What Is the Cartoon Museum?

Alan Rankin

The Cartoon Museum is a British museum dedicated to comics, graphic novels, and animation. It emphasizes the cartooning traditions of England, which date back to the 18th century. In operation since 2006, the Cartoon Museum is located in central London, near the famed British Museum. It features research facilities and educational initiatives, including Britain’s Young Cartoonist of the Year award. It is one of several museums around the world dedicated to comics and cartooning.

A cartoon character.
A cartoon character.

The Cartoon Museum was the brainchild of British publisher Simon Heneage, a lifelong fan of comic art. In 1988, Heneage founded the Cartoon Art Trust, a fundraising initiative geared toward creating a British cartooning museum. With support from English cartoonists and political figures, some of whom had been the subjects of editorial cartoons themselves, the privately funded museum opened in February of 2006. Prince Philip, husband of Queen Elizabeth, officiated at the opening. The museum’s location in London’s Camden Town arts district is near the boyhood home of George Cruikshank, the 18th-century caricaturist who is considered a pioneer of modern comics.

The Cartoon Museum contains numerous graphic novels.
The Cartoon Museum contains numerous graphic novels.

The museum's collection includes 1,700 works of art and more than 10,000 books and comics, many of them from Simon Heneage’s personal archive. The museum’s reference library, which contains these books and comics, was named in Heneage’s honor. Heneage, who passed away in 2011, was friends with many British cartoonists, including Heath Robinson, whose Rube Goldberg-like drawings made him a household name in 20th-century Britain. Other famous artists featured in the museum’s exhibits include Ronald Searle, Hunt Emerson, and Gerald Scarfe.

Like many museums, the Cartoon Museum operates programs designed to capture the interests of children and support aspiring young artists. The museum’s Learning Programme offers materials on the history and art of cartooning for classrooms or independent study. Every year, the museum and the Cartoon Art Trust present awards in cartooning to deserving British artists. These include a lifetime achievement award and two Young Cartoonist of the Year prizes. One is geared toward struggling artists less than the age of 30; the other is offered to aspiring cartoonists age 18 and younger.

There are several other museums dedicated to comics around the world. An unrelated facility in Athens, Greece, also called the Cartoon Museum, focuses on the history of Greek cartooning. The United States has the Cartoon Art Museum, located in San Francisco, and the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, or MoCCA, in New York City. The world’s largest cartoon museum, the Billy Ireland Museum, is part of Ohio State University. In France, Le Musée de la Bande Dessinée is located in Angoulême, the site of Europe’s largest comics convention.

The Cartoon Museum displays some politically-themed cartoons.
The Cartoon Museum displays some politically-themed cartoons.

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