The curator of a new exhibition based on the Beano has said the comics have evolved to reflect societal changes but the “joy in the rebellion and the chaos and anarchy” remains the same.
First published in 1938, it is Britain’s longest-running children’s comic and stars the classic troublemakers and rulebreakers Dennis and Gnasher, Minnie the Minx and the Bash Street Kids.
The exhibition held in central London, called Beano: The Art of Breaking the Rules, features artworks from the comic’s archive and contemporary artists who have been inspired by the rebellious kids.
Artist Andy Holden, the curator of the exhibition, told the PA news agency: “I would say it’s back as relevant as it’s ever been in the sense that it has worked out that it needed to change and to reflect society once again.
“And so it brought in new characters, and it’s thought about its role in children’s literacy, and it’s got a vision of what it wants to do.
“It’s a huge amount of time, and there’s a huge amount of people who have worked on it over the years, so it’s ebbed and flowed.”
He reflected upon the changes, including the removal of corporal punishment from the storyline, such as caning and the use of a slipper on the disobedient children, as he felt “it had to change in the same way the world changed”.
However, despite these adjustments and the storylines and drawings continuously adapting throughout the years, Holden feels it is “the same spirit that pervades”.
“That will still be relevant to children because there’s a joy in the rebellion and the chaos and anarchy that the Beano as a space allows you to enter,” he added.
The exhibition includes more than 100 artworks from the Beano’s archive, including original drawings, artefacts and objects from the comic’s 83-year history.
They are displayed alongside more than 50 contemporary artists, writers and musicians who share a rebellious sensibility, such as artist Nicola Lane, who has reimagined Dennis as he turns 70 this year, and a jukebox curated by Bob Stanley from alternative pop band Saint Etienne which includes music influenced by Beano’s riotous spirit.
Holden noted his purpose in exhibiting this range of artists was to reflect how the comic has influenced culture and art, as figures such as singer David Bowie have referenced it as having a creative influence on their work.
He told PA: “I thought it would be fun to try and map how does the Beano feed into contemporary culture, and it turns out that through media, through music, through literature and certainly through art, there was what I’m calling a strong but unconscious influence of the Beano.”
The exhibit targets all three generations, from children to grandparents.
Artist Laura Howell, who draws Minnie the Minx, said: “Dennis and Minnie have been around for many decades, but they’re as captivating to children now as they were back in the 50s and 60s.
“And I think, even though times change, there’s always this continuity of children loving rebellious characters and characters that get away with things that maybe they can’t get away with in real life, I don’t think that that appeal will ever go away.”
Beano: The Art of Breaking the Rules runs from October 21 to March 6 at Somerset House in London.