James Bacon attended the launch event of the fabulous Luther Arkwright: 50 Years of a British comics legend exhibition at the London’s Cartoon Museum, timed to complement the upcoming release of The Legend of Luther Arkwright next month, which has an incredible selection of art on display…
The new Luther Arkwright: 50 Years of a British comics legend exhibition at London’s Cartoon Museum captures your imagination from the moment you enter the dedicated gallery.
This type of thoughtful layout to the exhibition and genuine sentiment, permeates the whole exhibition, offering a unique perspective of Bryan Talbot, one of the most passionate and dedicated comic creators in Britain, who continues to deliver enjoyment to readers and fans.
Entering, you’re immediately confronted by a full length graphic of Luther Arkwright, to the left a really quite poignant portrait of the Cartoon Museum’s Eduardo Camare, who helped to arrange the exhibition, but sadly passed away, unexpectedly, in May.
The exhibition coincides with the forthcoming release of The Legend of Luther Arkwright, the third volume of work featuring the character that is the focus of this exhibition.
The first Luther Arkwright strip was a seven pager in the comic, Mixed Bunch, published by Brainstorm in 1976, entitled “The Papist Affair”. On display was not only was the comic but three original pages from this earliest excursion into the adventures of the multiverse-spanning adventurer.
A glass case demonstrates how Arkwright has since developed reaching out from fanzines, to foreign editions, into roleplaying games and audio books. The character has leapt from the pages of comics and reached fans in other formats, and seeing these on display, with renditions of Arkwright by Hunt Emerson, Glenn Fabry and Dave Gibbons, neatly demonstrates the respect and admiration the character is held in by industry peers.
A huge print of the fabulous cover from the large format second collected edition demonstrates the vibrancy to Bryan’s fully painted work: the vivid colours, Arkwright shrouded in the Union Jack, the rhomboid tank in the background, and fires burning. It’s a fabulously atmospheric image, capturing Arkwright so well.
This then leads into a sequence of original art from Book One, The Adventures of Luther Arkwright, and you get the opportunity to consider this artwork up close. Viewing these pages close up really show the level of detail to Bryan’s pen and ink work; close up, you can see the texture and intricate detail, but step away, and you experience the full impact of his stunning imagery.
Some pages also demonstrate how adept Bryan is at story telling; Page 97, for example, shows this skill brilliantly, portraying violent oppression, capturing brutality in a visceral blood flying way, even though the full scene is off frame. Then he adds some simple words, deftly portraying the horror so well and moving the story forward.
We are then presented with some amazing behind the scenes material, four ‘Mind Maps’ from soon-to-be-released The Legend of Luther Arkwright. I was really pleased to see these, Bryan sharing how the structure of the multiverse and development of the story occurs. This is really unexpected and unusual, an insight both into the process, but also how the artists and writer combines and intertwined his ideas for the third volume of this story, a drawing on these pages demonstrating the moment and allowing the view to consider the effort required.
From here, we’re offered art from Book Two, Heart of Empire. I cannot believe that is from 2001, but it is and we are presented with more pages. You can see the development of the Talbot style, the pages presented are a number of stunning black and white pieces, lovely splash pages. We’re again treated to an insight into Bryan’s process, four very different looking colour guides on display, Bryan identifying how the colours should be for colourist Angus Mckie.
Then we wonderfully come to Book 3, The Legend of Luther Arkwright. This was a challenge. I initially shied away, just for a moment, not wanting to spoil or learn anything, although that did not last long, and so I was able to take in what was ahead of me, the next volume, and I was impressed with the detail and draughtsmanship, this is cracking stuff awaiting the reader.
There is much more to the exhibition, too, pages to colour are available for children, and a video of the documentary Graphic Novel Man by Russell Wall. In one scene, we see the location of the Edinburgh SF book shop, where Near Myths originated, is playing. The exhibition also displays Bryan’s tools of his trade, including photo reference, prop and script, pens, scratch work, all available to see and consider. Large images are presented around the exhibiton and the pieces themselves are well described and explained.
