Yesterday saw a new exhibition open at The Lightbox gallery and museum, Woking that we highlighted earlier this year, which will take visitors on an interactive journey through the past, present and future of sequential art. The Story of British Comics So Far: Cor! By Gum! Zarjaz! (6th August 2016 – 31 December 2016) reveals how and why visual communication endures as a hugely popular medium for people of all ages.
Zara and her grandfather Alan, manga influenced comic characters especially created for this exhibition by ace comics artist and designer Asia Alfasi, lead visitors through three immersive zones which will explore the history of British comics to date that will be updated through its run – ensuring a need for return visits.
Co-curated by Paul Gravett and Hamish MacGillivray of Acme Museum Services, the story opens with ‘Cor!’ – a potted history of the importance of sequential art with ancient examples of 3,000 year old hieroglyphics, 18th century satirical social commentary by William Hogarth, and a present day playful yet political ceramic by Grayson Perry. ‘By Gum’ offers a trip down memory lane with a newsagents stocking classic examples of comics such as “Dan Dare”, The Beano and Eagle alongside DIY comic making interactives for visitors of all ages.
‘Zarjaz!’ brings things up-to-date with today’s manga, graphic novels and digital comics, and the exhibition story culminates in larger-than-life giant interpretations of Zara and her grandfather, by theatre scenic painters.
“It’s a joyful show and we get to refresh it through the run, to reflect the shifting seasons,” enthuses Paul Gravett, “starting with summer specials, then Fireworks Night and Hallowe’en spookiness, and finally Christmas annuals.”
Cor! Is that a Comic?
Visitors entering the gallery are drawn into a ‘library’ of precious artefacts that will give context to the meaning of sequential art.
The oldest item is a 3,000 year old ancient Egyptian stone, alongside the stone is a beautifully carved woodblock print from 1850 by Japanese artist Utagawa Kuniyoshi which chronicles the lives of brave Samurai warriors from yesteryear.
Opposite this are four engraved prints of William Hogarth’s The Humours of an Election series (1755) – highly detailed satirical engraved prints on paper tell the story of the election of an Oxfordshire member of parliament in 1754 that were designed to humorously expose the corruption endemic within politics at that time.
By Gum! Do you remember?
In ‘By Gum!’ visitors of all ages can revel in nostalgia with displays of very early and classic comics. Hidden within a carnivalesque tent is an open volume of the very first British comic strip the Glasgow Looking Glass (1825), a caricature magazine created and illustrated by William Heath that satirised the political and social life of those living in Scotland in the 1820s.
There is also original artwork of “Dan Dare” by Frank Hampson.
The final element of ‘By Gum!’ is be a family-friendly DIY comic making area where people of all ages can create their own piece of sequential art using the materials provided. Families can build their own Egyptian stone or Hogarth jigsaw puzzle or create their own story by adding speech bubbles to copies of the prints. To keep little ones entertained, there is a pond filled with comic covers where they can ‘go fish’ for their favourite.
Visitors exit to the final zone through a time-travelling tunnel showcasing the comics of the 1970s and 80s including 2000AD and Action which will transport them back to the present day.
Zarjaz! Whatever Next?
The third exhibition zone ‘Zarjaz!’ considers to what extent societal tastes and changes have affected the content of sequential art. Rare insights by writer Ken Armstrong from the 1970s blood-thirsty shark comic character Hookjaw from Action will be contrasted with a back-catalogue of early issues of 2000AD.
Visitors can view two contrasting artists’ studios, one recreated in the style of the 1930s which will show original works by local artist Brian White, who wrote the 1930s Daily Mail strip “Little Nipper”, which have never been shown in public before. Next to this a contemporary artists’ studio demonstrating how techniques and processes have changed over time.
Things are brought right up to date with a bank of interactive digital desks and for the more traditional there is a comfortable lounge area with a lending library of comics and graphic novels to peruse.
The story of British comics so far comes to a close with a wall of giant graffiti interpretations of exhibition guides Alan and Zara.
• The Story of British Comics So Far: Cor! By Gum! Zarjaz!’ The Main Gallery at The Lightbox Gallery and Museum runs until 31st December 2016. The Lightbox is situated in Woking (25 minutes from London Waterloo by train) open Tuesday – Saturday 10.30am – 5.00pm and Sunday 11.00am – 4.00pm
Free entry, entrance to Main and Upper Gallery exhibitions only with a £5 Annual Pass. Under 18s free. For more information please visit www.thelightbox.org.uk or call 01483 737800
• Find Asia Alfasi at www.asiaalfasiart.com
• Find Paul Gravett at www.paulgravett.com
• Frank Hampson Official web site: www.frankhampsonartwork.co.uk
• The Brian White Archive site is digitising the cartoon strips of British cartoonist Brian (H.B.) White, born Dunstable 1902; died Rustington 1984. It unites his work with the previously unseen biography written in conjunction with and edited by his son John. D. White. Predominantly The Nipper which was published in the Daily Mail between 1933 and 1947. Others are included in his output from 1926 to 1980s. The British Cartoon Archive also holds some of his work.
• A caricature magazine that satirised the political and social life of Scotland in the 1820s, the Glasgow Looking Glass was conceived and illustrated by William Heath. It ran for only 19 instalments and the University of Glasgow holds a hand coloured set of the first series of 17 issues