After 12 years at 35 Little Russell St, the Cartoon Museum is moving to brand new premises at 63 Wells St, London WC1 – very near Oxford Circus. As the space is currently being transformed into a fully-formed museum – with galleries, a larger learning space and a larger shop – the museum’s entire contents are being kept in storage nearby, and we hope to have everything ready for a grand opening in April 2019. Our first headline exhibition will be ‘Comic Creators’, displaying a massive selection of the work we’ve acquired with our Heritage Lottery funding over the last 4 years – some of it exhibited for the very first time. And of course there will be a wide range of cartoon art on show in the rest of the new museum.
“I have a determination to establish the British comic paper as a valuable artform and a source of history.”
Denis Gifford quoted in Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature Volume 2 p.913
Denis Gifford was a remarkable figure in British comics. He was a prolific professional comics writer and artist, beginning while at school during the second world war, and a comics historian from the 1970s until his death in 2000. But his influence on British popular culture extended further. He made films for Associated British Pathé, such as A Sporting Year, which he directed in 1964, and the TV pilot Highlight: The Singing Cinema (also directed in 1964), which featured musical numbers from British films. He also gained extensive writing credits for the radio and television and, in 1966, created the popular radio quiz show, Sounds Familiar, which he brought to television as Looks Familiar in 1972. He also devised the cartooning television quiz Quick on the Draw in 1974. He wrote many books about British film, including his magnum opus, the exhaustive British Film Catalogue, first published in 1973. He was also an obsessive collector – of comics (naturally!) as well as magazines and films (on video tape). Continue reading “Denis Gifford: a Source of History”
Fans of British comics have given a resounding cheer for the publication of Faceache: The First Hundred Scrunges, by the great Ken Reid, on 30 November 2017, which collects his excellent and much-admired comic strips from Jet and Buster in the early 1970s. Faceache featured the exploits of Ricky Rubberneck, the ‘lad born with a bendable bonce’, who each week ‘scrunged’ his rubbery features into one of Reid’s trademark grotesque gurns, causing consternation in his friends, neighbours and schoolteachers.
To many, Reid is simply the best humour cartoonist Britain has produced. Somewhat scandalously, this is the first substantial collection of any of Reid’s comics work and, to mark the occasion, friend of the Cartoon Museum Andrew Lee has kindly loaned us his page of original Faceache art, along with a page of Martha’s Monster Make-up, a later strip Reid created for Monster Fun that was essentially a female variation on Faceache. These are currently on display in the comic creators’ gallery at the museum, where they can be admired along with our nearby page of Reid’s Roger the Dodger.
A look at some early 1950s British comics artwork, including work by Sydney Jordan, who went on to create the comic strip Jeff Hawke, and Jim Holdaway, later the creator (with writer Peter O’Donnell) of the comic strip Modesty Blaise. Sydney Jordan kindly agreed to be interviewed, adding his memories of the beginning of his career and the development of Jeff Hawke.
By Richard Crouch
In July 2017, the Comic Creators Project at the Cartoon Museum acquired a batch of 28 pieces of original comics artwork dating from the early 1950s that came from the archives of the Bayly-Souster Group, an art agency run by Eric Souster and Ernest (also known as Bill) Bayly. The agency operated from the early 20th century until it was dissolved in 1962, and handled a range of commercial art, including advertising work and second world war propaganda posters.
During the second world war, the importation of consumer goods from the USA, including comics, was restricted, and British publishers such as T.V. Boardman and L. Miller and Son stepped in and began to reprint American comics material in Britain. After the war, demand for this material continued to grow and the early 1950s brought something of a boom as a number of independent British publishers began originating American-style comic books for the UK market. These were smaller in size than traditional British comics and printed in black and white with colour covers; they were published monthly and featured one main character rather than being an anthology of strips. Sometimes American prices were printed on the cover to create the impression they were US imports.
I am not a connoisseur of 1920s comics. The ones I know about are the big American strips, such as Herriman’s Krazy Kat and McCay’s Little Nemo in Slumberland. When I read in comics histories about the great exponents of the adventure strip – cartoonists like Hal Foster and Milton Caniff – those histories invariably point to Roy Crane’s Wash Tubbs as the first adventure comic strip. Begun in the USA in 1924 as a daily gag strip about a shop assistant, Wash Tubbs soon broke its boundaries when Tubbs ran off to join the circus, and went on to have adventures in exotic locations. However, a visitor to the Cartoon Museum brought to our attention a different contender for the title of first adventure comic strip – and it’s British. Asger Pedersen is from Denmark, and he dropped into the Museum one recent Saturday with a tale to tell about Britain’s first adventure serial comic strip, Rob the Rover, which predated Wash Tubbs by some four years.
As a cartoonist myself, I have to say that Leo was an impossible act to follow. His drawings were always both very, very funny and sublimely well drawn – Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling to my greetings card and gift book scribbles. He cast a long shadow which will be greatly missed now it’s gone.
The humour in Leo’s work for children’s comics and his later newspaper cartoons and books was always anarchic, anti the established order and pro fairness and justice in a generally unfair and unjust world, championing the underdog against the forces of oppression; a reflection of his strongly held left-wing, progressive political views.
In his comics pages he saw the child characters he created (most famously The Bash Street Kids, Minnie the Minx, Little Plum) as the underdogs long controlled and oppressed by the adult world around them and he gave them a voice and actions with which to fight back in hilariously anarchic fashion, allowed them to step into the limelight and control their own destinies. Children of the time responded to that, writing fan letters of glee and appreciation that truly delighted him. The fan letters also came from grown up children, reading his pages with as much enjoyment as their offspring.
He crammed his drawings with masses of tiny comic details that the readers could pour over and come back to time and time again. He believed that children had “super-powerful eyeballs” with which they looked for that kind of tiny comic detail to become absorbed in, and he always wanted to give them more and more, pages that they could become lost in as they studied the detail. He never wanted to disappoint his fans.
In recent years it wasn’t the cancer that he fought for so long that really got him down, so much as the constant march ever more to the right in British politics – a depressing political march away from the principles of fairness, justice and standing up for the underdog that underpinned his life and his cartoons, towards a world built around fear, hatred and division. To the end he believed, despite all the evidence, that he could beat his illness and I’m sure he also believed that the forces of progressive politics could also still win, no matter how long a shadow their opponents might cast.
I will always be grateful that Leo taught me how to draw well enough to make a living from it. I’m equally grateful that his strongly progressive political views and activism rubbed off on me and my brothers and sisters (I vividly remember as a small child being taken on wet and cold CND marches as well as on exciting visits to the Beano offices in Dundee) and so helped to shape the adults we became, and it’s good to know that he also touched and in some small way perhaps influenced the lives of so many others of our generation brought up on his comic pages.
John Constantine has fought world-shattering demonic entities on alternate planes of reality, stared down abyssal horrors that would strike the sanity from ordinary men, and saved the lives of countless innocents during his decades-long career. Yet you’d be far more likely to find the eponymous anti-hero of Hellblazer getting stone drunk at the local boozer than performing feats of derring-do.
If you’re lucky, he might sketch out a few arcane symbols in the beer of a spilled pint before disappearing into the shadows.
Continue reading “Comic Highlights: Hellblazer”
The Comic Creators Project has recently acquired a page of original art of The Big Yin! Started in 1975 by artist Malcolm “Malky” McCormick and featured in the Sunday Times, The Big Yin follows the adventures of well known Scottish comedian, Billy Connolly. It will be displayed later this year.