I went to see the Comics Unmasked exhibit at the British Library last weekend. As a comics geek, this was one London exhibition I was determined not to miss.
It tells the story of what are now known as comics (mostly British) from their earliest manifestations. There are great examples of Punch magazine and how Victorians used illustrations to tell stories in their newspapers. Stories such as the gruesome Jack the Ripper, which the illustrators seem to have taken great delight in making as awful as possible.
I loved seeing the old Eagle comics and some great Dan Dare strips – the futuristic ships and buildings brought me right back to my childhood. I had a handful of Dan Dare comics (reprints, I should add – I’m not that old!) when I was young. And while, even at that early age, I could spot the sexism and jingoism, the artwork was mind-blowing (to my little mind at least).
But the exhibit also included reference to how changing social attitudes manifested in comic strips (e.g. Smoking, the role of women) over time, reflecting, but often anticipating, society’s development on these issues. There were sections on heroes, discussion of politics in comics and the ever-interesting topic of how sex and sexuality are covered.
It was interesting how people…lingered…over this section. Ahem.
While very enjoyable, I’d have to point out that the dim lighting in the exhibit made it almost impossible to read some of the strips they had on show. Unfortunately, the British Library’s “no photos” policy means all I have to share are my memories. I also avoided splurging in the exhibit-related gift shop at the end, despite the presence of lovely, but pointless, comics-based bits’n’bobs. I own enough of them already.
Except for the Marvel Comics superhero wallpaper. Overkill, even for me.
Highlights for me were the original character sketches and part-finished works, along with the opportunity to virtually “flick through” old copies of Zenith on an iPad, which really made feel old!
It’s only running for another couple of days, so if you’re interested, make haste! You could easily spend a couple of hours wandering through the contents, especially if you take time to enjoy the comics on the iPads. Just watch out for the many, many life-size mannequins wearing “V for Vendetta” masks.
They’re just creepy.