The Cartoon Museum is one of those places I’ve passed about a million times, but never actually entered. Its proximity to the British Museum and the touristy-ness of Bloomsbury, coupled with its small storefront always made me think it might be some kind of overpriced tourist trap. However, last weekend, I took the plunge, and parted with £5.50 to plumb its satirical depths.
The museum is a bit larger than I had first supposed, being spread out over two floors, and besides, if you actually read each cartoon, it takes a good while to make it through them all. I had imagined the museum would mostly contain stuff by Hogarth and Cruikshank, and other Prince Regent or Napoleon piss-takes (which wouldn’t have been a problem, I love that stuff!), but actually, most of the work there was fairly modern. The largest exhibit, which is a temporary one, featured the works of Wally Fawkes (Trog) and Humphrey Lyttelton. I’d never heard of either of them prior to visiting, but they were apparently rather famous mid-late 20th century artists and musicians who were responsible for the creation of Flook (a snarky woolly mammoth comic strip character). Appropriately, their works were accompanied by a selection of their musical duets (Dixieland jazz style stuff on trumpet and clarinet), which I quite enjoyed. It seemed like a fairly new exhibit (or else they were very on the ball with updating the captions), since the signs referenced events from 2013. Most of their work was political or social commentary (as cartoons typically are, with the exception of Family Circus. Ugh, I HATE Family Circus. And Marmaduke.), with a few Flook strips thrown in for good measure. My disdain for modern art does not extend to cartoons, since cartoons have text, are socially relevant, and feature satire; therefore, I really liked all the Trog and Lyttelton stuff.
The next room was more what I was expecting in regards to Georgian caricaturists. It opened with the first two panels of Hogarth’s Marriage a la Mode (though I would like to know what happened to the other four. It kind of defeats the point if you don’t see the full progression of the scenes, in my opinion), and progressed through to Gillray, Rowlandson, Cruikshank, and a variety of Victorian cartoonists. My absolute favourite piece in the museum was here, a sort of satire of the satirists, so to speak: The Regency Twosome from Viz which featured Gillray and Rowlandson’s attempts to outdo each other in coming up with the most outrageous caricature of George IV, which resulted into his being catapulted into a heroin and prostitute pie. It was seriously laugh-out-loud funny (especially if you love a good Prince Regent lampoon as much as I do), and I wish I could post a picture of it here, but unfortunately the museum prohibits taking pictures of individual works of art for copyright reasons (though general gallery pictures were ok), and as you can see, I’m not one to break museum rules. (For those keen on learning more about Georgian satire, I think Vic Gatrell’s City of Laughter is a good place to start. I think it’s a bit wordy, but then, so am I, and I seem to recall liking it well enough.)
The last room on the ground floor was a little movie room aimed at children that played Peppa Pig and Simon’s Cat cartoons on a loop, and had the lovely stained butt cushion pictured above to enhance your viewing pleasure (and really, I think we can all appreciate watching Simon’s Cat whilst sitting on asses). The upstairs showcased comic strips, including the ever so British Beano and Dennis the Menace (I’m sorry, but I can’t accept the British version of Dennis the Menace. He just seems odd), and some other weird ones, including a woefully outdated mockery of suffragettes, and the hopelessly banal Bunty. Never fear, there was some good stuff too, like a modern political cartoon based off of Gulliver’s Travels, and some really raunchy comics at the end. (Incidentally, this is probably not the best museum for children, if you’re concerned about that sort of thing, unless you just want to park them in the Peppa Pig room the whole time, since everything is at adult eye level, and some of the strips are fairly lewd, plus there is a lot of reading). I probably spent a good two hours in the museum perusing everything on offer, which was a lot longer than I initially thought the place would keep me occupied.
I’m giving the Cartoon Museum 4/5. It is most definitely NOT a tourist trap; rather, it is a marvellous small museum that I would unhesitatingly recommend. If you can’t bear the hordes at the British Museum (as I often can’t), the Cartoon Museum would make the perfect quiet retreat. And I should add that the shop had lots of brilliant postcards, which I always consider a bonus.