‘World’s oldest comic’ to go on display in Glasgow

A drawing from the Glasgow Looking Glass, which is considered by academics to be the first ever mass-produced comic book. Picture: University of Glasgow Special Collections
A drawing from the Glasgow Looking Glass, which is considered by academics to be the first ever mass-produced comic book. Picture: University of Glasgow Special Collections
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IT IS thought to be the oldest comic book in the world and will finally go on public display in the city that it poked fun at almost 200 years ago.

The Glasgow Looking Glass, which was first published in 1825 and predates titles like Punch by more than a decade, is among the highlights of a major new exhibition at the Hunterian Art Gallery which opens on March 17.

The first edition of the Glasgow Looking Glass, published in 1825, will go on public display next month. Picture: University of Glasgow Special Collections

The first edition of the Glasgow Looking Glass, published in 1825, will go on public display next month. Picture: University of Glasgow Special Collections

The pioneering comic will be displayed alongside more familiar works such as Scooby Doo and Batman as part of the show, which aims to explore the cultural and historical background of graphic narrative.

The exhibition, Comic Invention, will also feature pieces by Lichtenstein, Warhol, Rembrandt, Picasso, Hockney and Frank Quietly of DC comics, among others.

It shows that not only is Scotland at the forefront of the comic industry today, it has been throughout history.

Although comic illustrations have existed for thousands of years, the Glasgow Looking Glass is considered by academics to be the first mass-produced example.

It was written and published during the early days of the industrial revolution, when the city’s population began to rise, and comments on both domestic and foreign news of the time.

Tens of thousands of copies were distributed to the drinking houses and other properties around Glasgow and beyond.

The fortnightly publication, founded and illustrated by draughtsman William Heath, changed its name to the Northern Looking Glass after five issues to reflect a more national character.

The broadsheet was lavishly illustrated by Heath and provided snapshots of the city as well as the prevailing affectations, fashions, politics and eccentricities in all levels of society.

Comic Invention presents the Glasgow Looking Glass alongside 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 c. 1833. Also on show is what is agreed to be the earliest American comic – The Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck of 1842.

This first public showing worldwide is the result of a prestigious and generous loan from the David Kunzle Collection of Los Angeles.

Other items include an exclusive selection of 20 drawings by Frank Quitely, including 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.

READ MORE: World’s first comic book from Glasgow in spotlight