Start Licensing’s Ian Downes pays a visit to The Cartoon Museum and discovers the connection between licensing, cartoons and comic art.
I was really pleased to be able to visit the Cartoon Museum in London last week. Pleased on a number of levels: it was great to be out and about, it was lovely to see that the museum was open again and I was delighted to be able to visit one of my favourite museums once more. Over the years I have visited the museum a lot, worked with it on exhibitions and attended events there.
The Cartoon Museum is located in Wells Street just off Oxford Street in London. It moved into these premises in July 2019 and to a degree hasn’t felt the full benefit of this new location yet. The Cartoon Museum operates as a charity and defines its purpose as championing cartoon and comic art, highlighting its value to culture and society. There has long been a connection between licensing, cartooning and comic art which makes The Cartoon Museum a great place to visit for anyone involved in licensing.
It is a great way to see original artwork, learn more about the history of certain characters and their creators. It is also a great venue to launch licensing and publishing products at – one of my last visits was at the launch of the most recent Asterix album. The museum provides a great backdrop for events like this, not least as it was displaying some original Asterix artwork at the time.
You enter via a staircase that takes you down to the museum. The walls of the staircase feature a number of comic stars which are an early reminder of the link between comics and licensing. Those featured include Judge Dredd, Rupert Bear and Dennis the Menace.
Wallace from Wallace & Gromit is also featured. A reminder that the museum covers cartooning including political cartoons. Wallace & Gromit has featured in a number of political cartoons over the years. Indeed, the characters have also starred in their own comics and newspaper strips – a reminder that licensing can flow the other way in the world of comics as comic publishers are heavy users of licensed characters.
One of the charming features of the museum is how it helps give an insight into the origins of some of the best known comic characters. One example of this is a cigarette packet, or rather the back of the cigarette packet, that an early sketch of Dennis the Menace was drawn on.
There are a number of other interesting exhibits that resonate with the world of licensing including one of the puppets from the original Spitting Image series – it has Roy Hattersley on show. He looks very at home behind glass in the museum.
There are original illustrations from artists such as Norman Thelwell – his illustrations of ponies and their riders now adorn licensed products including greeting cards and equestrian accessories. It is also interesting to see original artwork with production notes on it and also little details like Tippex being used to tidy artwork up. A great example of this is a page of Dan Dare artwork. This is a great insight into how comics were produced in a pre-digital age. It also helps reinforces the skill that goes into producing comics and comic art. Other characters that feature in the museum include Dangermouse, Viz and Billy Bunter.
A key feature of the museum are temporary exhibitions. Currently it has an exhibition that tells the story, history and development of the iconic V for Vendetta comic. The comic inspired a feature film and is now firmly established as a classic of the comic genre. The exhibition was developed in association with Warner Bros. and features original artwork, film storyboards and examples of merchandise. It also includes copies of the original comic series the story first appeared in. The exhibition is well presented and provides a great insight into the creative thought process behind it, with quotes from the creators set against specific pieces of artwork and moments from the story. The exhibition also has a wall of V for Vendetta masks – a mask that is now iconic in its own right.
The V for Vendetta exhibition is a great case study for a small scale exhibition and a good example of how exhibitions can be woven into a wider programme of activities. This exhibition was in part of the gallery that normally houses other comic art including the likes of Roy of the Rovers and The Wombles. The Cartoon Museum can only show so much of its collection, but it is reassuring to know that it is preserving so much comic art within the collection.
It also had another smaller pop up exhibition focusing on a female comic artist and creator who has, I believe, self published her work as ‘zines or fanzines. This is a good reminder that comics, comic characters and artwork can evolve from a diverse range of sources and starting points. There is a very healthy self publishing and independent publisher scene in comics which is a springboard for new talent. It is good to see the museum supporting this movement. Indeed it had a selection of ‘zines on sale in the gift shop.
The gift shop itself featured a range of V for Vendetta merchandise, alongside a great selection of books including titles such as 2000AD and a really well stocked greeting cards section which included a number of licensed card ranges from Hype.
All in all it was a very inspiring Morning in the Museum. I would thoroughly recommend a visit. Like all museums and galleries The Cartoon Museum needs support at the moment. It is a great time to show that support by visiting a museum or two. I know that my trips to The Cartoon Museum and museums like our client The Ashmolean Museum are always inspiring from a creative point of view. It is time well spent.
Specifically I think it is also quite informative to see where some of our best known and much loved characters started out, even if it was on the back of a fag packet!
Ian Downes runs Start Licensing, an independent brand licensing agency. His Twitter handle is @startlicensing – he would welcome your suggestions for what to look out for.