During my trip to London in 2022, I visited the Cartoon Museum. I grew up reading DC Thomson comics and have a lot of nostalgia for the characters from The Beano, The Dandy, The Bunty, the Judy and The Mandy in particular. I grew out of reading comics when I was 10 or 11 but I still have a soft spot for clever current affairs cartoons. I also greatly admire the skill of the artists who draw these comic strips. And so, a visit to the Cartoon Museum in the centre of London was always going to be an easy sell.
I was really impressed by the friendly people behind the reception desk. One of them took the time to give me a good overview of what was on display and told a funny story about how the Beano means something different in the USA. Think wind, and not the weather sort. It also turned out that I knew one of his Irish relatives, which isn’t as weird as it sounds if you come from Ireland…
In museums and exhibitions like these, it never ceases to surprise me how far back some of the exhibits go. Cartoons were no exception, with some surprisingly old drawings. Thankfully these were a higher calibre than the offensive anti-Irish etchings which seemed to be a staple of Punch magazine back in the day. I think we tend to forget that people from the past were just as funny and acerbic and clued-in as we are now. Or at least, how we like to see ourselves.
Needless to say, the many cartoons on the walls were really interesting. Some were funny, many were thought-provoking and some brought back memories of current affairs issues I’d mostly forgotten.
I was pleasantly surprised to see an actual old-school Spitting Image puppet on display. Back in the day, Spitting Image was must-see TV and some of their latex puppets become iconic in their own right. As I later learned, being made of latex means some of these old puppets have had to be restored. If you’re interested, the lady who restored the Roy Hattersley puppet has some interesting information here.
At the time of my visit, there was a Judge Dredd 45th anniversary exhibition on the go. The charms of Mr Dredd and his judgements passed me by but all the same, there was a lot to like in that section. You don’t have to be a fan of all of these genres to admire the work that the cartoonists put into their comic strips.
There is a room in the museum which brings those of us of a certain age straight back to primary school again. They encourage people of all ages to have fun drawing cartoons. What isn’t there to love about being able to sit in a brightly coloured room and play with crayons, pencil sharpeners and colouring pencils. The 5-year-old in us never dies! I might have baulked at trying to draw a caricature of the then UK prime minister Boris Johnson. Or should that be, Booo-ris Johnson.
In short, if you’re in any way interested in cartoons, satire, staring into Roy Hattersley’s false eyes or drawing superheroes in a playroom, the Cartoon Museum is worth a visit. It certainly woke the child in me. Oh, and the gift shop is pretty cool too.