comic invention: an all inclusive history of comic books

comic invention

In anticipation of visiting ‘The Art of Comics’ exhibition at Kelvingrove this month, here is a feature I wrote last year about ‘Comic Invention,’ a similar show which also displayed a horde of Frank Quitely (or Vincent Deighan’s) work:

With over a thousand visitors in its opening weekend, the Hunterian Art Gallery’s ‘Comic Invention’ has been a hit with the people of Glasgow. The exhibition looks at the innovation and development of comic art and storytelling over the years, with its earliest piece dating back to 6th century BC.

Upon entering the doors of the Hunterian, we are met with one of the most iconic artworks in history: Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup.

“That was the poster boy of the exhibition,” curator Laurence Grove explained, “pieces like Warhol and Lichtenstein really draw people in, and once they are here we can make a connection with everything else.”

But what do 1960s soup cans have to do with comic books? As we make our way around the exhibition, it all becomes clear. Its linear layout takes us back in time to the invention of comic art itself. We come across everything from the world’s first comic (largely considered to be The Glasgow Looking Glass originating in 1825), to ancient manuscripts such as 8th century Varia Medica, to vintage editions of X-Men. Even Iwao Takamoto’s farewell Scooby Doo sketch hangs beside Picasso’s ‘The Dream and Lie of Franco.’ Comic art has roots in all cultures spanning over centuries, influencing all kinds of art along the way.

Throughout the gallery, each older pieces modern counterpart sits alongside for context and comparison. Most strikingly, the Ancient Egyptian Funeral Stele of Tadihor hangs beside a page from The Kingdom Offspring by Frank Quitely, depicting an illustration of the Egyptian Sphinx in a film like close up. Frank Quitely’s work constitutes a large portion of the exhibition. Grove said:

“Frank Quitely gets dozens, maybe hundreds of requests, and for some reason he really liked this [exhibition]. He really wanted to contribute. So we went to his studio and I could not believe the access we had to all of this stuff. Most of it has never been displayed and he was really enthusiastic about making the connections.”

Besides offering exclusive access to Quitely illustrations, as well as displaying revered works of art such as ‘A Sketch of the Entombment’ and ‘Jackie II,’ an array of comic books from all periods are set out for use. This gives visitors a more intimate and interactive experience.

Grove explained the aim of the show as he said: “It is the next stage. It goes outside the walls and stays with you as you walk down Byres Rd and you will see the posters in the bus shelters and see it on your phone. It is all around us. What I really hope is that people will leave the exhibition and that feeling of excitement and interest won’t go away.”

‘Comic Invention,’ is evidently unique, daring and ultimately eccentric. It is the only place in the world you will see Lichtenstein next to artists like Rembrandt and Picasso. Unconventional exhibitions such as this are unlikely to be forgotten. The show will run in the upstairs of the Hunterian Art Gallery until July 17th. It is not one to miss.

Featured in TSA, May 2016: Issue 21

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Author: Jade Haggarty

20 writer/ art history student Glasgow, Scotland

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