diamond geezer

 Saturday, July 06, 2019

After a temporary closure and a forced relocation, the Cartoon Museum reopened this week in new premises in Fitzrovia.

Formerly in a shop unit near the British Museum, you'll now find the collection in a basement beneath a newbuild not far from Oxford Street. It makes for a very different experience, but none the less interesting.

Location: 63 Wells St, Fitzrovia W1A 3AE [map]
Open: 10:30am - 5:30pm (not Mondays) (from 12 on Sundays)
Admission: £8.50 (kids go free) (Art Pass carriers go free)
Five word summary: comic sketches showcase social history
Website: www.cartoonmuseum.org
Time to set aside: maybe an hour

The humble cartoon has been around for a while, although the current meaning only came to prominence in 1843, in Punch magazine of course. The Cartoon Museum's rehang presents an approximately chronological retrospective around the walls of its main gallery, offset by concrete nooks and infills, and all from a shamelessly UK perspective. The earliest examples are 18th century political caricatures, often of bloated bewigged politicians, and the last in the chain is a cartoon of a naked Boris Johnson printed in The Times last month. You're not going to laugh a lot, but I did count eight chuckles from fellow visitors while I was walking round so be assured that the genuinely humorous are represented.

Expect wartime propaganda and Spitting Image freeze frames, plus a full range of newspaper cartoonists including Giles, Trog, Mac and Larry. The Guardian's Steve Bell curated the show from the museum's collection, so he makes an appearance too. A lot of the more political cartoons come with labels explaining the current affairs backdrop, in case you can't quite remember what the government of the day's particular problem was. There's no overarching narrative, the emphasis instead very much on individual works, and the spotlight never shines in the same place for too long. But the collection confirms that knack Britain's cartoonists have always had for summing up a mood, capturing the zeitgeist and bringing the powerful down a peg or two.

A separate gallery will display three temporary exhibitions a year, the first of which showcases Comic Creators (which is just as well, otherwise the humble comic wouldn't be represented at all). A fantastic variety are on display, generally just a single page of each, so some promising-looking narratives fade out mid-story. Everyone gets a look in, from Judge Dredd to Lassie, but you'll likely gravitate to those you remember from your childhood (yay, Whizzer and Chips). It was fascinating to see the original-sized artwork, with text added in on strips of white tape, and to see some amateur strips Bob Monkhouse knocked up before he became a comedian. If you're more Eagle than Viz, bring reading glasses.

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