For nearly a year, a sizable group of Pacific Northwest comics world professionals have been working towards a significant goal. They want to create a Northwest Museum of Cartoon Arts (NWMOCA) and place it in Portland's downtown.
"Portland is the epicenter of the artistic comic community in the United States," Mike Rosen, NWMOCA's Board Chair told the Mercury. "We have an embarrassment of riches in terms of collectors, comic book shops, artists, writers, and three major publishers: Oni, Image, and Dark Horse."
"I’m not sure if there’s any city to compare in terms of comics talent per capita," board member and University of Oregon professor Ben Saunders said. "You can’t throw a muffin in a coffee shop without hitting a cartoonist."
The timeline for such an ambitious undertaking has the museum's pop-up exhibit opening in June 2023 and running through the end of September.
Rosen says most of NWMOCA's board came together in November 2021, when they held a meeting for interested parties. Their first official board meeting was February 2022.
The 21-person board includes Portland comic book shop owners Katie Pryde (Books With Pictures), Andy Johnson (Cosmic Monkey), Debbie Smith (Excalibur), Michael Ring (Bridge City), University of Washington professors Dr. Charles Johnson and José Alaniz, local artists like Shannon Wheeler, Aron Nels Steinke, and just so many others.
In addition to being Board Chair, Rosen is probably best known for editing the 2011 nonfiction graphic work Oil and Water, which was drawn by Wheeler and written by longtime Oregonian columnist Steve Duin.
Taking inspiration from San Francisco's Cartoon Art Museum, Rosen dreams of a large, accessible space—for both the pop-up and the eventual permanent location—where tourists and locals can learn about the form of comics, their history, and how to be a part of their future.
In June 2023, NWMOCA will hold a pop-up museum with two exhibitions: Multiculturalism in Comics and History of Pacific Northwest Comics, both curated by the Cartoon Art Museum's Andrew Farago. Still in the research phase of the projects, Farago said he was "talking to local publishers, art studios, and maybe even animation studios... to create a couple really nice, comprehensive exhibitions."
Though NWMOCA has yet to finalize its pop-up location, Rosen is hopeful that they can find a space in Portland's downtown shopping district. "It's a great opportunity to revitalize downtown. There's an appetite from the business community and from citizens to get back downtown... I would have wanted it in the Galleria, if the Galleria still existed," he said, referring to the hub of small businesses that used to be located at the westbound Southwest 10th MAX stop.
While the pop-up museum isn't guaranteed to become a permanent space, Rosen sees it as an important part of creating interest for a crowdfunding campaign, as well as connecting with civic and political leaders in the state, the latter of which has already begun.
"One thing I've learned from this project is how many in-the-closet comics fans there are in this town," Rosen said. "This kind of synergy, it's been pretty incredible to me."