Beano: 80 years of insurgent creativity

Somerset House’s new exhibition explores the comic’s lasting, subversive influence, finding links between its gleeful rule-breaking and the work of contemporary artists and creatives

“I guess I started working on this show when I was eight years old,” jokes curator and artist Andy Holden, in his introduction to a major new Beano exhibition at London’s Somerset House – delayed for two years as a result of Covid, and now finally open to the public.

Around the time Holden was invited to curate Beano: The Art of Breaking the Rules, his mother produced a recipe book containing a still pristine drawing he’d created over 30 years ago, when he was learning to draw by copying the comic. “It got me thinking about how I never thought about it as an influence,” he continues in his intro to the show, which brings archival material together with artworks created in direct response to the Beano, and pieces that embody its spirit of rebellion.

Holden, it turns out, wasn’t the only one that had been working away, unwittingly, against the quiet background noise of the Beano. Artists he rang up to discuss the show with also admitted that they loved the comic, but without ever considering the effect it had on them during their formative years. The late David Bowie, says Holden, included the publication on his list of top 100 books, wedged somewhere between Madame Bovary and the Iliad.

Dennis and Gnasher, 2000, artwork by David Parkins. All Beano archive images courtesy Beano

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