The Beano is the oldest comic book in the world and its cast of mischievous characters like Dennis the Menace, Minnie the Minx and the Bash Street Kids – with their hijinks and disregard for authority – has delighted children and adults for generations. The British publication is still based in Dundee, where it was first published in 1938, and now, after more than 4,000 issues, its history and lasting impact on visual culture will be explored in a new art exhibition. contemporary at Somerset House in London.
“The Beano has this great reflexivity where he claims that the Beano is made in the Beano“
Visitors will be immersed in a Beano world with backdrops and life-size figures popping up to guide the way. The curator of the exhibition, artist Andy Holden, believes that the Beano “Beano sensitivity âin their work.
As an example of this sensibility, Holden cites the performance art of Mark McGowan, who wheeled from Brighton to London, as embodying the irreverence and silliness of a Beano character. There will be new commissions, including a new comic from Dennis the Old Man Menace by Nicola Lane and a one-way mirror sculpture by Simeon Barclay based on Bash Street Kids’ character, Plug.
The show was organized in collaboration with the Beano and for fans of the comic, there will be a âpretty scholarly historyâ of the publication, Holden says. âAs a kid, I don’t think I really thought about the people who drew them or the idea that they were even drew,â Holden says. “The Beano has this great reflexivity where he claims that the Beano is made in the Beano. âThe exhibit will delve into the designs of some of the main cartoonists in comics, from pioneers like Leo Baxendale, who created Minnie the Minx, to Laura Howell, who draws the character today.
Holden says that although he was a “devoted reader” as a child, who loved to draw comic book characters, he never thought about the Beano as an obvious artistic influence on his work. Now, however, he regards his visual culture and his “merry rebellion” as one of the foundations of British culture. “It is a cheerful British sensibility that the Beano absolutely sums it up, âhe says, adding that he hopes the exhibition, like the comic book, will serve as aâ gateway to art and culture âfor visitors, young and old.
How has the Beano influenced you as an artist?
âUntil I was a part of this show, I had never made a connection between reading the Beano when I was a kid and what an influence it had on me, which seems obvious now that I think about it. There are so many aspects: the flatness of the actions at the bottom of the characters; parameters that illustrate entire systems; things going wrong or awkward clumsiness; plasma stretches, sags and bulges, and extreme excesses – food, movement, matter. Leo Baxendale’s illustrations are the best examples of well-done rule violations. Its limited color palette and graphic lines are clever aesthetic tools. It’s managed to glide over layers of action and chaos while simultaneously including vital details and specific moments, and that detail is something I feel a definite affinity with and a yearning for.
“The Beano was probably the first thing no one told me to read. My mother hadn’t read it and hadn’t read it, so she had no opinion on it. Because of that, it created a kind of unique space for me growing up that was just right for me. It didn’t bring any pressure or expectation and I loved the stripes, the bright colors, and the punk aesthetic. The Beano was my first introduction to something self-referential; I vividly remember the characters threatening to hit each other in next week’s comics. I think it opened up a whole new world of creative possibilities for me.
“I read the Beano every week as a kid and was a full member of the Beano Club. I really wanted to be Dennis and would live vicariously through his softcore rebellion. I drew a lot of Dennis; the lines that make up her face were probably my first introduction to art. I remember enjoying drawing her hair and, come back to it, that makes sense: it’s most of her drawing, and a wild abstract shape itself. The comic strip will always be avant-garde because it remains a neglected art and this alone is a reason to promote it. I really like the raw simplicity and brutal frankness of the comics as a way to dismantle archetypes and clichÃ©s; it seems to me to be a true way of fighting against a cartoonish world. “
âI was born in San Francisco and lived in seven countries before I was 16. When I was five, I met a British boy of the same age while living in Bangkok and he showed me his copy of the Beano. It wasn’t the clean, cute, pastel-colored world of Dell American comics I was used to, like Woody Woodpecker and Donald Duck. The raw and lively drawing, the characters, they were fascinating creatures from another world.
âMy first penchant for drawing was the desire to imitate and copy the illustrations in the pages of those British comics like the Beano, the Dandy and Whizzer and Chips. It was a space of comedy, kinship, loneliness, escape. There is rejoicing in the framework space for anarchy and the overthrow of convention, so there is an element of [the Russian philosopher Mikhail] Bakhtin and the carnival, a kind of liberation for the spectator. I loved Bash Street Kids’ character, Plug; I have claimed it as a leitmotif in my work, its innate ugliness placing it on the margins of society. A mirror of the normative tropes of society, he stands proud in the liminal space where his simple presence enacts a criticality. It’s a shame, but in the absence of comparable or expansive black characters at the time, Plug’s insane individuality, for me, opened up an unorthodox and contingent space in which to fit into and reflect within the frame. .
âI write autobiographical comics and for a few years that was all I did. These years, I think, have greatly contributed to my practice in several ways – to learn how to communicate effectively, with each panel containing just enough visual information to get the point across. It is the same with the rhythm. It can also be an incredibly effective way to be open, honest, and vulnerable while hiding behind a character, even when that character is you.
âWe had some of the Beano annuals at home and devoured them at night for years, returning to my favorite comics and characters. I identified most strongly with Les Pretend, a true queer icon. For years, I never knew if Les was a girl or a boy; I think I recognized that Les was really living in another world, and that matched how I felt in mine at the time, especially with other girls my age – who were strangers to them, wanting to go out. and feeling hopelessly stuck somehow. I had these kind of intense melodramatic relationships with characters from books and comics when I was young, obsessively living through them, creating these epic tales in my head.
âI loved the Beano as a comic, but I also loved it as an object. I liked to find old ones and read them again, lying on the floor wherever I had found them. Now I think about those times when things go wrong for a character and they’re humbled in the last frame. Meet smart artists and curators in a horrible situation like [the art fairs] Art Basel or Frieze, that’s how it is.
â¢ Beano: the art of breaking the rules, Somerset House, London, October 21-March 6, 2022