There were many comic and literary luminaries at the launch of the exhibition, David Hine, Rian Hughes, Helen Mullane, and snooker legend, Steve Davis, all chatting, enjoying the art, all sharing the appreciation of Bryan.
“One of the great things about the event was chatting with Steve Davis, who’s just getting into graphic novels,” Bryan commented later. ”He bought all three Arkwright stories there. I’ve not seen him since around 1981, when I was doing a cartoon of a famous snooker player once a month for Cue World Magazine. Steve brought along a couple of issues for me to sign!”
The launch of the exhibition saw a number of speakers, opening with Cartoon Museum director Joe Sullivan, followed by Dan Franklin from Jonathon Cape, who was obviously very proud to share his appreciation for the astonishing work, and speak of how amazing Bryan and Bryan and Mary’s Costa Award-winning work is.
Emma Stirling-Middleton, who curated the exhibition with Eduardo Camaré and Lucy Winn then shared with all those present just how it was to work on this exhibition with Bryan, and noting not only how this was a seminal work in the history of comics, but how enjoyable and pleasant it had been – which was lovely to hear. Emma then went on on to entertain all those present with as she recounted the deep read she gave the work, isolating some of the pieces that she found very interesting, tales that had those present laughing.
Author Kim Newman then spoke, describing the impact of Luther Arkwright, and just how impressive the achievement of an artist creating a graphic narrative for a story over fifty years is, noting how he felt Bryan was still in the game and challenging readers by asking you questions about whether the multiverses deserve to be conquered.
Fellow author Adrian Tchaikovsky, who wrote the introduction for The Legend of Luther Arkwright, spoke of how first reading his early adventures had blown his mind, and how he felt it was mind expanding, world expanding revolutionary, graphic work – and how he was honoured to have written the introduction. I noted that he complimented the work, remarking on just how the story made him feel as a reader, how incredible the story of Luther Arkwright is – and how that feeling is so important to him as a writer as he works to make others feel that way.
Bryan was last to speak, as ever, humble and quietly spoken, revealing of how he never imagined something like this exhibition would happen. Of how he had questioned his sanity while writing Luther Arkwright’s early adventures, flat broke with two kids to feed and working on a small independent comic.
He then talked about the effort and determination that goes into the art, a page taking up to three days of work to pencil and ink, some special pages, up to 56 hours.
This made sense to me, the work and effort is visible not only on the page, but in the enjoyment of the story, although it is amazing to consider the time involved.
Bryan was open and noted with gratitude that the work had paid him back for all this thought and time, but that he did obsess about it. His passion comes across so strongly, his genuine gratitude and appreciation.
“Luther Arkwright: celebrating 50 years of a British comics legend” is a fabulous exhibition, highly recommended – offering a fantastic insight into the work of a true comic book genius. Do not miss it.
• Luther Arkwright: 50 Years of a British comics legend runs until 2nd October 2022 at the Cartoon Museum, 63 Wells Street, Fitzrovia, London, W1A 3AE. Web: www.cartoonmuseum.org | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | YouTube
A new book in Bryan Talbot’s award-winning science fiction graphic novels series, starring the legendary character Luther Arkwright.
The Adventures of Luther Arkwright, first serialised in 1978, is considered by many to be the first British graphic novel. Praised by many writers and artists, including Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Jean Giroud (Moebius) and Michael Moorcock, the ground-breaking, experimental adult SF story was a seminal work, inspiring and influencing many comic creators. Its sequel, Heart Of Empire, was published in 2001. Both books have been continually in print since they were first published.
Set fifty years later, The Legend of Luther Arkwright is another stand-alone story. While still maintaining total continuity with the Arkwright mythos, it is a different kind of adult adventure. Pursued across multiple historically divergent parallel worlds, both utopian and dystopian, and facing a far superior adversary, Arkwright battles to save humanity from mass destruction; his only edge is his experience and force of will.