World's first mass-produced comic strip to go on show at The Hunterian in 2016

By Richard Moss | 04 December 2106

World's first mass produced comic strip to go on show in 2016 Hunterian Art Gallery exhibition

a detail from a comic panel showing various Victorian character types
A detail from the first page of Glasgow Looking Glass, 1825 © University of Glasgow Special Collections
It may not surprise anyone familiar with the DC Thomson-published Beano or Commndo comics, but Scotland can lay claim to being the first nation in the world to publish a mass produced comic strip.

Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic paintings and the Bayeux Tapestry aside, curators from the Hunterian Museum of Art reckon Glasgow has got the world’s oldest printed cartoon in the shape of The Glasgow Looking Glass, of 1825.

The rare strip, which is featured in the Hunterian’s forthcoming exhibition, Comic Invention, opening at the Glasgow venue in March 2016, was published by Glasgow lithographic printer John Watson with illustrations by the renowned caricaturist and illustrator William Heath (1794-1840).

a colourful front page of a comic with lots of illustrations
The full front cover of The Glasgow Looking Glass© University of Glasgow Special Collections
It later changed its name to the Northern Looking Glass to give it a more national focus, but for a short period in in 1820s the printed colour comic became a staple of the drinking houses of Glasgow, with a circulation in the tens of thousands. 

Describing the rare strip as “arguably the world’s oldest” - they believe it predates titles such as Punch by 16 years - the Hunterian says the fortnightly publication satirised Glasgow society, British culture and fashions of the time using the now well established comic book staples of colourful panel illustrations, word balloons and the term "to be continued". 

The original first copy on display features a lively collage of judges, soldiers, kings and beggars as well as satires of the latest fashions from June 1825 and an Egyptian sarcophagus from the city’s Hunterian Museum.

AlongsideThe Glasgow Looking Glass, the exhibition display the original manuscript and the first printed edition of the Swiss comic previously, regarded as the very first – Rodolphe Töpffer’s Histoire de Monsier Jabot, of around 1833, which also contained a number of captioned panels.

a print showing eighteenth century people in a drawing room with a coffee table being upturned by a woman
William Hogarth, A Harlot’s Progress, Plate 2© The Hunterian, University of Glasgow 2015
The show will also feature what is generally agreed to be the earliest American comic – a translation of the Töpffer comic calledThe Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck of 1842, which is getting its first public showing worldwide as a result of a prestigious loan from the David Kunzle Collection of Los Angeles.

Looking at “graphic narrative in its widest sense”, Comic Invention also draws from the collections of The Hunterian and beyond, from the ancient Egyptians to Hogarth and contemporary items combining comics with "art, manuscripts and objects".

Works by artists such as Rembrandt, Picasso, Hockney and Warhol will be shown alongside the first major display of original drawings by graphic artist Frank Quitely, of DC Comics - the most in-demand graphic artist working in the industry today.

Other must-see treasures for comic aficionados include original artwork for Batman, New X Men and Superman, displayed in context with Hunterian and Glasgow University Library artefacts such as hieroglyphs from the 6th century BCE and Scotland's oldest complete western manuscript (from the 8th century).

a cartoon panel showing a bearded man and young woman in a car
Sha Nazir, Two Hipsters in the Car, 2015© The Hunterian, University of Glasgow 2015
Special loans including Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup, Roy Lichtenstein’s iconic In the Car and work from Turner Prize winner Martin Boyce go on display for the first time together with 20th century artworks from the university's collections, including prints by Picasso, Rauschenberg, Max Ernst and David Hockney.

Further comic book treats come in the form of Scots Makar Edwin Morgan's scrapbooks showing horror comics relating to the 1954 'Gorbals Vampire' scandal and World War I sketches by the recently discovered 'Wilfred Owen of Cartooning', Archie Gilkison.

  • Comic Invention runs from March 18 until July 17 2016. Admission £5/£3.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

a cartoon-like painting of a couple in a car
Roy Lichtenstein, In the Car, 1963© Estate of Roy Lichtenstein/DACS 2015
a nine panel cartoon with abstract figures battling bulls and fighting on horseback
Pablo Picasso, Sueno y Mentira de Franco, Plate 1, 1937© Estate of Pablo Picasso/DACS 2015
a diptych print of Jackie Kennedy in her mourning outfit
Andy Warhol, Jacqueline Kennedy II (from the portfolio 'Eleven Pop Artists', vol. II), 1965© The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / DACS, London 2015.
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