This weekend I went to Comics Unmasked at the British Library. Since the institution's move to its new premises from its old location at the British Museum it has put on some great 'blockbuster' public shows bringing it well-deserved acclaim. Unmasked is no exception, and, despite some faults, is a great exhibition fit for fans of the genre and art historians alike.
Unmasked charts the history of British comics and the preoccupations of their authors and artists. Like many shows these days, it's arranged thematically rather than chronologically and tackles a number of subjects which are at the forefront of comic culture in this country. Antecedents like medival pamplets, political posters and satires, Punch and Victorial penny dreadfulls are presented as progentiors to the nation's twentieth century comics dealing with polictics, race, sexuality and the British obsession with the anti-hero. Highlights include original drawings and paste-ups of V for Vendetta, the actual models made by Dave McKean for The Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of Mr. Punch and samples of Alan Moore's original notes. The final section explores the connection between comics and mysticism and I was transfixed by the hand-written notebooks belonging to Aliester Crowley and John Dee.
Alas the show is marred by a couple of things. Its physical design is slightly grim as visitors are forced to 'conveyor-belt' around the walls at the pace of the slowest soldier. The tactility of the medium is completely ignored with tokenistic gestures of some iPads for actual browsing. While there is a flicking projection screen overhead, much the wallspace is left blank and leads to a rather sterile atmosphere. I understand the need not to distract from the originals on show, but it would have been so much more engaging had they enlgarged at least a few prints or character sketches. Plus it was bloody freezing!
These gripes aside, its an amazing show and I urge anyone interested to visit before it closes later this month. And remember to bring a jacket to keep you warm.