Report written by Judge Mental
On a recent trip to Brit-Cit I had a couple of hours to kill and decided to pop along to the British Library to pass judgement on Comics Unmasked “The UK’s largest ever exhibition of mainstream and underground comics” (at least according to the blurb on their website). Tharg was pimping this in the prog a couple of weeks ago.
The exhibition is divided into six or seven themes, laid out so you are led through them more or less sequentially. I’ve left my programme in the sleep-machine, so I can’t tell you what the names of all the themes were off the top of my head, but the layout is basically chronological (except for the one section which is pornographic – more on that later). Scattered about the place are various mannequins dressed in jeans, hoodies, and V for Vendetta masks and for a minute I thought I’d wandered into some sort of Occupy protest of the British Library. Luckily I realised my mistake before I laid into them with my daystick.
There is seriously a lot of stuff on display here, far too much to cover in a short review. Starts off with a lot of early material, from mediaeval illustrated bible stories, to those illustrated Victorian black and white crime papers right up to 21st Century material at the end.
– The actual models Dave McKean made for his work with Gaiman on Mr. Punch.
– 1st episode of Hook Jaw. Apparently this was the first UK strip to colour blood red. Prior to Hook Jaw, black ink was used as red was too gory. Not sure what the point of that was. It’s like colouring grass pink, as otherwise it looks “too natural.” I’ve just realised I must have been reading this when I was about seven, as I’ve vivid memories of me and a mate drawing our own Hook Jaw strips and sticking the end of a compass into a red biro so we could spread the ink all over our masterpieces.
– Cursed Earth Burger Wars controversy – this was news to me, but apparently IPC had to settle out of court with some large American burger concerns after they were sued for a Cursed Earth story in which rival burger gangs headed by Burger King and Ronald McDonald have some sort of post apocalyptic gang warfare thing going on. According to the exhibition, part of the settlement involved never reprinting the strip, and publishing a story in which Dredd accepts corn from the Jolly Green Giant. This sounds bat-shit crazy to me, but I guess it must have happened. I dare Rebellion to do a reprint.
– Another thing I didn’t know about was the hoo-ha over Kevin O’Neill’s art for Tales of The Green Lantern Corps Annual No. 2 in 1986. It featured, among other things, a crucified alien. The Comics Code Authority refused to endorse the strip – according to Wikipedia they found O’Neill’s style “objectionable.” (Not Nemesis fans then). Anyway, DC told them where to stick it and published anyway. Good on them.
There’s a separate section for the dodgy pornographic erotic kinky stuff, so you can safely steer the kids past it, but to be honest, I didn’t get much of a look at it beyond the glimpse of a knob in a page from Alan Moore’s Lost Girls. The reason I couldn’t get a look in was there was a group of journalists being shown around the exhibition by a librarian, and they seemed to have breezed through the rest of the exhibition and camped out in this part, ogling all the dirty strips and steaming up the display cases.
Moving toward the exit, and we get to look at Karl Urban’s helmet (fnarr fnarr). They’ve got the actual one he wore in Dredd – unfortunately in a glass case, so you can’t try it on.
There’s far too much else here for me to cover – Halo Jones, Crisis, Zenith – if I haven’t mentioned it, trust me it’s there. Definitely worth the tenner entry fee.
My only complaint is that everything is very dimly lit, and sometimes a bit too far away behind glass cases to see well unless you have had a bionic eye upgrade like Dredd. Also, it’s very quiet and sombre. Do everyone a favour and visit with a few mates and make a ruckus. Comics should, above all be fun (and well lit).
Judgement: Comprehensive, worthy, but a bit dim.
P.S. Don’t bother with the tat on sale in the shop at the exit, save your money for a follow up trip to Forbidden Planet!