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Beano: the Art of Breaking the Rules – Somerset House

Freedom Friday: Lauren

This Freedom Friday, I was transported out of London and straight to Beanotown. This exhibition explored the history of one of the world’s longest running weekly comics. From a selection of original comic book prints to modern art inspired by the classic stories, Somerset House had it all.

My favourite part of the exhibition were the rooms unconventionally curated to feel as if you were walking inside the cartoon itself. The smallest details were considered, down to the scribbles on the classroom walls courtesy of the Bash Street kids, and served to create a completely immersive experience. It was fascinating to see how static drawings can show movement in such different ways, and in this show the characters jumped straight from the pages.

It got me thinking about brands and how they stay relevant: that fine line that long-running brands tread in the effort to stay fresh while not deviating from the qualities that made their audience fall in love with them in the first place.

The first Beano Comic was published in 1938, meaning as of 2022 it has been running for 84 years. During this time, it has reinvented itself to stay true to the times, but has managed to retain its rebellious spirit and sense of fun.

The Beano exhibition was huge, but I hadn’t had my fill yet, so I continued on to The Cartoon Museum just off Oxford Street. Once again, I was surrounded by Beano but also a range of art pieces. Every cartoon was created in such unique ways to reflect their message. Interestingly, the pieces were curated by era, as well as genre. Each piece ranged in size and style, and visitors’ reactions ranged from giggles to shock, illustrating that the aim of cartoons isn’t always to entertain but also to disturb.

I was most interested in viewing the advertisements from the war, such as ‘Careless talk costs lives’, in which only a few colours are used to ensure they met rationing guidelines and style used to express serious scenarios, showing how influential cartoons can be.

To end the day, I took part in the Laughter Lab: a study in collaboration between The Cartoon Museum and Robin Dunbar, Professor of Evolutionary Psychology in the Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford. Its purpose is to identify what makes cartoons funny. The results are coming in the summer, but if you want to be involved there is still time to take part until June 5th 2022.

The visits to Somerset House and the Cartoon Museum came at the perfect time, as they have informed the exciting animation work here at Ave and even inspired me to draw the team in the Beano style as their Bash Kid counterparts (as seen at the top of the page). I created this on Procreate to continue the practice I began in my first Freedom Friday. I chose to use only red and black ink and a textured brush to emulate the vintage feel of the Beano comics.

It is going to be fun trying out new styles, bringing characters to life, helping them leap from the page. I will even break a couple of rules along the way. As Dennis the Menace says, the rules are only really guidelines anyway.

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