San Diego Comic Art Gallery

In August 1994 I made a trip to Northampton, Mass with my mother and sister.  We were only going to get photos of the outside of Mirage Studios, but found something so much more exciting to do.  We learned of the Words & Pictures Museum.  A museum owned by Kevin Eastman, and nicknamed by the residents as “The Turtle Museum”.  Inside there was original TMNT art, other amazing comic artwork, areas where people could draw and even a store. I kept this Museum in my life, till it closed in 1999 which crushed me.  Little did I know, that one Gallery could bring me on a journey to the past as I visited “San Diego’s Comic Book Art Gallery” by IDW.

I have heard of the Gallery from many different fans.  That there’s been events there.  I know that it was promoted to try and visit during Comic Con, though when Comic Con International is going on.  I get really busy.  This year at Comic Con International I found the flyers at the IDW booth for the Gallery, with the words Free Admission at the top.  I thought these were coupons for free admission so grabbed a few to bring friends with me.  It says on the flyer they’re open Five days a week.  Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  It even has their hours for each day.  As soon as we got a free day, I got my friend Hamato Kameko and Miki to join me on this adventure to San Diego.

It’s a Sunday, though Miki has been working six days a week, making Sunday our only chance to go.  We drove towards San Diego Saturday night, and stayed at a hotel so we could get an early start to the Gallery.  Though while packing the car, I took a bad fall from RSD pain onto the cement in the parking lot, delaying us from being able to get on the road as early as I had planned.  It did not stop me from my plans for the day.  We got to the Gallery and found ourselves in shock, as the sign on the door said “Closed” for Sunday.  I was heartbroken.   We sat around, trying to figure what to do with ourselves… I stared at the door of the building.  Others walked up and was surprised to see the closed sign.

Inside the door there was one of the giant Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Out of the Shadows statues that were made for movie theater promotions.  I wanted so bad to go inside and get my photo with that, as I never saw those at movie theaters.  Truly a work of art..  There was a sign with the Turtles on it, saying employees only to go up stairs.  And there was the dark room to the left, which had the Gallery in it.  One man even came by three times, wishing he could go in.  Found out he was a writer for a popular publication that wanted to do a story on the Gallery.

We were giving up on our intent to visit the Gallery, when I finally made a post to Facebook.

“Really Sad.. been trying to get a free day to come to San Diego Comic Art Gallery, Miki's only day off work has been Sundays.. the flyer I have says they're open Sundays 11am to 5pm.. so we planned a trip to San Diego just for this. Only to find it closed. Really disappointed, got our flyers at Comic Con International 2016.” 

I tagged a few people in the post who I thought could make a difference.  And made sure to tag our location, which included three photos.  One of the flyer times, right over the “Sunday closed” sign in the door.  One of the full flyer next to the full hour times in the door.  And the last of the Leonardo statue that I admired from outside.  We got our stuff together and headed out.  Going to the car, I put my phone away and we started to drive.  Deciding food would be our first stop.  Once we got to the food place, Miki was the first to place her order as I pulled up my phone to the surprise that there was a reply from “The San Diego Comic Book Art Gallery” Facebook page! 

“Out getting lunch. We'll be right back!”  At that moment I got excited.   Miki changed her order to go and we went back down the street to the Gallery.  It was not too long after our return that we saw the lights get turned on, and the doors were unlocked.  We came in and met TJ, the awesome guy who replied to my post on Facebook and mans the Gallery during the day.  TJ explained that he's waiting on a new sign for the front of the store with the correct hours.  Sundays are slow, so it will be how busy they are during Foot Ball Season if they keep the Gallery Open on Sundays or not.  Hear that everyone in San Diego who loves comics over sports, spend your Sundays at the gallery!  I also learned that IDW is in the same building as well, the Gallery has it's public hours but the main business they have is getting the comic books out to the public.  Which I totally respect as I love everything they're doing with TMNT, Tom Waltz and Kevin Eastman has one of the best stories for TMNT being published right now.

I walked in and started to take in the comic art first, not realizing the bigger items around me.  Along the wall to your left when you first walk in, is a bunch of Comic Art, which at this time was the Batman and Ninja Turtles Crossover.  I loved it, as I went through looking at the different art pieces.  As I got further back I saw Kevin Eastman’s studio office.  We looked in the windows, as I looked for things that reminded me of Kevin from my many times meeting him. 

