Old-timers and comic history buffs can see them larger than life — at least, larger than they were ever printed in the newspapers you read in your lifetime: Alley Oop tooling around on a dinosaur, Pogo plugging his nose with a clothespin during a visit with an old pig, square-jawed Dick Tracy disarming some dame interfering with Hypo’s arrest.
There’s the accurately-name Little Orphan Annie feeling safe among hefty protectors, the mis-named L’il Abner bemoaning the fate of the Tracy-esque Fearless Fosdick, boxing champ Joe Palooka in street togs teaching a lesson in why you don’t stand by while someone bullies the weak.
By all means, come to the Sordoni Art Gallery to see the large inkings of vintage comics. There’s Gasoline Alley, here’s Rip Kirby, on that wall you’ll find Mandrake the Magician. The detail can be stunning if you look close, the simple shading in a single panel oozing artistry.
But stay for the rest. There are illustrations of pirates and cowpokes, of gun-toting molls and Kewpie dolls, of characters real and imagined.
And they tell snippets of stories that leave you hankering for the whole saga.
“A private nurse learns the naked truth about men!” The 1953 Rudolph Belarski rendition offers a buxom nurse leaning against an open door, the man seated behind her looking satisfied and disheveled.
“The picture was a mirror of her unalterable past. It had a life of its own that could consume the life she now wanted.” Tom Lovell’s 1949 “The Intolerable Portrait” shows a still-attractive but aging woman in a cluttered room, sitting low, staring unhappily at a something in a frame we see only from its back.
The nattily dressed man in a turban pointing a six shooter in “The Seven Skulls of Kali” by Norman Saunders actually has seven human skulls on a chain dangling around his left wrist. The woman in “Her Steady” by James Montgomery Flagg dances with a man-sized lobster (Google “Her lobster”: it’s an appropriate, presumably lifetime mate).
An editor does his daily work through the small barred window of a jail door speaking to his wife. A couple all in white sit near a bottle and glass as the man utters “if only the doctor can keep me going long enough.”
There are images of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, of Alexander Hamilton surrounded by rib-high stacks of cash, and of former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg — an overly-small caricature in an enormous red chair, nonetheless looking in charge.
There were questions and complaints when Wilkes University divested much of its Sordoni Art Gallery holdings with a promise that money raised would pay for major exhibits in a new and welcoming place. This show, from the private collection of Andrew Sordoni himself, is in places witty, charming, touching, thought provoking, nostalgic and uplifting. It is, in short, what an art exhibit should be.
And it should dispel once and for all any notion that the university erred in the Sordoni Gallery decision.