2014 at the British Library – Comics Unmasked
Great news this week; The British Library in London has announced that it is running “the largest exhibition of comics ever held in the UK“. The event, Comics Unmasked: Art and Anarchy in the UK takes place from 2 May – 19 August 2014 and includes “more than 200 comic books from 1825 to the modern day“.
(One of the featured comics, an early Dave Gibbons piece, looking at the trial of the magazine Nasty Tales in the 70s. © Dave Gibbons)
The show is co-curated by John Harris Dunning and Paul Gravett, and according to the British Library is planned to “explore the full potential of the medium, demystifying the process of creating comics while presenting work that is challenging to the status quo. Its materials unflinchingly examine issues around gender, violence, sexuality, drug-taking and politics.”
Writing in the Guardian, Mark Brown interviews some of the key figures, including Dunning, who says “When we first started to talk to people about this comic book show some people said ‘it’s only for boys’. It’s garbage,” “People were saying girls don’t like blood and psychologically upsetting things and the girls were saying, ‘we love it’.” Dunning goes on to explain that the exhibition will explore the range of comics in the UK, with “sedition and rebellion at its heart”.
Roly Keating, the library’s chief executive, who said: “It is fair to say, if we are being honest, that we haven’t devoted to that sector of our collection the scholarly and curatorial effort we have devoted to some of the higher culture parts of our collection. This year we are addressing that with a vengeance.”
That the British Library holds (in theory) a copy of every comic published in the UK, thanks to the requirement of legal deposit, means it should have a huge repository of information. In fact, when you think about the history and sheer number of comics it surely must have, the idea of the exhibition only having 200+ items seems both mere scratching of the cultural surface and a real headache for Dunning and Gravett to narrow the exhibition down. It’s a great thing that the British Library is putting this on, but I’d ideally want to see more. And yes, I’m aware that this is me being ungrateful in the extreme.
On a related matter, reading the rules on legal deposit at the British Library site, I realised that everyone publishing comics, graphic novels and zines in the UK should be sending a copy of their work to the Library. Just a very quick outreach via Twitter seems to imply that some are, some aren’t. The British Library legal deposit system is there to preserve and catalogue the cultural heritage of the country, and yes, that does include comics – there’s more details here.