In Pictures and In Review: “Beano – The Art of Breaking the Rules” at Somerset House, London

Combining classic and current BEANO comic art with some amazing modern work (shriek!), this Somerset House exhibition is one no fan of the weekly humour comic will want to miss… Richard Sheaf reports…

Beano: The Art of Breaking the Rules  - Somerset House 2021 - 2022

Occupying London’s Somerset House main exhibition space (like the Peanuts exhibition in 2018/19 but unlike the Hergé exhibition of 2015/16), “Beano – The Art of Breaking the Rules” is a simply huge exhibition, and is the ‘comeback’ show after the restrictions imposed earlier in the COVID-19 Pandemic. Two years in the planning, and, thankfully, not derailed by the health crisis, this exhibition takes up multiple rooms, exploring all aspects of the BEANO and its impact on modern artists.

Curated by artist and lifelong BEANO fan Andy Holden this is, as he says, a show that he started working on when he was about eight years old! For anyone who attended the BEANO “Manual for Mischief” exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum back in 2018) I can assure you that this is on a much bigger scale.

There are over 100 artworks on loan from BEANO publisher DC Thomson, and all their key artists are represented by multiple pieces of artwork. In the first room alone you can see Dudley D Watkins‘ “Desperate Dan” art (plus some “Oor Wullie” and “Jimmy and his Magic Patch“, launched in what was then The Beano, back in 1944, later drawn by Paddy Brennan). Also on display are the initial designs for early Beano cover star Oswald the Ostrich, and there’s “General Jumbo” art by John Nichol, “Billy the Cat” by Sandy Caller – plus copies of the very first issues of The Beano and The Dandy

Beano: The Art of Breaking the Rules - Somerset House 2021 - 2022
Beano: The Art of Breaking the Rules - Somerset House 2021 - 2022 - Jimmy and his Magic Patch
Beano: The Art of Breaking the Rules - Somerset House 2021 - 2022 - General Jumbo

Each part of the show is broken up into small sections (the first being the Beanotown museum), each dealing with a particular theme, and how it was portrayed in the comic. This format means that, at first, you simply don’t realise just how big the exhibition is – because you can’t just “see” the whole thing at any point – I probably spent two hours going around it, and that probably would have been longer, if there had been other visitors there.

As you progress through the exhibition, the sheer amount of original art can be hard to taken in – here’s a few pages of Ken Reid drawing “Roger the Dodger“, here’s a few more of his “Jonah” pages. Or, fancy some David Sutherland? Of course you do! The original art for the first “Dennis the Menace” strip is here, and the same for “Minnie the Minx“. 

Beano: The Art of Breaking the Rules - Somerset House 2021 - 2022 - Bash Street Kids
Beano: The Art of Breaking the Rules - Somerset House 2021 - 2022 - First Minnie the Minx

“Stupid rules! If I had my way there’d only be one – that there are no rules!”
Minnie the Minx

You want Jim Petrie? You want Jimmy Glenn? David Law? Tom Lavery? Tom Paterson? Laura Howell? Frank McDiarmid? Nigel Parkinson? Tony O’Donnell? Vic Neill? Wayne Thompson? The Shaps Brothers? Multiple pages of most of those artists? It’s all here, and as you’ll see from that list some of those are more recent artists to work in the Beano, too.

Beano: The Art of Breaking the Rules - Somerset House 2021 - 2022 - Wartime Lord Snooty
Beano: The Art of Breaking the Rules - Somerset House 2021 - 2022 - Beanotown

There’s room devoted to “domestic chaos”, Bash Street School (plenty of early “When the Bell Rings” artwork included), the Beanotown high street, Bunkerton Castle (including wartime Dudley D Watkins’ “Lord Snooty” pages), the Beano home and on and on. And there’s a Beanotown record shop (including a jukebox complete with songs chosen by St Etienne’s Bob Stanley) and a big model of Beanotown itself. 

Beano: The Art of Breaking the Rules - Somerset House 2021 - 2022

The Beanotown model is even “accompanied” by a spoof promotional video for Beanotown, extolling the virtues of all that goes on in the town – evidenced by relevant frames of artwork – and what a marvellous place it would be to live. This, in fact, is “Look at Life: Beanotown 2021”, one of the many pieces of contemporary art dotted throughout the exhibition.

This is a newly-created piece (by Tessa Norton, Sarah Cracknell, Andy Holden, Bob Stanley and Augustin Bousfield), and there are a number of pieces by other well-known artists, too. Claes Oldenburg has a sculpture of a pair of knees, Sarah Lucas’s 1996 self-portrait with fried eggs is an iconic image, Phyllida Barlow is here, as are Gilbert  & George, Martin Rowson and Martin Creed. Beryl Cook has a half a dozen illustrations (from a children’s book that was never produced and which have never been seen before) in the “Animals” section.

The impressive list of participants goes on and on, but I’ll just highlight Horace Panter (of ska band The Specials fact fans) and his David Hockney / Dennis the Menace interpretation of “A Bigger Splash” as a particular favourite.

Beano: The Art of Breaking the Rules - Somerset House 2021 - 2022 - Dennis the Menace by Horace Panter

A lot of this art is in the BMOMA section (Beano Museum of Modern Art) in which there’s also a room with other humour comics in a display case with some rare OiNK! material in – great!

Also worth a look is the commissioned piece Dennis and Gnasher zoom (by Nicola Lane, coloured by Dee Cunniffe), which had me chuckling.

