Artist Steve Marchant recalls the life and work of Nik Pollard, who along with others strove to give the comics form rightful study in the UK – and was a generous benefactor to London’s Cartoon Museum…
Nik Pollard, lifelong comics fan and unsung pioneer in the exhibition of comic art in the UK, passed away recently at the age of 71. Back in the days when British learning institutions largely looked down on comics with contempt, Nik was running the library at Bournemouth & Poole College of Art, filling the shelves with bound copies of Eagle, and US comics by the classic hands of the 1960s and 70s.
In 1975, emboldened by this cumulated mass of riches and wanting to share it more widely, he began to think about holding a comics exhibition in the library. He wrote to all the comic publishers and newspapers carrying comic strips, asking if it would be possible to borrow some original artwork. Several publishers responded generously, and the exhibition ran for three weeks attracting staff and students, visitors from the local community and Pat Mills and Dez Skinn. It also garnered coverage in local papers and on Southampton Radio.
The following year, Nik spoke at a one day conference held at Bournemouth Winter Gardens and suggested that current US comics were in the future likely to have as much cultural impact and therefore historical significance, though not necessarily value, as Shakespeare in providing stories and inspiration. Although, according to Nik, ‘a stony silence followed’, his prescience has been borne out by the amount of comic-related TV shows, movies, toys, bags and clothing that we now enjoy.
In 1977 Nik took on the Deputy’s job in Kingston University’s Library Service, which gave him easier access to London comic shops such as Dark They Were and Golden Eyed, and comic marts where he found original artwork on sale, and he bought as much as he could afford. Enamoured by the “extraordinary, transformative” work by the new wave of British artists, he mounted a small 2000AD exhibition that toured the university campus’ libraries.
After attending a one-day seminar on comics at Birmingham Arts Lab in 1982, where he spoke with Denis Gifford, Raymond Briggs and David Lloyd among others, Nik returned to Kingston all fired up with the notion of running a one-day conference on comics at the university, arguing that there was a now thriving domestic industry in existence with many customers and fans and therefore money and potential students out there that nobody was capitalising on.
Nik eventually got his way, and a Saturday seminar in November 1983 was mounted with guest speakers including David Lloyd, Bryan Talbot and Alan Moore attracting attendees from across the UK. Nik also mounted a supporting exhibition entitled “Didactic uses of the Comic Strip” which featured comics on such varied topics as sex education, alcohol abuse, political philosophies, job hunting and bible smuggling into Communist states by the US Christian far right. Radio and TV took note and an article was published in Design magazine.
After eventually leaving Kingston University, Nik took on a role at the London Borough of Richmond’s Local Studies Service, where he remained until forced into retirement by ill health. He spent his last years enjoying family life and introducing his grandchildren to the world of comics.
Nik sold his comics to the London College of Communication as a research collection; his vintage science fiction books now reside at the Science Fiction Foundation’s collection at Liverpool University; and his beloved collection of original art – including pages by David Lloyd, Dave Gibbons, Frank Bellamy, Neal Adams, Alex Nino, and Herb Trimpe – were donated to London’s Cartoon Museum in late 2016, along with the life-size Judge Dredd cut-out that currently guards the entrance to its 2000AD exhibition.
Nik was passionate about comic art and was adamant that his collection should not be sold off to private collectors, but preserved and exhibited for the nation.
His last words on the matter were: “Hurrah! – they are yours. Enjoy, I have.”
Nik Pollard born 16th November 1945, died 2nd April 2017
• Nik donated about 4000 books and magazines to the the Science Fiction Foundation. About a thousand were taken into the Collection held T Liverpool University – some individual items are shown on the Nik Pollard donation page
• Cambridge University Press – Art Libraries Journal articles by Nik Pollard (subscription required for access)