On Monday I had the day off and decided to go to the National Army Museum in London to see the Commando exhibition. Because it wasn’t a weekend (like it is when I go to comic conventions) the Underground was actually working! The museum itself is a fair walk from the station, past the Royal Chelsea Hospital. The houses round that way are nice mind you.
When I rule my own country this is what the narrowest streets will look like.
Anyway after the walk I reached the museum, which has a banner outside advertising the exhibition. It did start on the first of this month though, the banner may not stay until the end! The museum itself is deceptively small on the outside, the inside is full of maze-like small rooms crammed with informative exhibits. The actual army exhibition part goes forwards in time as you climb the stairs, the first hall is about the New Model Army, for instance, whilst the one closest to the exhibition (on the top floor) is about 40′s and 50′s National Service.
The Commando exhibition itself is actually quite small, and confined to one room. It’s primarily original cover artwork, which is no bad thing as the work of Ken Barr, Jose Maria Jorge et al is beautiful! There’s a mixture of ages too. DC Thomson are great at keeping their original artwork, which allows for top-notch reprints. They even have the original art for the very first issue, which will be reprinted shortly. You aren’t supposed to take pictures, and a small bloke who might have been a Gurkha caught me XD. But here’s one of the ones I managed to smuggle across the lines!
50 years old and it looks like the paint’s barely dry!
Apart from the cover artwork there’s actually disappointingly little else, but only so much of a “serious” museum can be turned over to “mere” comics. There’s a very brief history of boys’ adventure comics mentioning The Boys’ Own Paper (with a 1916 monthly issue on display), examples of Commando’s IPC competitors, a mention of The Victor and a copy of “Battle Action Force”. This latter was an odd choice, Battle Picture Weekly (later Battle Action) is regarded as one of the greatest British comics ever, but Battle Action Force was just a stupid toy catalogue disguised as a comic (though unfortunately a sign of things to come).
There’s also one small cabinet featuring some authentic Commando equipment such as a silenced Sten Gun, a Commando knife, a few berets (and a helmet with a nasty-looking hole!). Behind it is a painting of the famous Saint Nazaire raid, which virtually immobilised Germany’s best battleships for the rest of the war.
Unfortunately there’s almost no interior artwork (I’d love to see the fine lines of Jose Maria Jorge up close!) but there is some more curious items – examples of the “transparencies” that used to be laid over the artwork. These have the comics logo, the knife and the title painted on them. They also have the cover of issue 11 “Closer Than Brothers” assembled with it’s transparencies, as it would have been back in 1961 for the printers! Of course today all of that is added to the art digitally instead.
One final important detail is that a couple of the descriptions lament the fact that comics are not taken seriously in Britain, and that the hard work of writers and artists deserves to be recognised and remembered much better than it is. Hopefully this display will be a small step in that direction!
In the museum’s shop the 50 Years a Home for Heroes book is on sale. It will be in bookshops at the end of the month. It’s about as thick as an annual but very large!
As well as a general history of Commando, it also contains articles on writers and artists (“general overview” articles rather than ones for individuals, unfortunately) with some amusing anecdotes and insights into their working methods.
With scattered-around bits of cover art. Here’s where keeping the originals comes in handy!
There’s also 6 reprinted stories, with 4 pages to each page at original size! Plus the covers are reproduced in colour (unlike the various other reprint books).
Why yes he does have a story in there!
Finally the reprinted stories have introductions with big blow-ups of the cover art and detail on the stories, such as how they were developed with the writer, editor and artist. These pages look magnificent, and the whole book is printed on thick, heavy matte paper that really shows off the art.
Must be about the original size of the paintings!
Despite it’s small size this exhibition is well worth visiting. The nearest underground station is Sloane Square. From there go left down the street in the picture above, then left again and right at the crossroads past the Royal Chelsea Hospital, then just go straight! Entry is free and there’s plenty else to look at in the building too.