I visited the Cartoon Museum one lunchtime to check out their temporary exhibition, The Great British Graphic Novel. Running from 20 April to 24 July, the exhibition examined the development of the graphic novel in the UK over the last few decades, while also looking back to the beginning of graphic storytelling, which dates from the eighteenth century. For instance, Hogarth’s A Harlot’s Progress, a series of illustrations demonstrating the downfall of a young woman in sinful London, was created in 1732.
In the nineteenth century, magazines such as Punch and Ally Sloper’s Half-Holiday became the forerunners of graphic novels, telling stories via panels. In the twentieth century, many graphic tales appeared in newspapers and several were serialised before being combined in book form. Some of the graphic novels examined in the exhibition included Watchmen, Gemma Bovery and From Hell.
I’ve heard graphic novels labelled as “inferior” to standard novels, but this has always struck me as ridiculous. For one thing, I don’t think they can be directly compared to written novels: they are a different medium. For another, I love reading but I actually find reading graphic novels much more difficult than reading written novels: my instinct is to just read the words, but graphic novels need to be read taking into account the illustrations and the text. I can’t imagine the skill needed to be able to create a good graphic novel.
Previously, I’ve only read a very few graphic novels: Alice in Sunderland by Bryan Talbot, Maus by Art Spiegelman, and I’ve got Neil Gaiman’s Sandman at home although I haven’t begun it yet. The exhibition gave me lots of ideas about what I might like to read next.
The Cartoon Museum itself was formed in 1988 when a group of cartoonists, collectors and lovers of the art form came together as The Cartoon Art Trust with the aim of founding a museum dedicated to collecting, exhibiting, promoting and preserving the best of British cartoon art. The current central London home was opened in 2006.
In 1988 a group of cartoonists, collectors and lovers of the art form came together as The Cartoon Art Trust with the aim of founding a museum dedicated to collecting, exhibiting, promoting and preserving the best of British cartoon art. After a decade of exhibiting in smaller venues, in February 2006 the Cartoon Museum opened to the public at its current home in central London, very near the British Museum. As well as regular temporary exhibitions, the museum has a range of permanent displays encompassing the history of British cartoons and comics. There is work by James Gillray and Thomas Rowlandson, who are supposed to have founded the British cartoon tradition, and art by Victorian cartoonists including George Cruikshank, George Du Maurier and John Tenniel. Twentieth-century cartoonists such as William Heath Robinson and H.M. Bateman are also present in the permanent collection, while the upstairs gallery has cartoons by artists such as David Law (Dennis the Menace, Beryl the Peril), Leo Baxendale (Bash St. Kids, Minnie the Minx), Posy Simmonds and Sarah MacIntyre.
The Cartoon Museum is well worth a visit: it’s very close to the British Museum, so you could pop in after visiting the more famous attraction.
Address: 35 Little Russell Street, London, WC1A 2HH
Opening Hours: 10.30-5.30 Tues-Sun
Prices: Adult £7, concession £5, student £3; under 18 and Art Fund free