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A new drawn: Cartoon Museum is on the move

Rent rises mean the Cartoon Museum is to set up shop in Fitzrovia. But, says Gerald Isaaman, the move promises an exciting future...

10 August, 2018 — By Gerald Isaaman

Hogarth’s Harlot – graphic examples of exhibits at the Cartoon Museum

THERE’S nothing quite like a comic or satirical cartoon to provoke a laugh in today’s troubled times. And you can do that at the Cartoon Museum, just a stone’s throw from the British Museum, which is currently celebrating a showcase cartoon exhibition entitled Fifty Glorious Shows.

However, it will be the Cartoon Museum’s final fling in Little Russell Street, its home in Holborn since it was established in 2006, when it was officially declared open by the Duke of Edinburgh.

Since then it has attracted more than 350,000 visitors to see the fun and frolics of famous comics and the work of cartoonists galore from past decades, taking in too its library of 5,000 books and 4,000 colourful comics.

Some 3,000 children have visited the museum every year to take part in its holiday workshops and schools learning programme, resulting in a few of them taking part in the museum’s Young Cartoonist of the Year awards.

Now laughter is on the move, the Cartoon Museum announcing that, faced with open market rent rises, it has, after a long search, finally found a permanent new home in Wells Street, Fitzrovia, where it will enjoy a 25-year lease and a peppercorn rent agreement.

It has called in designers Sam Jacob Studio to create a joyful and frivolous space inspired by comics and cartoons – the museum now has a growing collection of more than 4,000 items dating back to the 18th century – and set to open in February next year.

And it will be a truly innovative project, the main gallery featuring some 100 original artworks, including pieces from comics such as Beano and V for Vendetta, as well as more contemporary political cartoons, which will rotate over time.

The Beano dating from June 28, 1969

Fraser Muggeridge Studio has been commissioned to create the graphics, signage and wayfinding for the space, and will work with the exhibition design to evoke the “imagination of the world of cartoons” and fill the space “full of humour and delight”, says Sam Jacob, founder of the Sam Jacob Studio.

Physical features will include “smashed” walls to evoke the cheeky fast-running bird from the Looney Tunes’ favourite Wile E Coyote and Road Runner, tables where the legs become human, mouse holes in the walls and bookshelves that conceal doorways.

Graphics and signage will complement this comical style, with a giant speech bubble, neon sign at the entrance that will “speak” to visitors and passers-by, and a front-of-house ticket desk made in the shape of a giant piece of 3D text, which reads “Hello!”.

“We’re keen to find ways of using text and type in 3D space that learns from the way text is used in the graphic world of cartoons,” Sam points out. “We also want to make the 2D things that happen in cartoons enter into the museum, from touches of humour, to things that seem impossible, to things that turn your sense of reality upside down.

“In other words, we hope some of the fun and excitement of cartoons makes its way into the physical space of the museum itself.”

Sam adds that the museum will not be purely frivolous and jolly, and will touch on hard-hitting political and cultural issues, which have been explored by comics and cartoons throughout the ages.

“The stories these cartoons tell are ones about politics, life and culture over hundreds of years, often with humour and in ways that are accessible and enjoyed by very different kinds of people,” he says.

The charity-based museum also hosts its own Cartoon Trust Awards giving in particular Lifetime Achievement Awards to artists considered to have made a significant contribution to British cartooning, whose history includes many local famous names.

They range from Phil May, who created the ’appy ’Ampstead image of the Hampstead Heath fair, the wartime cartoonist David Low and Victor Weisz, otherwise Vicky, who lived in Hampstead, along with Mel Calman, Frank Dickens, from Belsize Park, the

Private Eye cartoonist Michael Heath and, of course, Wally Fawkes, otherwise Trog, now 94, and living in Kentish Town.

Fifty Glorious Shows runs until September 2 at the Cartoon Museum, 35 Little Russell Street, Bloomsbury, WC1A 2HH. Their new home will be in Wells Street, halfway between Goodge Street and Oxford Circus tube stations.

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