Kevin Eastman’s office is filled with a lot of very cool items from the Playmates Statues to Next Mutation figures in and out of package.  Art, photos, books, toys, Turtles and non Turtles.  To really look at this all, you would have to spend a long time going to each of the windows that peer in.  And even then, not sure if everything can really be seen or read.  For me, the photo frame with photos from the Words and Pictures Museum was one of my favorite things I spotted on the wall.  The thing I worry most about is they got a Pizza Hut bag for the Coming out of their Shells Tour hanging with the book in it.  Don’t know if the tape is in it, I just feel the weight at some point will pull that bag down.

I did notice one cool thing, the TV inside Kevin’s office was playing the “Turtle Power” Documentary.  That was a part of TMNT history that I had spent some time around, including being their first interview.  Miki came up with the great idea of getting a photo of the office with me on the screen.  While she waited for that photo I peeked into the other studio right next to Kevin’s and saw something that flushed memories through my head.

In the back right hand corner of this other studio, which you can go into is a statue of Venus De Milo.  Not just any Statue,  this is the statue made for the Words & Pictures Museum in 1997.  I remember the Museum held an event in December for Ninja Turtles : The Next Mutation.  Venus was added in with the other four Turtles at that event.  Sadly I missed the event, though I made it to the Museum many times after she was added.  I got photos of her hanging in her original spot.  A warm buzz went through me, as I saw this statue like an old friend.

For me seeing Venus meant that all five of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Statues from the Words and Pictures Museum were in the public eyes again.  Which is where they belong.  The other was displayed at Shellback Artworks.  This brought more excitement to me, than most of the artwork on the walls.  As the Words and Pictures Museum meant the world to me.  I never thought I could see these statues again after the Museum closed it’s doors in July 1999.  The only one I have yet to see in person since that day now, is Splinter.  I made sure to get a lot of photos of Venus.  During this time TJ came up to talk with us. 

TJ told us the story of why Venus De Milo is on display at the Gallery, which is a great show of just how much Kevin Eastman cares about the fans.  When putting the Gallery together, Kevin wanted to make sure there was something there for all the different fans.  Including Ninja Turtles, the Next Mutation.  So he had a handful of Venus De Milo pieces added to the Gallery, this being the biggest one.  I personally like this, as I have always agreed that every fan means something to the entire TMNT realm out there.  Putting something in here for everyone, to try and cover all of the fans is not an easy task.  Though it’s a really noble one.

I walked around looking at the rest of the art, toys and comics.  As I looked around I took notice of more pieces from the Words and Pictures Museum.  Each one bringing back a flood of memories and emotions.  One of the big pieces of artwork from the Words and Pictures Museum is right near the entrance with a lot of characters drawn by different artist.  This use to hang near the statues in the Museum.  I can never stress how much it means to me, to see this stuff starting to appear out again.  

The sad news I heard from TJ is that Shellback Artworks is closing down.  This means the four Statues there would no longer be displayed together.  I was hoping the news was not true, though I did confirm the news.  And the statues are sold, Leonardo was sold to a Comic Book Shop, Editor's Notes Comics, in Hallowell, ME.  I do plan to stop by there sometime to see Leonardo again.  I just hope whoever bought the other three has a public space to display these pieces of TMNT History.  The statues will remain at Shellback till the location is closed.

I have made one more trip down to the San Diego Comic Art Gallery since that first visit.  They were in the midst of changing up the artwork.  On that visit I spent time looking more at the artwork that was not Ninja Turtles.   Got a lot of laughs, and enjoyed learning more.  I know this is going to become a normal stop for me.  I am leaving LA on September 25th and hope to make one more trip to the San Diego Comic Art Gallery before out of town.   I will be back out west in November.

I hope to keep information about San Diego Comic Art Gallery events up to date here on Cowabunga Corner and TMNT-L.  I recommend it for any comic fan who visits San Diego!  It’s free, got awesome statues to pose next to and lots of fun information.  TJ is not only friendly, but very informative.  So feel free to ask him questions, he’s a great guy.

Have you been to the San Diego Comic Art Gallery?   If so, were you there on a normal day or an event? What is your favorite memory?  Favorite art piece?   Share reviews, comments and questions below!

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