Dennis and Gnasher zoom by Nicola Lane, coloured by Dee Cunniffe

The contemporary art may be of less interest to BEANO readers, but you’ve got to start their introduction to art somewhere, and there are a few funny sculptures here that might do that that job.

Beano: The Art of Breaking the Rules - Somerset House 2021 - 2022
Beano: The Art of Breaking the Rules - Somerset House 2021 - 2022

Likewise, I’m going to say that there are a number of strips that are likely to be a mystery to them (like “Jonah”, “Little Plum” and “Pansy Potter”). However, on both those scores, contemporary art and nostalgia, the parents of current BEANO readers should find enough to interest them here.  

And all ages will find the shop a delight – I’ve never seen so much BEANO merchandise in one place before – a wall of BEANO t-shirts, all manner of books, toys, games, stamps… there’s even a set of Pitcairn Island-issued 50p pieces! Plus there’s high-end handbags and the like from Radley.

  • Beano: The Art of Breaking the Rules - Somerset House 2021 - 2022 - Shop
  • Beano: The Art of Breaking the Rules - Somerset House 2021 - 2022 - Shop
  • Beano: The Art of Breaking the Rules - Somerset House 2021 - 2022 - Shop
  • Beano: The Art of Breaking the Rules - Somerset House 2021 - 2022 - Shop

Oh, and you really must not forget your exhibition catalogue (£5) – it’s in the form of an issue of the BEANO, running to 32 glossy pages, full of details about the exhibition – a really nice touch.

Ticket prices are on a par with what you’d expect to pay at other central London venues and I reckon you’ll keep your kids entertained here far longer than at most of those places. For those just interested in comic art, I’d really recommend it too – an opportunity to see 100-plus pages of work, by some of this country’s best ever comic artists is an opportunity not to be missed. Superb!

Richard Sheaf

• Beano: The Art of Breaking the Rules runs from 21st October 2021 – 6 March 2022 at Somerset House, London

“Breaking the Rules” through The Eyes of Artist Rian Hughes

Artist and designer Rian Hughes is full of praise for the exhibition, visiting alongside Richard at its opening event, thanks to Somerset House and downthetubes. “It was excellent,” he notes, enthusiastically tweeting details of some of the BEANO art to his dedicated followers in comics, design and illustration…

  • BEANO - Breaking the Rules - Photo by Rian Hughes
  • BEANO - Breaking the Rules - Photo by Rian Hughes
  • BEANO - Breaking the Rules - Photo by Rian Hughes
  • BEANO - Breaking the Rules - Photo by Rian Hughes
  • BEANO - Breaking the Rules - Photo by Rian Hughes
  • BEANO - Breaking the Rules - Photo by Rian Hughes

• Beano: The Art of Breaking the Rules runs from 21st October 2021 – 6 March 2022 at Somerset House, London

Beano: The Art of Breaking the Rules - Somerset House 2021 - 2022

Ticket: £16 / £12.50 concessions | Under 6s free | £22 Family of 3 £38 Family of 4 | Open Sat, Sun & Tue 10.00 – 18.00. Wed – Fri 11.00 – 20.00. Last entry 1 hour prior to closing. Closed on Mondays except on the following dates (during school holidays) when the exhibition will be open 10.00 – 18.00 – Mon 25 Oct 2021; Mon 20 Dec 2021; Mon 27 Dec 2021; Mon 03 Jan 2022; and Mon 14 Feb 2022

Beano: The Art of Breaking the Rules - Somerset House 2021 - 2022

For telephone bookings call 0333 320 2836 between 09.00 – 20.00 – Mon-Fri, 10.00-20.00 – Sat, 10.00 – 18.00 Sun and Bank Holidays.

Group bookings offer: buy 10 or more ‘Full Price’ tickets and get 10% discount. To book for a group of 20 or more, phone our groups booking line on 0333 320 2836 between 09.00 – 20.00 – Mon-Fri, 10.00-20.00 – Sat, 10.00 – 18.00 Sun and Bank Holidays. Group bookings are subject to availability.

Educational bookings offer: buy 10 or more ‘Student +12’ tickets and get a free ‘Teacher/Tutor’ ticket per 10 tickets booked. This offer is not available online. Please phone our group booking line on 0333 320 2836 between 09.00 – 20.00 – Mon-Fri, 10.00-20.00 – Sat, 10.00 – 18.00 Sun and Bank Holidays or email visitor@somersethouse.org.uk. Group bookings are subject to availability.

The founder of downthetubes, John works as a comics editor, writer, as Creative Consultant on the Dan Dare audio adventures for B7 Media, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. Working in British comics publishing for over 30 years, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Star Trek Magazine and Babylon 5 Magazine. He also edited the comics anthology STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War and “Dan Dare”. He’s the writer of “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz, published on Tapastic; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood for digital comic 100% Biodegradable.



Categories: British Comics, Comic Art, Comics, downthetubes Comics News, downthetubes News, Events, Exhibitions

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1 reply

  1. It’s a great exhibition – I never in my wildest dreams imagined I’d be voluntarily going to an art gallery! There are all sorts of bits and pieces in there which will have any Beano fan poring over them, including lots and lots of original artwork (all larger than life, of course, due to the printing process).

    Interesting too is the way the special edition of the Beano (at least that what it seems to me, it has Dennis and Gnasher strips in it and is printed on the same presses as the weekly Beano) is in fact the exhibition catalogue.

    One of the strips in there refers it being part of a story which starts in issue 4110 (which is out next week). So if you go and pick up a catalogue, make sure to snag a copy of next week’s Beano too!

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