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Curators unmasked at British Library’s major new comics exhibition

May 13, 2014 in Events, General, News

Mannequins with V For Vendetta masks, which have become a symbol of protest, at Comics Unmasked

V For Vendetta masks at the Comics Unmasked exhibition. The masks have become a symbol for protest globally

Kasia Kowalska reports from Comics Unmasked: Art and Anarchy in the UK

“Have we blown your mind?” asked Paul Gravett, the UK’s leading comics expert, at the launch of Comics Unmasked. Together with Adrian Edwards of the British Library and the comics writer John Harris Dunning, he has curated the biggest exhibition of comics in the UK to date.

The simple answer to his question is: Yes.

The exhibition, which features more than 200 exhibits and took two years to prepare, is unapologetic about its ambitions. “There’s a lot of controversial, potentially alarming content here, deliberately to push the boundaries,” said Gravett.

It is organised thematically into six areas, including different sections on sex and politics. Dunning, writer of the comic Salem Brownstone, explained why: “We approached things like politics, sexuality, altered states, social issues, to really highlight the fact comics are a medium that can convey very powerful messages.”

John Harris Dunning and Paul Gravett at the Comics Unmasked opening

John Harris Dunning and Paul Gravett, co-curators of the British Library’s Comics Unmasked exhibition, at the opening

Every section explores these themes through the often troubled history of comics, including looking at the anti-comics movement that led to the formation of the Comics Code in 1950s America. A similar panic happened in the UK.

“The very first exhibition of comics in the UK was an exhibition against comics,” Gravett said. “It was meant to alarm and horrify the opinion formers and parents. Ironically, they also toured a film strip around the country. They took it to schools and we’re convinced that a lot of people didn’t know about the comics before that.”

The exhibition aims to give comics their rightful place as a literary genre and to give the authors the recognition they deserve. “The show is put on to give creators the respect that’s due them. Because that’s really something, I don’t think, that has happened enough in this country,” said Dunning.

Some filth from Porcartoonists.org member Hunt Emerson

Click to enlarge this filth from Procartoonists.org member Hunt Emerson

Dave McKean, creator of Batman: Arkham Asylum and the exhibition’s artistic director, is one of the artists whose work has put British comics creators on the map. Dunning said: “What might surprise certain members of the public is that those are American characters but they’re very much owned by British talent. British comic creators are responsible for the current popularity of superheroes.”

The most controversial part of the exhibition — Let’s Talk About Sex — aims to chart the evolution of erotic comic art and candidly explores complex themes of sexuality. Comics are often associated with men, and sometimes with men who refuse to grow up, yet comic art has been the ideal medium for women creators.

Ceasefire by Angela Martin

Ceasefire by Angela Martin

Throughout its history it has been considered subversive and has often fallen under the radar of those occupying and regulating the mainstream of creative writing. It allows for an unbridled freedom of expression and can often blossom unchecked.

“Thematically, what is interesting is that we find quite a lot of female creators”, said Dunning. “One could believe that this is a very male area but we’ve discovered it’s not really the case.”

Lawless Nelly by Jamie Hewlett

Lawless Nelly by Jamie Hewlett features on the Comics Unmasked posters

The show’s cartoon muse is Lawless Nelly, above, created especially for it by Jamie Hewlett (Tank Girl). She has a literary connection, being named after Ellen Lawless Ternan, mistress of Charles Dickens, “a half forgotten but very powerful woman in the background,” according to Roly Keating, chief executive of the British Library.

What also preoccupies the curators is the future of comics. Their intention is to throw the gauntlet down to the next generation.

“That’s the message: make comics, don’t just read them”, said Gravett. “The final frontier is the internet. Interactive hyper-comics, that’s the next form.”

Comics Unmasked presents its subject as a serious, legitimate and relevant genre. It marries the beauty and draughtsmanship of the art form with storytelling and utilises it as a vehicle to deliver a message.

Jonathan Ross, TV presenter and comics fan, said at the opening: “It’s a remarkable experience waiting for you inside. It still amazes me, and shocks me somewhat [that] we don’t yet have a proper literary appreciation of the incredible work that’s been done here, some of which is as sophisticated, more interesting and more bold than you would find in straightforward prose or fiction.”

