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Start Licensing’s Ian Downes looks at how characters like Dennis the Menace and Cadet Judge Dredd have come together to inspire budding comic book artists at the KA-BOOM! exhibition.
The world of comics has been relatively well served recently by exhibitions.
The Beano recently featured in a major show at Somerset House, while Judge Dredd’s 45th anniversary was celebrated with a special exhibition at The Cartoon Museum in London. There has also been an exhibition of contemporary artists’ work inspired by 2000AD and organised by fashion brand Carhartt.
Other comic characters that have been showcased in exhibitions include football comic hero Roy of the Rovers, who starred in an exhibition at the National Football Museum. Against this backdrop it is noteworthy that the latest comics exhibition to open is one developed and curated in collaborative fashion by three of the UK’s leading publishers – The Phoenix, Rebellion and DC Thomson.
KA-BOOM! The Art of Creating Comics is being staged at The Story Museum in Oxford. In the spirit of cooperation, the three publishers have allowed their characters to be brought together for the first time within the exhibition. It’s fitting that an exhibition about the art of creating comics has been built from collaboration amongst the three publishers; comics rely on a collaborative effort and people pulling together. Indeed, many comics such as The Beano and 2000 AD feature the work of different artists and writers within the same issue.
The Story Museum is situated in the middle of Oxford. It’s stated aims are to enrich lives, especially young lives, through story. It places a great emphasise on engaging with and inspiring its audience.
It has recently had a refurbishment and has a really welcoming feel to it; it’s a bright and colourful place. The Museum attracts up to 100,000 visitors a year and highlights include a Whispering Wood, an Enchanted Library and Small Worlds, a dedicated space for younger children. There is also a 100-seat theatre, a learning studio and a temporary exhibition space.
KA-BOOM! takes visitors on an interactive journey through the comic-making process in order to encourage the next generation of comic artists and writers. This sense of encouraging the next generation is something that I am sure all three publishers feel strongly about and in part drove their decision to pull together for it.
The exhibition centres on a giant pop-up comic strip created by comic artist Neill Cameron. Neill is a long-standing contributor to The Phoenix. The ethos of the exhibition is about encouraging and inspiring children to develop the skills to create their own comics. This chimes well with The Story Museum’s ongoing mission.
The exhibition covers key parts of the comic making process including character development, story plotting, drawing, colouring and lettering. It sets out to give a real insight into the comic-making process and provide an insider’s view. The involvement of the three publishers means that the insights provided can be ‘real world’ ones featuring much loved characters such as Cadet Judge Dredd, Minnie the Minx and Bunny VS Monkey.
In addition to the valuable input from Neill Cameron, KA-BOOM! benefits from expert tips from comic creatives including Ramzee, Laura Howell and Jamie Smart. The three publishers have also been heavily involved in the development of the exhibition from an early stage, adding to the authenticity of it.
The publishers have also supplied original artwork to the exhibition which provides a fabulous window on British comic history. The artwork includes original front covers and interior pages featuring characters like Hot Shot Hamish. One of the featured characters is Roy of the Rovers and there is artwork from the contemporary Roy of the Rovers series which includes comics and storybooks.
The current development, styling and tone of Roy of the Rovers is a great example of how publishers like Rebellion are developing comics and comic characters that reflect contemporary society and design trends. This also underpins the fact that comics are very much part of contemporary culture and that, more specifically, KA-BOOM! is a forward-looking exhibition.
One further way The Story Museum has ensured that the exhibition reflects a contemporary outlook is by appointing an Editor-in-Chief for the exhibition. Octoboom the Octopus was created by nine year old Eddie Tilling at the Story Museum’s monthly comic club. Octoboom leads visitors through the comic creation process.
Given a core theme of KA-BOOM! is exploring the creative process, it’s fitting that the exhibition’s presenter is a character created by a child. A very real and practical example of how it is possible to imagine and create characters from scratch.
KA-BOOM! is a great example of how different brands can pull together and collaborate to achieve a goal they all share. It is also really encouraging to see creativity being celebrated in such a fun and proactive way.
KA-BOOM! makes great use of original source material and the access the three publishers have given to their superstar characters. As Neill Cameron noted: “It’s incredibly exciting to be bringing all these iconic characters together for one shared cause: to shout about the awesome power of comics to ignite kids’ imaginations and inspire their creativity.”
KA-BOOM! and the creative cooperation behind it is a great example of an industry working together to inspire the next generation. It is model that some other industry sectors might consider. KA-BOOM! suggests that the future for comics looks bright. Indeed, from here it looks bright, colourful and lots of fun.
KA-BOOM! The Art of Creating Comics runs until March 2023 at The Story Museum in Oxford.
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