Beano: The Art of Breaking the Rules
Somerset House's major new show, opening in time for half term, is a riotous delight.
A confession. The Beano was not part of my childhood (I had a subscription to Twinkle). So, this review is being written by someone pretty unqualified.
The tone is set on arrival with an assortment of Beano-esque bubble quotes, my favourite from Picasso, 'Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist'. There is a short video introduction and you are straight into the original artwork, sign-posted 'BORING OLD STUFF, YAWN'. The first edition of the comic in 1938 (alongside its stablemate the Dandy) leads through to sketches and background detail on the ever-growing cast of characters and key Beano themes - food, discipline and punishment. The artwork combines with larger than life cardboard cut-outs as you dive INTO Beanotown itself.
What takes the show beyond a fun, nostalgic romp is how the cartoon stuff is combined with work from leading contemporary artists - painting, sculpture, videos, sound. Some are a direct response to the comics, some a more indirect tribute. It works superbly and you leave in no doubt of the impact this curiously British icon has had on our culture. The one simple rule - rules should be broken - is empowering and exhilarating.
It is also a social commentary on life in Britain over the last 80 odd years. Racism, corporal punishment, class privilege are writ large in its pages and addressed head on by the show but it is never preachy.
The last room contains a host of placards, a new rule book for life created by current Beano readers. Think up your own 'rule to live by' and have it painted onto a protest sign to be added to the display.
For a non-believer it is huge fun. Anarchic, gobby and relevant. If you are a Beano family, it should be top of your list for a half-term outing.
Exit through gift shop and lighten your wallet. It's a goodie.
Beano: The Art of Breaking Rules 21 Oct–6 March
Somerset House, River entrance
Tickets: £16 adults, £12.50 concessions, under 6s free. Click here to book.
Emily Turner, 20 October 2021