Last weekend the esteemed walls of the British Library received some very different visitors. Yes, students shuffled in as the doors opened to pick a book and pretend to revise all day, but just in time for the Bank Holiday weekend the British Library also welcomed a host of superheroes and evil villains with its new show ‘Comics Unmasked: Art and Anarchy in the UK’.
The library may have gone from ‘sssh’ to ‘whoosh’ but it’s not all Batman and Robin. Comics Unmasked celebrates some of the biggest, best and most badass graphic novels ever made and tracks their role as a tool for social change from the late nineteenth century to the 1970s. The exhibition focuses on the British tradition of comic book authors and their sometimes shocking ability to convey love, drugs, sex, violence, politics, corruption, feminism and every issue that affects our lives, all through a seemingly simplistic storyboard and speech bubble.
This being the British Library, the show will also feature talks and events with legendary graphic novelists. Many fans were quick fingered and tickets to the some of the popular events, such as ‘Tank Girl & The Aftermath’, and their cross-medium Comics & Music night have long since sold out, but many are still on sale.
There’s weeks of staring at your cosplay outfit in the cupboard until Comic Con so here’s our pick of the upcoming events for the curious comic book reader at the British Library and in London’s best comic book kid hangouts…
1. Leave Something Witchy
May 30, 7.30-9.30pm, Orbital Comics, 8 Great Newport Street, WC2H 7JA
Done with bowls of fruit and stifled giggles? This isn’t your average art class thanks to Orbital. ‘Leave Something Witchy’ promises an ‘evening of tailored comic strip illustration’ complete with props and costumes inspired by ‘Hammer Horror, Underground comix and the dark side of psychedelia’ for a sinister take on the still life class.
2. Dave McKean: 9 Lives
June 6, 6.30-8.30pm, Conference Centre, British Library.
McKean is an artist, musician and modern day polymath whose genius in the world of comics, illustration, design, animation, performance, directing and more has seen him become one of the most respected graphic novel artists in the past half-century. McKean has designed over 150 album covers for bands including geriatric rockers the Rolling Stones and illustrated ‘Batman: Arkham Asylum’, the most successful graphic novel of all time.
3. Third East London Comics and Arts Festival
June 14, Oval Space, 29-32 The Oval, E2 9DT.
Purveyors of gross-out graphic novels Nobrow press founded the East London Comics and Art Festival in 2012. After the success of its 2013 outing the wheels are in motion for the third incarnation, which will once again feature talks, screenings and workshops from comic book and art collectives across the UK. Pick up affordable prints of by aspiring and upstarting graphic novelists and illustrators.
4. Shaky Kane signing
June 21, 2-3pm, Gosh! Comics, 1 Berwick Street, W1F 0DR
Comic book lovers swoon over the incredible selection of new and game changing graphic novels on offer at Gosh!, from their cuddly kids’ titles and their not so cute illustrated essays on death, war, divorce and drug addition along with classics every collector should own. Next up on the signing desk at Gosh! are the legendary Shaky Kane (Deadline, Bulletproof Coffin) and David Quantick (Veep) with copies of their new sci-fi crime thriller ‘That’s Because You’re A Robot’.
5. Robert Crumb, Gilbert Shelton and Friends: From the Comics Underground to the Courtroom
July 14, 6.30-8pm, Conference Centre, British Library.
Robert Crumb and Gilbert Shelton were two of the biggest stars of the graphic novel world in the ’60s and ’70s. Shelton gave us bastions of ‘hippie satire’ The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers and Fat Freddy’s Cat, while Crumb is credited with coining the go-to free-wheelin’ mantra ‘keep on truckin’’.
6. The International Graphic Novel and Comics Conference
July 18-20, 10am-5pm on Fri and Sat, 11.30am-4pm on Sun, Conference Centre, British Library.
The connoisseur’s comic convention is back with keynote speeches from academics and some of the most important names from the world of graphic novels. Speakers this year include Paul Gravett (Escape, Comica), Pascal Lefèvre (LUCA School of Arts, Campus Saint-Lukas, Brussels, Belgium), Scott Bukatman (Stanford University) and Mike Carey (‘The Unwritten’, ‘The Girl With All the Gifts’) and Dave Baillie (‘2000AD’, ‘Portal 666’) together in conversation across the weekend.
7. Jamie Hewlett at Comics Unmasked, British Library
OK, so this is cheating but when the ever-elusive creator of Gorillaz gifts us with a brand new work we’re not going to ask for the receipt. The new prints take centre stage at Comics Unmasked, and herald the way for the digital future of comics.