Future Shock : Forty Years of 2000 AD at The Cartoon Museum
The Cartoon Museum have secured their position as the premier venue in London and indeed Britain for comic art exhibitions. No one is currently coming near in reflecting this hugely popular form of art, or according it the recognition not only that it deserves, but that people want to see.
I arrive on a cold dark January evening, yet a bright light beams from the museum, illuminating the crowded pavement. As one enters, the exhibition space is thronged, filled with those talking and enjoying comics, this is a cracking exhibit opening.
This fabulous exhibit presents a wide variety of art from the history of 2000 AD now in its fortieth year. Forty years, equates to over fifty two thousand pages of artwork in the weekly prog alone, adding over thirty annuals, over fifty specials, and around four hundred Dredd Megazine’s; it is an incredible amount of work to contemplate. Yet here we have in eighty-odd pieces, a fine selection of that massive body of work.
The ground floor is laid out with strong colourful back grounds and sections dedicated to given characters and themes. I am very impressed with this, as it is too easy to have a chronological exhibit, where one doesn’t get the chance to compare and contrast various stages and histories of a given comic; here it is given to the comic characters to demonstrate the history.
The exhibit skilfully manages to communicate the vast amount available through smart grouping. I thought the Judge Anderson section did this most effectively, with a wide range and variety of art. One also forgets how amazing certain artists were. Brett Ewins’ Judge Anderson is so clean and sharp, although he has his own unique style, initially a friend wondered if they were two pages of Brian Bolland. Nope, Brett Ewins at his finest and it is beautiful work.
At the start, as one walks towards the exhibit, the Simon Davis cover for Prog 1293, stands out strikingly colourful, indeed representing a lot of what 2000 AD is: British, but also at the time in 1977, the year of punk, a year when change was desired and authority was being questioned, the comic was the drastic short sharp shock that the medium needed. It was pure reinvigoration and indeed has demonstrated its longevity in the market. Set near to Mike McMahon’s cover to Prog 180, Dredd so stylishly on his Lawmaster, the curved and futuristic Mega City Blocks in the background (see below), it is a beautiful comparison.
Science Fictional stories, that may now be forgotten, are next and draw one in. Massimo Belardinelli, Dave Gibbons and Gary Leach’s renditions of Dan Dare remind the reader that it was Dare that was the cover star of Prog 1 and indeed, Dredd did not even appear on the inside pages until Prog 2 (and it was much longer before he assumed the most favourite character mantle, which he’s kept for most of these four decades). Art from MACH 1, Flesh and the Harlem Heroes, further goes to demonstrate the nature of stories in 1977 and 1978, which were different from now (although a more modern of Flesh has returned to contemporary 2000 AD), and then one is lead onto Judge Dredd.
Dredd. Such a character. Do people still see him as the satirical kick back against the authoritative and politically repressive approaches in the real world at the time? Do Special Patrol Group or Special Reconnaissance Unit mean anything to today’s comic readers? Would readers believe that at an Anti-Nazi rally in 1979 the Metropolitan Police SPG would allegedly kill a demonstrator, or later that extra curricular weapons such as baseball bats, crowbars and sledgehammers were found were found in the possession police officers? The approach of Judge Jury and executioner, may have been influenced with Pat Mills’ schooling but like the stories all the way up to today that have appeared in 2000AD, they have allowed a valve for creative to play with metaphors and reflect what is going on in today’s society through the visual medium of comics in a speculative future.
The Judge Dredd section includes Ron Turner’s art from The Robot Wars (see above), a key turning point from Prog 9, where Dredd became the dominant character in the comic. Seeing the original artwork nearly forty years later, framed here, is delightful. The uniform and helmet, more rounded than later. Brendan McCarthy’s 1979 Dredd compares well to a double page spread from 1978 of The Big Kiss-Off by Mike McMahon. Further Dredd comparisons are allowed as John M Burns, Brian Bolland’s The Day the Law Died, a Ron Smith page and a Carlos Ezquerra page from Destiny’s Angels are all neatly to hand.
Ezquerra is well represented of course, as you would doubtless expect, and his colour work from I Hate Christmas stands out strikingly. One can see the progression of design, and the details and depth are left to the viewer to contemplate.
John Wagner and Alan Grant as writers are obviously well represented, with Garth Ennis and Mark Miller also getting a look-in. Even as one rounds a corner, to be greeted by more Judge Dredd by Brian Bolland, it feels like all the stops have been pulled out to secure a fabulous selection. It is noticeable that many pieces are credited as coming from the collection of Wakefield Morys-Carter. Indeed, I learn that some fifty-two of the over eighty pieces have been generously loaned by him to the exhibit, and I think this altruistic effort is both kind and thoughtful, for it allows fans and readers to really enjoy a thoroughly fantastic collection.
Seeing the final two pages from Judge Death Lives, staring Judge Anderson is just brilliant. Getting up close to look at the exquisite line work is always a pleasure, and here the image of Anderson defeating the Death Judges, as Dredd himself is wounded and in many ways facing defeat. These pieces are near to Steve Dillon’s rendition of the same two characters in City of the Damned, and it presents a lovely contrast.
The placement of all the art is very clever, three pages of military comics are neatly placed on a single wall: Cam Kennedy’s Rogue Trooper nicely hung next to a Brett Ewins’ Bad Company, touching thematically on the Military SF that has always been a part of the comic from the earliest days (think of the VCs, way back when).
Further sections highlight given characters: Strontium Dog, Halo Jones, Nemesis the Warlock – all have their own sections. The final picture as one goes though the exhibit is America by Colin MacNeil, and it is a lovely end point, and indeed, quite contemporary given what is going on in the world at the moment.
Right now, 2000 AD has an enviable currency with readers and fans. 2000 AD has been in an era marked by a steady increase in penetration to new readerships, ever since Rebellion took over. The collected volumes of Judge Dredd, in the UK and US, the prompt release of collected editions as stand alone graphic novels, the part works that are available in newsagents, and the American publications, all tie in with a comic that feels like it is still in the ascendancy. Mike Molcher – Tharg’s PR Droid – is a recognised presence in the comics websphere, continually publicising the good work that editor Matt Smith is bringing to readers and also running the Thrill-Cast podcast series.
I learned from the curator Steve Marchant that Rebellion had been a force for helping the exhibit happen. Marchant has been working for the museum, running the education side of matters for some twenty years now, but one can feel his passion for comics, and as he describes ‘2000 AD as ground breaking as the Beano’ it is apparent with the exhibit that he has brought that passion to bear for the viewers to enjoy. It is a fantastic thing that the trustees of the Museum continue to support and bring the excellent comic work that exists in Britain to the masses in this way, in the heart of London.
(and here’s Wakefield Morys-Carter, who kindly loaned many of the artworks in the exhibition and was also kind enough to let us borrow this pic of him rocking his Nikolai Dante vibe in front of some of the art)
The selection is like a who’s who of 2000 AD: Frazier Irving John Higgins, David Roach, Kevin Walker, Henry Flint, Kevin O’Neil, Bryan Talbot, Chris Weston and Glenn Fabry are just some of the well known names who have work on display, and it was terrific to see it.
The exhibition belies a level of thought that one only senses upon a more thoughtful look. It’s contrasting and also reflecting the now. 2000 AD has always done this, and it is astute that the exhibition so cleverly presents that to fans.
Future Shock: Forty Years of 2000 AD exhibition runs at the Cartoon Museum, London, until 23rd of April 2017