The Cartoon Museum has mounted some extraordinary exhibitions over the past year, that’s for sure. We’ve had wonderful shows celebrating Fougasse (Kenneth Bird) and Ronald Searle. More recently, I only just managed to make it to the Steve Bell retrospective before it finished: it was a pure delight. And now we celebrate the artists and writers who have given us Dr Who comics over the past 45 years. This is the first ever exhibition of Doctor Who comic pages with over 100 works from all periods featuring the Doctor in all his incarnations. It includes artwork by Dave Gibbons, Dave Lloyd, John Ridgway, Frank Bellamy, Martin Geraghty, Lee Sullivan and many who are unidentified. As you enter the show, the centrepiece is a wonderful montage of all the Doctors by Lee Sullivan, done in an identification parade style line up.
Like most people under the age of about 55, Dr Who was part of my childhood. I remember the first ever William Hartnell episode. Unlike some of my good friends, I am not an aficianado. Dr Who and I parted ways when we stopped getting British TV programmes under sanctions against Rhodesia from the mid-1960s. Nor am I a cartoon geek in the way of comic book collectors, the regular habitués of Hidden Planet and the like. But I adore comic art. The current excellent TV series British Masters mourned the death of Lucien Freud (rather hastily edited in!), suggesting that David Hockney was the only surviving exponent of the 20th Century tradition of great British figurative art, and posed the question who will take the baton? The answer, in my view, is our comic artists and they don’t need to take the baton because they have been carrying it all along. The “problem” is that the only people who appreciate this fact are comic fans. And if you have doubts about the calibre of comic book illustrators as artists, you need only to visit this show.
I readily admit that my expectations were not especially high. I had thought that the works would be of the middle-ranking type, the BBC churning out Dr Who comics as part of the whole Dr Who package. Not a bit of it. These works are of the highest quality – lovingly and painstakingly created. Not only that, as the exhibition points out, in the dark years of the 80s and 90s when no Dr Who programmes were made, it was these illustrators and their writers who kept the flame alive.
There are over 100 images on display in this show. The Cartoon Museum are to be congratulated for assembling such a rich and diverse collection from mainly private collectors around the globe. Dr Who in Comics 1964 – 2011 runs until 30 October. Entry is £5.50, concessions apply. Free to Art Fund members; £1 discount to London Historians members. Highly recommended.