The news that the oldest comic in Britain, the Dandy has published the final printed edition today was probably greeted with whimsical nostalgia by many throughout these islands. I have to admit it was not my favourite comic, but principal characters such as Desperate Dan and Korky the Cat were still major personalities of growing up.
Due to decreased circulation, the Dandy and it’s chief competitor the Beano are having to move with the times, converting to online versions while other popular comics the Topper and Beezer were long ago forced to close. Newspapers and magazines have also been forced to adapt or close but most of us probably lament the demise of childhood comics more than any other form of publication.
It therefore seems the perfect day to remember a recent visit to the Angoulême Comic Museum. The city itself also celebrates comic strip art, there is plenty of street art throughout the French city. Buildings of all shapes and sizes, post-boxes, electrical or telephone exchange boxes make suitable canvases for the best graffiti artists. The subjects are various and come in a variety of sizes from a couple of feet high to covering the whole side of a multi-storey building but they all celebrate street art in a comic book style.
Upon entering the museum visitors are greeted by a couple of recognisable characters, life-size figurines of Asterix the Gaul and his warrior sidekick Obelix. It is a welcome start as they are also characters from my childhood, I entered with a smile having not seen this animated series for many years.
The museum is relatively small but is filled with numerous comic book exhibits, most are famous characters which were created in the early to middle part of the last century. They remained popular for decades, still around during my childhood years, their longevity testament to the skilled artists which drew them. Most of the ‘greats’ of animation and comic book history are present, Marvel, Disney, DC Comics and ‘landmark’ comic books or strips such as “The Eagle” or “Peanuts” are featured too.
Many recognisable characters such as Tintin, Dan Dare, Flash Gordon, Dick Tracy, Spiderman, Tarzan and of course Mickey Mouse have individual exhibits devoted to them and their creators. Being able to observe their development over decades and even generations is especially interesting. The style of the art often evolves over time, simple black ink drawings becoming gradually more elaborate and detailed with colour eventually beginning to appear.
The main room is devoted to the history of comic books and it is possible to follow 150 years of cartoon art. The main text is in French providing comprehensive explanations, whilst truncated information cards are available in English and Spanish. It was slightly disappointing that at the time there was very little of British comic book history displayed but apparently the exhibits are rotated so perhaps this won’t always be the case.
There are other display areas including a complete area devoted to the Japanese ‘La Manga’ genre. It is not interactive however the displays are almost entirely visual, cartoon book examples with just one computer available which enables visitors to create their own comic strip.
No space is wasted as the walls are decorated with many familiar faces and there is a cool little gift shop which is worth browsing.
I enjoyed this trip down comic book memory lane. It may seem a little sad that popular comics like the Dandy are going out of print but ultimately to remain successful it is necessary to evolve with the times. The comic book is dead, long live the comic!