Review: The Cartoon Museum

Yesterday wasn't altogether fruitless. After trudging around the British Museum for several hours, I went and had a look at The Cartoon Museum: an independent, volunteer-run museum just a stones throw from the BM. Opened in 2006, it displays (and I quote)

the very finest examples of British cartoons, caricature, and comic art from the 18th century to the present day.

The exhibits are largely political and satirical. The museum is not, as I over heard one disappointed visitor, with one of those unfortunate, yet highly comical Monty Python-esque nasal voices declaim, about Bugs Bunny.

The gallery space is limited, but packed with displays and information. On the ground floor there is currently an exhibition of satirical cartoons by the Georgian artist Robert Dighton, who has the dubious claim to fame of admitting to stealing and selling on prints from the British Museum! The remainder of the ground floor is given over to mock-ups of Heath Robinson contraptions (great stuff!) and a chronological survey of political cartoons from British newspapers from the eighteenth century to the present day. There were very many engaging, amusing and thought-provoking original cartoons on display. The museum doesn't allow visitors to take photographs of individual exhibits, but do provide a good selection on their website. However, I did get the chance to take a photo of the colourful benches dotted about the museum, which encouraged plenty of bums on seats!

Well, it tickled me.

The top floor of the museum is devoted to British comic strips, like The Beano and The Dandy. What was particularly interesting about these, was the insight they provided into how the strips are type-set and arranged, with stuck-on captions, tippexed areas and instructions to printers pencilled in the margins. A workshop with a practising comic artist was in full swing in the adjacent education area, which resembled a creative child's dream, with paper, pens, crayons and paints strewn about the room. If only I was twenty years younger!

The museum is funded entirely from donations, ticket and shops sales. As such, it doesn't have the resources for flashy, or high-tech interpretation, yet what was there was done competently. Unsurprisingly the entrance (and exit) to the museum was devoted to commerce, albeit books, postcards and novelty souvenirs on a cartoon theme. But my attention was drawn to the grotesque, yet strangely compelling leather Chairman Mao in the window, created by Gerald Scarfe in 1971.

Overall, the Cartoon Museum is well worth a visit if you happen to be in the vicinity and have an hour or two to while away. And, as an added bonus, students get in free!


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