“Comics UnMasked” exhibition at British Library to be designed by Dave McKean

The Trilas of Nasty Tales Cover by Dave Gibbons
The cover of Trials of Nasty Tales, an early example of an underground work by Dave Gibbons. The comic, held by the British Library, relates the story of the short-lived ‘Nasty Tales’ series which stood trial for obscenity charges in the early 1970s for its graphic content, an incident which crystallised the perception of the comics industry as a vehicle of subversion and dissent. © Dave Gibbons

The British Library – which has a huge archive of comics and graphic novels to draw on – has confirmed that their major lead exhibition  for 2014 (which we highlighted last year) is on British comics and entitled Comics Unmasked: Art & Anarchy in the UK.

Comics Unmasked, designed by award-winning artist Dave McKean, will run from 2nd May 2014 – 19th August 2014. This landmark event will explore the full potential of the medium, demystifying the process of creating comics while presenting work that is challenging to the status quo. Its materials unflinchingly examine issues around gender, violence, sexuality, drug-taking and politics and will feature long unseen comics, original artwork and bizarre objects exploring the form’s tumultuous history.

From newly discovered Victorian comics to iconic titles such as V for Vendetta and Batman, Comics Unmasked will explore political and social issues raised by British comics and their creators over the last century, from violence and drugs to class and sexuality.

“Nothing on this scale as an exhibition of British Comics has really ever taken place,” enthuses the exhibition’s co-curator Paul Gravett in a promotional video for the Library’s 2014 exhibtions.

“What excites me most about doing this exhibition is the chance for the public to discover a different side – perhaps a darker side – of comics.”

“It is fair to say, if we are being honest, that we haven’t devoted to that sector of our collection the scholarly and curatorial effort we have devoted to some of the higher culture parts of our collection,” Roly Keating, the library’s chief executive, told The Guardian. “This year we are addressing that with a vengeance.”

C0-curator John Harris Dunning says the exhibition will have sedition and rebellion at its heart. It will also aim to explode a few myths, not least that the publications are all about superheroes and that reading them is the pastime of boys, he added.

“When we first started to talk to people about this comic book show some people said ‘it’s only for boys’.

“It’s garbage. They were also saying girls don’t like blood and psychologically upsetting things and the girls were saying, ‘we love it’.”

Along with original pencil artwork by Frank Quitely for a Grant Morrison Batman comic book and pages from the Pat Mills-created girls comic Misty, one item to be featured is a copy of The Trials of Nasty Tales, an early work by Dave Gibbons which documented the 1973 obscenity trial in which the Nasty Tales comic book series were prosecuted.

Prepare for sensory overload….

• Exhibition Home Page: www.bl.uk/whatson/exhibitions/comics-unmasked

• Keep an eye on Paul’s website (www.paulgravett.com), blog, Facebook and Twitter for update to this exhibition – this is a landmark event for comics in Britain, not to be missed!

Trials of Nasty Tales © Dave Gibbons

John Freeman

The founder of downthetubes, John describes himself as is a “freelance comics operative”, currently working as a freelance editor for TITAN COMICS, as Creative Consultant on the new DAN DARE audio adventures for B7 Media, and on promotional work for the LAKES INTERNATIONAL COMIC ART FESTIVAL and LANCASTER COMICS DAY.

John has worked in British comics publishing for over 30 years, starting out at Marvel UK, where he edited a number of the Genesis 1992 books with Paul Neary. His numerous credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine at Marvel and Star Trek Magazine and Babylon 5 Magazine at Titan Magazines, where he was Managing Editor.

He also edited STRIP Magazine and worked as an editor on several audio comics for ROK Comics, including TEAM M.O.B.I.L.E. and THE BEATLES STORY.

Most recently he is writing CRUCIBLE as a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz, published on Tapastic; and DEATH DUTY and SKOW DOGS with Dave Hailwood for the digital comic 100% Biodegradable.

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