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Comics Unmasked: Art and Anarchy in the UK @ The British Library, 2 May - 19 August 2014
This exhibition is fantastic! I was in there about 3 hours and I read every piece of info! It covers a huge range of comics by British creators, focusing on themes such as mischief, representation of society, politics, sex and heroes.
Censorship fascinates me and so I found it really interesting to learn about the Daily Mail trying to take down US comics in the 70’s and how the journalist also had an alternator motive being a communist and wanting to boycott US products. Also how several books which were pulled from UK publishers because they were too controversial were reprinted in the US on Vertigo with very little fuss.
I found myself asking why I am so fascinated by books which are regarded as controversial or which have been banned and I came to the conclusion that I think it is because I am interested that they have sparked such a strong reaction from people. Books which cause outrage are so much more interesting and I always want to read them for myself and ask if I feel they go too far or not. More often than not I have no problem with them and find they have something really interesting to say, (though don’t always say it in a way people like or agree with).
Comics plus politics for often equals satire, and though that was represented, it also showcased a wide range of other examples of how comics have been, and continue to be, a voice for people. From Moor’s now overly appropriated (to the point of familiarity as oppose to radicalism) V for Vendetta masks, to, more historically, their importance to the suffragette movement.
Sex and violence in comics were also analysed in their own sections (the more sexually explicit examples in a separate section). I found the subject matter handled very well and did’t feel any sort of comfortableness from the people around me. I liked how it had a cabinet labelled “post-porn” which featured books which are not erotica but deal with sex very directly. It brought to mind Sex Criminals and made me want to seek out similar independent books from the UK.
Of course, hero’s got a mentions. From ones born in British comics such as 2000AD to the British Invasion of US titles such as Batman in the 90’s to writers subverting and analyzing the genre though books such as Watchmen and Kick Ass.
Venturing into the occult John Dee’s spell book from the archives of the library sits alongside vintage copies of Lovecraft’s work. This leads onto a cabinet containing scripts and sketches for Sandman. The was the final section of the exhibition, exploring breaking down the limits within comics. By this point I was very tired and it made for a surreal experience.
Though at times it felt like 1/3 Alan Moor, 1/3 Grant Morrison, 1/3 Dave McKean, it is hard to deny their influence in the medium. For example I really hadn’t realized how wide spread McKean’s work was, his sculptures and props being shown alongside the books.
There was a great sort of artist’s corner containing pin boards with art and sketches and emails from artists including Isabel Greenberg (The Encyclopedia of Early Earth) as well as Jamie McKelvie’s work for The Wicked and the Divine (a comic which only recently came out but is already a huge hit.) They had a table and chairs and paper so that people could draw their own art.
Seeing an excellently curated exhibition which features book which sit on my shelf at home as well as rare historical examples was quite surreal. Seeing a teacher having a discussion with a group of students about a page from Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles. Turning a corner to see a single issue of Hellblazer in a glass cabinet with text talking about it’s political significance. To be honest it was incredibly satisfying to see this medium elevated from pop culture to significant literature (an opinion widely shared with most comic book readers but not in the general public.)
If you get the chance to go I highly recommend it. You do have to pay for entry, but it is well worth the money!
So these were just some thoughts on what I saw. I bought the book so that I can read more on the subject. it’s been so long since I’ve read an art book, I can’t wait to get stuck into it!