Comics shaped my life


For an ex comic nerd like myself, the Comics Unmasked exhibition at the British Library was a bit of a treat. It's claim — to reveal mainstream and underground comics which address politics, heroes, gender, violence, sexuality and altered states — pretty much hit the mark. My interest in comics began with Dandy and Beano and progressed to Whoopee! at an early age. I was reminded of strips like the Bumpkin Billionaires who try as they might each episode, could never get rid of their fortune. I moved on to a short-lived British Tornado, which eventually merged with 2000 AD. That's when everything changed.

2000 AD — I didn't know this at the time — was a hotbed of great British comic writers and artists that are internationally renowned today. Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison, Brian Bolland and Mike McMahon to name a few. All I knew was that the stories were gripping, the artwork sensational. But the stories actually had real social undertones to them. Something I didn't necessarily pick up in my youth but was clearly demonstrated in the exhibition.

In Nemesis the Warlock there are echoes of the Spanish Inquisition, neo-Nazi skinheads and the National Front. Torquemada being the villain and Nemesis being the free spirit to save us. Then 2000 AD launched Crisis, a political left-wing anthology with stories like Third World War. V for Vendetta ran in Warrior magazine, portraying a modern day Guy Fawkes complete with mask, living in a surveillance society! How chilling Alan Moore's prediction reads today. The masks are used by the Occupy movement today as a symbol of the faceless 99%.

I'd forgotten about a lot of these stories until I was re-acquainted with them in the exhibition. What I realised as a result, was how much comics had had an impact on shaping my views of the world. And how they continue to have an impact today.

People often view comics as childish. Something to grow out of. How wrong is that view. Go and see the difference at the Comics Unmasked exhibition. I'm off to Forbidden Planet to start buying again.

Ian Haughton