Comics Unmasked: Art and Anarchy in the UK is at the British Library until 19 August

Photos by Kasia Kowalska and the British Library

The Round-up

March 23, 2014 in Events, General, Links, News

Clive Goddard draws for Sport Relief at the BBC

Clive Goddard draws for Sport Relief at the BBC

Kasia Kowalska writes:

Procartoonists.org member Clive Goddard played his part in the most successful Sport Relief to date when he showed his support for BBC Radio 2 host Jo Whiley during her 26-hour treadmill challenge. He posted more pictures here.

More PCO members are out and about: Ahead of a talk at Hornchurch Library next week, Adrian Teal spoke to a local paper about his book The Gin Lane Gazette and political satire. And next month Martin Rowson is hosting a workshop for The Laurence Sterne Trust.

In anticipation of Comics Unmasked: Art and Anarchy in the UK at the British Library, the artist behind Tank Girl and the band Gorillaz, Jamie Hewlett, has unveiled new artwork for the exhibition poster.

Following the parody-heavy backlash after the recent post on tax cuts by Grant Shapps on Twitter, Pam Cowburn of Open Rights Group bemoans the fact that UK copyright law is no laughing matter when it comes to parody. The planned reforms appear to have been kicked into the long grass due to parliamentary delays.

Bob Mankoff has written a memoir

Bob Mankoff has written a memoir that doubles as a guide for aspiring cartoonists

The memoirs of The New Yorker cartoon editor Bob Mankoff, went on on sale yesterday in the US (readers in the UK will have to wait until 14 April). How About Never — Is Never Good for You? My Life In Cartoons will become a guide for aspiring cartoonists, according to Janet Maslin of The New York Times.

To coincide with the release of the book, CBS’s 60 Minutes produced a report on Mankoff and the art of choosing cartoons.

The Washington Post caused a furore by publishing a cartoon by Zunar criticising the Malaysian government’s response to the disappearance of the Malaysian Airlines flight MH370. The Malaysian editorial cartoonist was previously charged for sedition in 2010 for publishing his book of cartoons Cartoon-O-Phobia.

Not every cartoonist has an asteroid named in their honour. 4942 Munroe bears the name of xkcd creator Randall Munroe whose book What If? is due to be published later this year.

The Seattle cartoonist Tatiana Gill has created a collection of comic art to celebrate Women’s History Month. What is that? you may ask. This cartoon by Rob Rogers of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette may help (or not!)

Finally, Procartoonists.org members never make mistakes, of course, but just in case, the BBC reports on a pen that spots errors.

The Round-up

September 7, 2012 in General, Links, News

Above: Jamie Hewlett, the cartoonist behind Tank Girl and Gorillaz, talks about how absorbing drawing can be, and about his own desire to keep improving. (Thanks to Tim Harries for bringing this to our attention.)

Now that Alex Hallatt‘s Arctic Circle strip is five years old, she is celebrating the milestone by releasing an ebook collection, which can be downloaded for a small fee from Lulu.com or iBookstore.

The Dallas Morning News talks to several political cartoonists about how their depictions of Barack Obama – and by extension, other political figures – have changed over time as they have got to know him better. Read the article here. Elsewhere, Pulitzer-winning cartoonist Tony Auth tells The Atantic about his approach to covering the presidential campaign season.

Over on the BBC site, British illustrator George Butler shares his sketches from Syria.

In Canterbury, the Beaney Museum and Library is reopening after a £14.2 million refurbishment. It will feature seven permanent galleries for use by artists and local groups. Our man Nathan Ariss will be attending and passed on this link.

Lastly, it is with sadness that we note the passing of Procartoonists.org member Frank Jeffs, who died last month aged 77. One of Frank’s  long-time clients, The Northampton Chronicle & Echo, has this obituary.

Profile photo of Royston

by Royston

Animation: Monkey business at the BBC

August 6, 2008 in General

It’s great to see that the BBC has come up with a very striking animated film to promote the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, which get under way this week.

The characters, adapted from the Monkey stories, are designed by Jamie Hewlett, and the music is by Damon Albarn, his partner in the animated pop group Gorillaz. Monkey and his pals will be the face of the BBC’s Olympics coverage.

The BBC Sport website has a gallery on the the making of the trailer and you can see more on the BBC Blast site.

The PCO: British cartoon talent