Inside The Illustration Cupboard (London Venue)

A re-blog from the archives of my regular column for Alltern8; Comicking.
This is a reconstruction, so excuse the poor formatting.

Illustration Cupbard

Reviewing a London exhibit of 500 book, animation and graphic novel illustrations by over 50 leading illustrators from around the world…
On my recent trip to London, I thought I should make a visit to The Illustration Cupboard’s 14th Annual Winter Exhibition as recommended by Gravett’s List. Often a tendency with UK comics arts related events is London-centrism. A factual trait which as a symptomatic side, effects exclusivity. The showing runs until the end of January and is worth a look if not in person, then by cyberspace travel. The Cupboard’s search engine is poor; browsing by gallery or by artist will get you to were you want to go as fast.

With prints starting at £55, and originals around £200, though many at £4,000, it’s mentalism the thought of me buying any of these. The Cupboard do a full-colour illustrated catalogue for £10 (p&p UK inc) though, that’s not bad, showing over a hundred of the works from this exhibition. Here, as online, you can see John Vernon Lord’s “Drawings of a Muchness and Things Beginning with M”, cut up techique using Lewis Caroll weirdness and a little bit of Dali. I also greatly enjoyed looking at Anthony Browne’s pop sensation ‘Kong’ illustrations and was glad the website provided me with more to look at. Pictured here is ‘Kong fought bravely but in vain’

Cartoonist Chris Riddell’s black ink illustrations for The Graveyard Shift, co-authored with Neil Gaiman are quite eldritch and chilling, as is Inga Moore’s pieces from Wind In The Willows

To the left, John Lawrence’s ‘A Boy Went Forth’ from ‘A New Treasury of Poetry’. J. Lawrence’s wood engravings look like a beautiful kind of fever. A sort of white magic working man bliss surge into the Dark Ages, like Scott McCloud visiting Chaucer, in William Blake’s cab of course. In addition to these comic strip like works, the illustrations accompanying Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island are worth a look around for.

The majority of the exhibit showcases illustrations of children’s literature. The simple looking commercial iconography of Children’s Lauren Childs’ ‘Clarice Bean’ obviously stood out, as did Dick Bruna’s Miffy works.

‘Speckledy-Neckledy’: stood on each other’s backs, an ape, dog, toucan and weasel, paint the neck of a giraffe. Sadly, this doesn’t appear online, but Charles Fuge’s other work has similarities in anthropomorphic fun. Penny Dale’s work does this too, presenting family community in a place were the cynicism of age finds it hard to scratch. (My favourite is ‘Everyone Had Baths’, but sure scroll on through). Some of this work is just downright lavish though, such as Childs’ collaborations with Polly Borland and Gennady Spirin’s illustrations for Jack and The Beanstalk which wouldn’t look out of place on any Art Student’s curriculum at degree level.

There’s a strong bias for inclusion in the works for winners and nominees of the Kate Greenaway Medal. This is geared particularly for children’s illustration and I note Dave McKean is among those shortlisted for the next one. The fascination with children’s literature plays a large part in the UK’s comics culture, in modernity, reverse-engineered by Gravett and other broadsheet commentators. In many ways, this is nothing to ever get embarrassed about. It’s a much more beautiful trend than, for example, tabloids might suggest. (It serves them right for name-calling, I suppose..) Though as someone who plans on never having children and has few young relatives, I’m a little confused as to how this interacts with me. Asides from, y’know….responsibility, creativity, education, aesthetics etc.

There are big pre-mainstream names aplenty in the exhibit too. There’s an original by Herge and a number of cels from Brian Cosgrove (Cosgrove Hall) and Nick Park (Aardman Animations). Of notoriety is the work of Kevin O’Neill, co-creator of Nemesis The Warlock and Marshal Law, as well as contributing creator to Judge Dredd. I notice The Cupboard is also selling copies of his League of Extra-Ordinary Gentleman collections as well.

The O’Neill material on display doesn’t include such scenes of viciousness, I convey precariously, as there’s a Marshal Law cover on the wall. The Illustration Cupboard is adequately titled, for it’s a small and cluttered venue, resembling a shop rather than any arts exhibit in London connotations of a museum. That’s just the way of it, practical within the considerations of financial viability in tough times for the culture economy. This includes the constraints of free, and sometimes or often private viewings..what more do you want? The second floor has a hand-railed gap which helps to create an observational route and extra point for observing works below.
I found the staff attentive, helpfully accommodating, above and beyond requirements. I hope my somewhat brutal honesty doesn’t offend them, I enjoyed my visit.


Should you be visiting, The Annual Winter exhibit runs until the end of the month and the nearest tube station is Green Park.

More from me on on Tuesday 2nd February. In the meantime, my web-comic, Don’t Get Lost, is uploaded every Thursday. If you’d like to illustrate one of the many excellent comics scripts I’m involved in this year, please email me at drew.luke(at)