a new contract would have increased his current $100 monthly rent. Center officials also were looking for a stipulation that would allow them move the museum out of the building — with two months’ notice — in favor of another tenant.
Ticonderoga Cartoon Museum
WHAT: Stan Burdick’s collection of 700 pieces of original comic art and copies of strips
WHERE: Lower Level, Ticonderoga Community Building, Lower Montcalm St., Ticonderoga
WHEN: Fridays from 1 until 5 p.m.
HOW MUCH: $4 adults, $3 children
Burdick considered selling the museum, but received little interest.
“There hasn’t been more than a half a dozen possibilities,” said Burdick, who will say only that he’s over 80 when asked about his age. “Nobody seems to want to buy this museum for what it’s worth; we’ve had it estimated several times and we’re talking about many thousands of dollars, $50,000 to $100,000.”
The Pittsburgh outfit won’t pay anything for the collection, but will keep the pieces together. And Burdick has been promised recognition; his treasures could appear as the Burdick Gallery inside the ToonSeum.
The new curators will have plenty to move. Classic newspaper comic page characters like Li’l Abner, Prince Valiant, Dick Tracy, Popeye the sailor and good old Smilin’ Jack, the dashing aviator who first appeared in comics pages in 1933, have their places.
The museum is about the size of an elementary school classroom, with a few windows at tops of walls and a maze of water pipes near the ceiling. A silver-painted radiator takes up much of the back wall. Comics are displayed on tables dressed up with blue plastic bunting; floors are covered with different colored squares of carpet samples, and look like stepping stones up the museum rows.
Burdick also has editorial cartoons that date to the late 1800s on his walls — the oldest is from 1830 — as well as a few panels that show off the Silver Surfer, the Punisher and other members of the smash and spandex set.
Sid Couchey has his own corner. Couchey, who lives in the northern Adirondack community of Essex, drew Richie Rich, Little Dot and Little Lotta for Harvey Comics during the 1950s and 1960s. The artist has contributed several original pieces, including one that shows the Harvey gang standing near a cartoon depiction of the Burdick museum.
Charles Schulz and the Peanuts crew, Lee Falk’s early newspaper heroes Mandrake the Magician and The Phantom and characters who worked for Walt Disney and Warner Bros. are also pinned and propped up.
Pepé Le Pew, the romantic skunk with the French accent, was in the Warner Bros. camp. There are two Le Pew originals, drawn by creator Chuck Jones, in the museum. “I treasure these by Chuck Jones,” Burdick said. “These are original pieces he did for friends of his. He whacked them out in about 10 minutes.”
Burdick has been collecting pen, ink and color works since 1960.
“That’s when I got my first piece,” he said. “I walked very timidly into a cartoonist’s office in Cincinnati, Ohio, L.D. Warren of the Enquirer. I was scared stiff. He said, ‘Yes, Stan, you can have one of my cartoon originals.’ He said, ‘See that stack over there?’ And believe me, that stack was about three to four feet high.”
Burdick chose a cartoon that featured Fidel Castro, who was in plenty of newspaper headlines in 1960 and has made periodic appearances in print ever since. The rookie collector didn’t paste his new artwork into a scrapbook.
“As an artist myself, I thought, ‘Gee, maybe I can be a better one if I can just see how these guys do it,’ ” he said.
He began looking and asking for more pieces.
“I visited so many antique shops, I can’t even count them,” he said. “And then I wrote letters. When I could get an address of a cartoonist anywhere, I wrote letters and I got answers. Cartoonists were very, very generous, that’s going back 20 to 30 years. Now they’ve cut down their giving and here’s why. People will sell these things on the Internet.”
He was glad to include Hal Foster, who created Prince Valiant in 1937.
“Such real artwork,” Burdick said of the vividly colored strip set in medieval times. “Today, cartoonists work fast, their stuff is reduced so much they don’t do detail because they don’t want to have it reduced to nothing. Hal Foster was lucky, he had full pages or half-pages. When he left, they turned to other artists and they got about an eighth of a page. But Hal was always my favorite.”
The museum project began when Cathie Burdick, Stan’s wife, insisted there was no more room in their home for his comics. When the couple decided to move from Ohio to the Adirondacks — after selling their American Square Dance magazine (Cartoons are just one hobby; calling western square dances is another) — Burdick proposed moving his stock into a modest museum.
While he has bunches of cartoon characters on display, he also hopes people are interested in the history behind the artwork. An editorial cartoon from an 1898 edition of the New York World shows an evil-looking Spaniard, a blood-dripping dagger in his teeth. Smaller panels depict incidents like the mysterious sinking of the American battleship Maine, Spanish soldiers firing on the Red Cross and murders of women and small children.
“Some of these led to the Spanish-American War,” Burdick said of editorial cartoons that incensed readers. “When people saw the dagger on this Spanish guy, they said, ‘We’ve got to go fight the Spanish.’ ”
Grace G. Drayton’s “Dolly Dingle” strip also comes with a history lesson. Drayton drew Dolly, a chubby-faced, red-cheeked little girl with big eyes. But she also was the hand in front of the Campbell Soup kids — who for decades helped advertise company products with their chubby faces, red cheeks and big eyes.
“There’s a 100-foot statue of Popeye in Crystal City, Texas,” Burdick said. “It’s because it’s the spinach capital of the world. I don’t know if there’s a statue for Wimpy. There probably should be.”
The museum is only open Fridays from 1 until 5 p.m., but Burdick will make time for young artists during seminars. One of them, Hannah Herbst, 14, of Ticonderoga, recently submitted pencil sketches of Mickey Mouse and Dumbo, Disney’s flying elephant.
“It makes me kind of sad that it’s closing,” Herbst said. “I really like coming here, it’s taught me a lot about art.”
Burdick will miss introducing people to Boob McNutt, the Katzenjammer Kids and Felix the Cat. “It feels like it’s a part of me that’s going out, that’s the sad part,” he said. “After 60 years, you get a passion for this stuff.”