The ToonSeum has unearthed the rarely seen but highly regarded “graphic novella” “In Pictopia.” It is illustrated by Don Simpson and written by Alan Moore, acclaimed author of such comics-turned-movies as The Watchmen, V for Vendetta and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. The exhibit will feature all 13 original art pages from the story of the same name, plus a retrospective from Simpson’s cartooning career, all on view between Sept. 25 and Oct. 31 in Pittsburgh’s downtown cultural district.
“In Pictopia” is an allegory of the comic book and comic strip world, and the sometimes ruthless business behind it. “ ‘In Pictopia’ is a kind of ghetto of old comic strip characters — funny animals, zany housewives, corny magicians,” Simpson explains. “Their modest existence is threatened by an urban renewal project that favors slick, commercial superheroes. It’s Alan Moore’s darkly humorous take on an art form dominated by big companies, and an industry that all too often crowds out independent artistic vision.” The exhibit also will explain how a young American cartoonist came to collaborate with the legend of British comics. “I was a rookie in the comic book business,” Simpson says. “I was too young and too cocky to realize I was working with a genius, or I would have choked!”
The tale is perhaps one of the lesser-known of Moore’s works, but Toonseum director Joe Wos is among a coterie of cognoscenti who have kept rumors of this “lost” Alan Moore work alive. “It keeps popping up on lists by comic historians as one of their favorite graphic novels of all time,” Wos says. “When I realized the original art was right here in Pittsburgh, it was a natural for the Toonseum.” For several years, the Toonseum has promoted cartooning as an artform with exhibits of established masters such as Charles Schulz (Peanuts) and animation cels from films such as Akira, along with extensive community outreach and education programs geared to all ages. This exhibit is decidedly more adult in content.
Simpson, who is best known for his work on the iconic “Megaton Man” received his BA in history of art and architecture in 2007 and MA in 2009. He is working on his doctorate in American art and architecture. “Specifically, my dissertation topic is the origin of urban cultural centers in American cities in the 19th and 20th centuries, like Oakland,” Simpson says. “Even when I was drawing comics professionally, I was drawn to such places. Inevitably, I found my curiosities leading me back to school. Now some of my old stuff is being exhibited in a cultural center!” Asked if the revival of “In Pictopia” signals a comeback, Simpson demurs, “I have very little time for the old drawing board. I’ve got a dissertation to write!”
“In Pictopia” will be on display at the Toonseum, 945 Liberty Ave., Pittsburgh, PA, 15222, from Sept. 25 to Oct. 31. An opening reception is planned for 7 p.m., Sept. 25. A special limited reprint of “In Pictopia” will debut in mid-October, with an autograph event to be announced. Closing night will feature Halloween festivities. For details, all 412 232-0199 or visit www.toonseum.org.