On October 31, some of the UK’s top comic creators stopped by the Cartoon Museum’s open day to talk about their work in front of “their work”. Their visit was the cherry on the cake, since on the same day we opened a new exhibition of original comic artwork that is still on display in our upstairs gallery.

In 2014, the Cartoon Museum was awarded a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund in order to acquire, conserve, and display classic British comic art. The new exhibition contains some of our latest acquisitions, including artwork from fondly-remembered favourites such as The Sparky, Buster, and Princess Tina. There’s also beautifully-painted art from The Trigan Empire, including a rarely seen cover from a Dutch reprint; detailed pencil roughs of Batman by the UK’s Brian Bolland; Judge Dredd by Carlos Ezquerra; and a page from Watchmen – both the original art by Dave Gibbons and the original colour guide by John Higgins.

Our special guests for that day were Jamie Smart, Dandy and Phoenix Comic artist, who shared with us the project of his ground-breaking free online kids’ comic Moose Kid; Rachael Ball, who has contributed to Deadline (‘Box City‘), Fanny and the anthology Women Out Of Line, gave us great insights regarding her new graphic novel, The Inflatable Woman; both of them were followed by Dave Gibbons and John Higgins, who talked about their work on the seminal classic Watchmen; and , finally, Tim Pilcher, writer, editor, raconteur, and UK liaison for the French comics publisher Les Humanoides , who introduced the audience to his job as a comic editor and the future of comics. Other creators and comic fans were in attendance, and there were two free 30 minute comic art workshops lead by the Comic Creators Project Curator/Tutor, Steve Marchant. Dave Gibbons and John Higgins also gave advice to aspiring comic artists that brought along their questions, portfolio, and sketchbooks.

Right: Cover of Moose Kid Comics #2 (the original art work is now on loan at the Cartoon Museum). Left: Jamie Smart talking about his work and Aisyah Stevens posing next to her strip, Moss: The Goth Panda, that appeared in this issue of Moose Kid Comics. Photos by M.A. Walker.

The day had a great start with Jamie Smart introducing his project Moose Kid Comics, a free online comic designed for children. Jamie was very passionate about this project, since he feels that UK mainstream children’s comics have been dying out in the last ten years. With Moose Kid Comics he is trying to bring children’s comics back into the public consciousness. With this idea in mind, he placed a call for artists for a collaborative project where each one of the artists was responsible for the creation of a character that would feature in Moose Kid Comics. Hundreds of artists answered the call, but in the end only 40 of the best comic artists from the UK were chosen to bring this project to life. Its aim: to entertain young and adult comic readers alike as well as to win new audiences; to show the world how fantastic a children’s comic can be when artists create it themselves; and to open the discussion about how artists can make children’s comics great again. After the first issue was finished and published online, people were already asking about a second issue, and now that this one is up, they want a third. So, Jamie was right in his believe that now is the time to really bring the attention back to children’s comics. He even had a submission by a very young artist, Aishyah Stevens, who created Moss, The Goth Panda, and he featured her on the comic as well. So even young and promising artists are being attracted by the power of children’s comics. An important issue for Jamie was that his comic would be free for everybody to read online. By offering the comic for free, he is trying to encourage new audiences to take a chance and enjoy children’s comics once more. No artist involved in this project makes any profit, but they do retain the copyright of their own strips. At the moment, Jamie is trying to raise funds in order to make print copies to distribute in children’s hospitals, youth centers, etc., anywhere where a laugh can make a difference.

Rachael Ball next to her original drawings of The Inflatable Woman at the Cartoon Museum. On the left there is a close up of her beautiful pencil work. Photo by M.A. Walker.

After a brief break, we had our second guest take the floor of the gallery, Rachael Ball who presented her new graphic novel “The Inflatable Woman.” Even though she has been publishing monthly episodes and sketches of this graphic novel on her website, it has recently been published by Bloomsbury in a fantastic black and white edition. The story follows the exploits of Iris, or ‘balletgirl-42’, who is a zookeeper looking for love when she is suddenly diagnosed with breast cancer. Iris’s journey is one of courage and determination, where magic realism is combined with issues from everyday life. This foray between fantasy and the mundane creates a moving and honest, if surreal, experience heightened by Rachael’s humble but beautiful pencil work.

Rachael discussed the long and arduous process of creating the “Inflatable Woman,” especially because in a way Iris’s story was sort of autobiographical–minus the talking penguins, of course. Rachael had been diagnosed with breast cancer and creating this character helped her to cope with the situation. It was a cathartic process for her. It took her five months to plan the story and much longer to sit down and draw it. In order to push herself to finish it, she posted her progress online. The audience was fascinated by her story, and someone asked her if she was aware of this new trend of artists using comics to overcome a traumatic experience. She honestly though that nobody had done it before, until she had almost finished her own graphic novel and that is when she became aware of other artists who had done the same.


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