The Cartoon Museum in London has an exhibition on the Great British graphic novel running until the 24th July. The museum itself is tucked away on Little Russell street just round the corner from the British museum, and conveniently located for a combined visit to the Forbidden Planet store on Shrewsbury avenue, and the nearby Orbital and Gosh comics shops.
The exhibition itself features many of the usual suspects and probably won’t have too many surprises for any reader who has some knowledge of what has been going on in British comics in the last few decades. What it does have is some lovely original pages which you can view in all their glory.
I paid the £7 entrance fee and wandered around the small but well utilised space all by myself taking some pictures of individual pieces of art. I had a very modern social media experience when I posted pictures on Facebook and the comments told me that I was breaking the museum rules on photography, I had missed the little sign informing me on the ban for copyright reasons. Not that this stopped me taking more pictures although reflections from the glass frames made most of them fairly useless.Stars of the show are the two original pages from Watchmen owned by the museum and rarely seen in the wild. It was fascinating to see one of the pages with John Higgins’ initial colours and notes about what further changes were needed. There are also a couple of V for Vendetta pages and a video of David Lloyd discussing the development of the Guy Fawkes mask and its adoption as a symbol of social protest. Further on there are examples of Dave McKeen and Mark Buckingham’s covers for Neil Gaiman’s Sandman and plenty of Bryan Talbot pages from Luther Arkwright, One Bad Rat, and his magnificent Alice in Sunderland.
Apart from the Watchmen pages possibly the other stand outs for me were the pages from Charley’s War which seems to become a more important and relevant piece of British graphic story telling every time I look at it. Joe Colqhoun’s art looks stunning in the large format and made me want to dash back to my copies and revisit his and Pat Mills’ magnum opus.
2000AD is represented by three pages, Colin MacNeil’s definitive America cover, which interestingly comes from John Wagner’s own collection, is beautiful to behold. Has there ever been finer painted work in the Megazine? The other two pages are by King Carlos himself and both owned by the museum, a Strontium Dog page featuring Durham Red and Ronald Reagan, and a coloured page from Inferno.Upstairs there is a smaller loft space gallery of examples of pages from the museum’s collection including the covers of the Doctor Who Target novels, although that smaller exhibition might be gone by the time this review is posted.
Scattered around the rooms were a number of well handled comics for kids to read while their parents gaze at the framed art. Lots of Beanos and Doctor Who comics but no 2000ADs, I don’t know if this was because of the age appropriateness of current Progs but I may drop off some older spare copies next time I’m there.
The current exhibition may only be of interest for those who want to see some terrific pages from British graphic novels from the last forty years or so. For the 2000AD fan the three pages may not be worth the price of admission at the moment, but as I mentioned above the nearby Forbidden Planet has an impressive selection of 2000AD books and most of the recent Hachette part works volumes. Meanwhile both Orbital and Gosh are more traditional comic shops with boxes of back issues including lots of Progs in both shops.Of more interest will be the planned exhibition of 2000AD artwork to tie in with the 40th anniversary next year. That will certainly be worth a visit and I will also be watching the museum website for details of the linked events and talks nearer the time. As ever watch this space for news and a review of that much anticipated exhibition.