Comics Unmasked: Art and Anarchy in the UK at the British Library, which I mentioned briefly in my post about Fortean Comics a few weeks ago. As I said on that occasion, I’ve never been very interested in the subversive side of comics – but I was still disappointed at how little there was in the exhibition that I could relate to. All the comics on show seemed to date either from before I was born, or from after I’d passed the peak of my comic-reading phase.
There was, however, one artist on display whose name is well known to people of my generation – even non-comic-reading ones. That’s Bob Monkhouse, who was a high-profile game-show host in the 1960s and 70s. Before he went into TV, however, he worked in the comics industry for a few years. The “subversive” work on display consisted of a story he produced for a comic called Oh Boy in 1949. This features a superhero named the Tornado battling a villainous race of aliens, whose subversiveness consists not so much of their politics as their physical appearance – which, as you can see from the picture above, is distinctly penis-like (for other monstrous dicks on this blog, see Phallic Satire).
I had to use a picture I found on the internet, because there were signs all over the place saying that photography was forbidden. That struck me as a little ironic for an exhibition that claimed to be subversive. Even more ironic was the fact that visitors had to pay the blatantly capitalist sum of ten pounds to get in!
The other exhibition I went to was much better – Banksy, the unauthorised retrospective at Sotheby’s S2 gallery. This one was free entry and you could take whatever photos you wanted to. And for added subversiveness, just as the title suggests, the exhibit was unauthorised. In fact the artist not only didn’t authorise it, but he was reportedly disgusted that an event of this type was put on at all. Now that’s what I call a subversive exhibition!
You can find good quality images of all the works on show by clicking the link above. My favourite picture was Lenin on Roller Skates, but the most Fortean had to be the one with the flying saucers. Here is my own photo of the picture in situ: