Museum #12 Cartoon Museum

It’s been a while since I visited a museum on the list, so I was glad when Wist suggested we tackle one this weekend.

We chose the Cartoon Museum, just off of Museum Street.
The museum itself is dwarfed by the British Museum behind – but what it lacks in size it doesn’t lack in spirit.

On the ground floor, you can learn a little about the history of cartooning.

Caricature developed in Italy (Italian ‘caricare’ means to load, or exaggerate) and was spread to UK polite circles by young gents that had picked up their technique when on their grand tours.

William Hogarth had little time for caricature – regarding it a ‘foreign art’. He created a new form of picture story – and is widely regarded as the first comic artist.
Amateur artists Townshend, Bunbury, Woodward and Nixon transformed the art further – introducing a lighter, more playful tone. James Gillray perfected the art – becoming known for his power of imagination and cultural commentary.

I thought this cartoon (etched by an anonymous individual) was interesting – commenting on the belief that the English were a particularly suicidal nation, due to the gloominess of the English climate and the melancholy of the national character.

The first half of the twentieth century saw the heyday of the popular magazine, and cartoons sat centre-stage amongst many of these. William Heath Robinson was one such cartoonist who entertained the Great British public through two world wars, with his intricate cartoon contraptions (pre-dating Rube Goldberg machines in America.)

Henry Mayo Batemen was the first British cartoonist to draw with a dynamic and expressive line, that many found funny even without the caption. Here’s one:

Joke cartoons continued to appear in magazines and newspapers throughout the twentieth century.
Carl Giles work was one such success story in this genre, famed for creating the Giles family.

In the 1960s and onward, Britain began to leave behind the deference and social conformity that had dominated society during the world wars. Edgier cartoon satire began to appear, of which the most notable was Private Eye in 1961.
Artists including Ralph Steadman and Gerald Scarfe voiced their own discontent through angry, violent drawings.

The 2009 Ralph Steadman above is called “The Tea Lady – Working Drawing for a statue to be erected next to Churchill in Parliament Square”

For such a small museum, the quantity of beautiful cartoons really is quite astounding.

It was great to see the original sketchbooks of Simon Tofield, who created ‘Simon’s Cat’.

Upstairs, fun facts and layouts of modern comics were shared.
We learnt that Korky the Cat was the staple feature of the Dandy front page, until 1984 when Desperate Dan forced him off of the top spot.
And that in certain editions of the Beano, there are strong similarities between the Bash Street Kids Teacher and his wife. Note the tash.
As ever, it was great to notice the artists own notes on their artwork.
I find artist’s drafts and work-in-progress layouts fascinating.
Roger the Dodger was a cartoon character I’d completely forgotten about.
His debut in 1953 started with the rhyming couplet: ‘Here comes Roger! Always scheming! You will never catch him dreaming.”
Catchy…
The museum is a whirlwind of nostalgia. If you’ve every read comics (as a child, or an adult) its worth popping down for a visit. It’s £7 a ticket, which felt fairly steep considering the size of the place, but niche museums like this don’t get an awful lot of funding so I guess it’s understandable.

FIVE FACTS
#1. The wholesome comic ‘Boys’ Own Paper’ (which featured tales of sporting prowess and imperial adventure) was introduced after fears that the dark and lurid ‘Penny Dreadfuls’ would have negative effects on impressionable young adults.
#2. Precursors to The Dandy (1937) and The Beano (1938) launched by DC Thompson included The Wizard (1927), The Rover (1929) and The Hotspur (1937)
#3. Christian groups, fearful of the influence of American horror comics imported into the UK, decided to launch their own comic book in response. ‘Eagle’ subsequently raised the bar for the entire British comic genre.
#4. Bryan Talbot introduced what is regarded as the first British graphic novel in 1977 (surprisingly late!)
#5. The original name of the cartoon strip ‘The Bash Street Kids’ was ‘When the bell rings’ but was changed two years after launch.

1. Cartoon Museum 
2. Churchill War Rooms 
3. Cinema Museum 
4. Dennis Sever’s House 
5. Dr Johnson’s house 
6. Design Museum 
7. Down House 
8. The Geffrye Museum 
9. London Film Museum 
10. London Transport Museum 
11. Mansion House 
12. Brunel Museum 
13. Museum of the Order of St John 
14. Musical Museum 
15. Old Operating Theatre Museum & Herb Garret
16. Pollock’s Toy Museum 
17. Rose Theatre exhibition 
18. Fashion and Textile Museum 
19. Royal College of Music Archives and Museum of Instruments 
20. Sherlock Holmes Museum 
21. Twinings Museum 
22. V&A Museum of Childhood 
23. Bank of England museum 
24. The Stephens Museum 

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