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Friday, 20 July 2012

Beasts take over the Cartoon Museum!

Animals have always inspired cartoon and comic artists, from the British Lion to Bunny Suicides, Korky the Cat to Simon’s Cat. Now, London's Cartoon Museum is to host an exhibition of animal-inspired cartoons.

The Animal Crackers exhibition includes works by creators such as Nick Abadzis, Leo Baxendale, Alfred Bestall,  Simon Bond, Hunt Emerson, Michael ffolkes, Martin Honeysett, Don Lawrence, Royston Roberston (above), Ronald Searle, Ralph Steadman, Bryan Talbot, Norman Thelwell, Dudley D. Watkins and many, many more.

This cartoon bestiary features the iconic American Eagle, the Russian Bear and the financial Fat Cat, as well as favourite characters such as Mickey Mouse, Wallace and Gromit, Flook, Fred Basset, Gnasher, Pip, Squeak and Wilfred and Rupert Bear. Also included are cracking joke cartoons from Punch, Private Eye, The Oldie, The Spectator and many national papers. There is something for everyone with over 140 cartoons, caricatures, comics and graphic novels by over 60 artists.

Throughout history animals have fascinated us. We have hunted, eaten, studied, collected – and drawn them. They inspired our earliest art and our oldest myths. We have given them human attributes: ‘as cunning as a fox’, ‘as wise as an owl’, ‘as brave as a lion’. Selfish pigs and proud peacocks strut their stuff on our gallery walls accompanied by Aesop’s Hare and Tortoise, the Three Bears (minus Goldilocks) and other characters of fur, feather and scale from folk and fairy tales and from literary classics such as the Alice books.

Giants of the natural and unnatural world such as Moby?Dick and the Lambton Worm also feature, as well as beings which only exist in the minds of cartoon and comic artists. Among the ‘marvellous creatures’ are dragons of yore, the Loch Ness monster and a psychedelic horse.

Many of the cartoons suggest how much animals are ‘just like us’. From Disney characters such as Mickey Mouse, Jiminy Cricket and King Louie of The Jungle Book to Nick Park’s Gromit, these animals are human in every way that counts. Others, such as Simon’s Cat and Thelwell’s ponies, highlight our pets’ irritating or endearing habits.

Also represented are political animals, both individual and national. When political caricature developed in the eighteenth century it drew on the tradition of heraldic beasts – the English Lion, the Scottish Unicorn and the Habsburg double-headed Eagle. Others such as the Russian Bear and the French Cockerel became established in the nineteenth century.

Certain creatures are purely figments of the cartoonist’s imagination such as David Low’s ‘Coalition Ass’ and ‘TUC Carthorse’. At times animals themselves have taken on a political significance, as in China’s so-called ‘Panda diplomacy’. Politicians can find themselves depicted as King Kong or a chimp, a panda or even a dodo.

The world of animal cartoons is often a surreal place, allowing creatures to stray into the realms of art, business, politics and personal relationships. It reminds us just how much we share with our fellow animals.

• Animal Crackers: A Cartoon and Comic Bestiary; 25th July – 21st October 2012,  Cartoon Museum, 35 Little Russell Street London WC1A 2HH. Tel: 020 7631 0793 Web: www.cartoonmuseum.org

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