New “BBC Arts” Site falls short with distinct lack of comics coverage

BBC Arts Online -16th May 2014


I don’t like having a punt at the BBC. Down the years it’s brought great things to my TV screen and some of its web coverage of comics – such as the current run of articles on “The Art of War”, helping promote the upcoming Great War exhibition at the Lakes International Comic Art Festival, are really welcome.

But it does seem that there are elements within the BBC that still don’t appear to consider comics “art” as well as “entertainment”, and the corporation’s new BBC Arts Online site, which launched this week, does seem to to be falling into that category from the get go. I hope I’m proved wrong.

Earlier this year, the BBC promised “the greatest commitment to arts for a generation and pledged to put audiences on the front row of British culture,” according to Jonty Claypole, Director of Arts, BBC. Yesterday, they launched BBC Arts Online – “a new go-to website capturing the best arts programming across the BBC and some of the best arts events across the country”.

And very nice it looks to. But what’s missing? Why, any coverage of Comics Unmasked at the British Library, for one thing, which no-one can tell me the BBC Arts department can’t be aware of, what with Paul Gravett’s appearances on BBC Breakfast and other non-BBC shows such as Sunday Brunch and others.

Jamie Hewlett's new artwork for Comics Unmasked. Photo © Tony Antoniou

Jamie Hewlett’s new artwork for Comics Unmasked. Photo © Tony Antoniou

Now, I know of course that it’s early days, but I’m always suspicious of a web site’s mission statements that states “We will showcase performance of all types, along with events and festival coverage ranging from Hay Festival to the Edinburgh Festivals, Shakespeare’s Globe to Glyndebourne” – and then singularly fail to feature anything about one of the biggest, best-promoted comics exhibitions Britain has ever seen.

Now, you might be thinking I’m being a bit tetchy on this front, but the BBC do have form for what I’d argue is something of an oversight. You may, for example, have visited their fantastic “Your Paintings” web site. It’s a superb resource, slowly adding an image of almost every oil painting held by public galleries and museums in the UK, which is a terrific promotion for those venues.

But search for “cartoons” and you’ll get a 404 – “Sorry! We don’t currently have anything that matches your search.”

In fairness, the focus for Your Paintings is on oil paintings at this time. When I asked about the omission of cartoons last September I was told that “At the moment there aren’t any plans to include cartoons, but that’s not because they aren’t considered to be art.

“Your Paintings focuses on oil painting for two reasons. First, because oil was the preferred medium of most well-known artists for hundreds of years. Secondly, whilst the number of watercolours and drawings in the national collection is in the millions, the size of the oil painting collection is a practical proposition to digitise in its entirety.”

Which is all well and good, but surely it couldn’t hurt to include some links to venues such as, for example, the Cartoon Museum for those who would like to view cartoons?

So I’m hoping there won’t be a similar “omission” on the BBC Arts pages and we’ll soon see some coverage of, at the very least, the Comics Unmasked exhibition. (Yes, I do realize the site has only  just launched but I also know this site will have been in the planning stages for months, so it’s not as if the team working on it can’t have known about it).

“By bringing together content from across the BBC’s television and radio output, as well as BBC iPlayer, BBC Arts Online will offer even more for audiences to enjoy,” says Jonty Claypole. “We’ll stream performances and events both live and on-demand; provide expanded coverage and context for the big arts stories of the moment, offer expert opinion and aim to stimulate debate and audience interaction around a range of discussion topics, such as books and theatre.

“This new website is the very beginning of a journey that will evolve and develop over the next few months, with more functionality, more categories and more interaction to come… With BBC Arts Online audiences can delve into a wealth of new material, whenever and wherever they are, right at their fingertips.”

So, if you visit the site and you’re a visitor asked to comment on the site, please consider asking then BBC why there’s no mention of comics – and ask them, politely, to consider their inclusion? After all, comics coverage hasn’t hurt The Guardian or The Times when they’ve featured our media on their sites or in the art pages of their print editions.

BBC Arts is clearly intended to be a fantastic platform for the arts. Let’s make sure it’s all the arts. Thanks.

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Categories: British Comics, Comic Art, Creating Comics, Featured News, Features

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