By Kerry Law
They say laughter is the best medicine, so head down to the Cartoon Museum for your midwinter dose.
Just a street or so away from that great behemoth the British Museum, the small Cartoon Museum may not be on the standard tourist trail but is well worth a look. Founded by The Cartoon Art Trust and open in its permanent site just since 2006, the museum houses the definitive collection of British cartoon and comic art from the 18th century to the present day. Therefore, don’t expect the kind of cartoons recognisable from CBeebies or US TV shows—most of this collection is aimed at grown-ups, although young ones can appreciate the tamer comic strips of old and join in with popular holiday workshops (see below).
Start your visit in the 1700s, the birthplace of political and social satire: on display are original works by James Gillray and William Hogarth, including his famous Gin Lane sketch. It’s interesting to read about how scandalous some of these cartoons and caricatures were at the time (particularly the unflattering depictions of royalty and politicians) even if some do appear rather tame by modern standards.
The display moves through the Victorian era with works by George Cruikshank and John Tenniel, before entering the 20th century with cartoons by William Heath Robinson and H.M. Bateman, the two most successful cartoonists of the era. This section is also, not surprisingly, heavy on cartoons influenced by the two World Wars—some patriotic, some sharp and satirical, some moving.
The remaining display rattles through the 1960s satire boom and birth of Private Eye, to contemporary cartoon artists such as Ralph Steadman and Steve Bell. It’s worth noting that some of the more recent cartoons may be more suited to grown-up eyes only—nothing explicit, but adult themes of terrorism and some language may not be for very small ones, although perhaps useful as topical conversation starters for teenagers.
Upstairs you can view classic comic strip art including Beryl the Peril, Dennis the Menace, the Bash Street Kids and Dan Dare. If these were some of your favourites when you were little, see what your own kids think of them—do they age well?!
The current temporary exhibition Daily Funnies runs until 25 March and explores the rich seam of newspaper comic strips through the ages. See old classics such as Andy Capp, Peanuts and Fred Basset, and the many strips read today in publications such as The Guardian and Daily Telegraph.
If you have kids between 8 and 14 years old, do try and book one of the ever-popular workshops this February half-term.
Running from Monday the 12th to Friday the 16th of February, 8- to 12-year-olds can join a two-hour session to make their own mini comic, create superheroes and comic strips, or draw their own Beano character to celebrate the comic’s 80th (!) anniversary this year. A full day Claymation workshop is also aimed at 8- to 12-year-olds, with participants showing off their results on the Cartoon Museum YouTube channel.
Kids from 10 to 14 have an opportunity to join the Comics and Manga Masterclass as a full-day session for those who have a little bit of cartooning under their belt.
Booking is essential and all workshops tend to sell out quickly, so check the website for the full timetable and booking details.
The Cartoon Museum is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10:30am to 5:30pm (Monday opening during February half-term, Easter holidays and bank holidays only). Entry is £7 for adults with under 18s FREE.