British Library x Arts Thread Comics Unmasked Competition


This spring the British Library is staging the UK’s biggest exhibition of British comics, Comics Unmasked: Art and Anarchy in the UK. From newly discovered Victorian comics to iconic titles such as V for Vendetta and Sandman, Comics Unmasked will explore political, social and spiritual issues raised by British comics and their creators over the last century, from violence and drug-taking to class and sexuality.

Prize: £1000 cash prize and the option of a place in one of the Comics Unmasked workshops.

Co-curator John Harris Dunning says, “This show is a call to arms – we’re trying to encourage creative disobedience that challenges the status quo. Comics have never been more influential.”


  • Dave Gibbons, award-winning comic book artist, Watchmen, 2000 AD, The Trials of Nasty Tales (pictured above)
  • Emma Hayley, managing director & publisher SelfMadeHero
  • John Harris Dunning, author of the graphic novel Salem Brownstone: All Along the Watchtowers – Curator Comics Unmasked
  • Paul Gravett, journalist, curator, writer and broadcaster, worked in comics publishing and promotion for over 20 years –  Curator Comics Unmasked
  • Adrian Edwards, curator British Library -  Curator Comics Unmasked
  • Kissley Leonor, creative industries marketing manager, British Library

BRIEF: Create a 9-panel comic exploring one of the six themes in the exhibition. A4 or A3 portrait, divided into 3 rows of 3 panels equal sized.
Your comic can include: illustrations and text; only illustrations; only text; it can be in colour or black and white; it can be hand-drawn or created digitally.

Entry Requirements

Website: Comics Unmasked: Art and Anarchy in the UK
Location: Open to applicants worldwide.
Age: 16+
Experience: student, graduate or anyone working professionally for less than 3 years in the design industry.

Already got an ARTS THREAD portfolio? To enter, simply log into your account, upload your illustration as a new project, click on ‘Edit Profile’, scroll to the bottom of the page and tick the box marked ‘British Library x Arts Thread Comics Unmasked Competition’. Finally email us to confirm your entry.

New to ARTS THREAD? To enter, register to create an ARTS THREAD account and at the bottom of the page tick the box marked ‘British Library x Arts Thread Comics Unmasked Competition’. Go to your email and click on the activation link sent to your email Inbox, then log into your account and upload your illustration as a project. Finally email us to confirm your entry.

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Entry: Free
Deadline: Sunday April 20 2014 MIDNIGHT GMT
Prize: £1000 UK sterling cash prize and the option of a place in one of the Comics Unmasked workshops.


1. Mischief & Mayhem

The public expectation of ‘comical’ comics and familiar characters – a look at the more subversive side of humour, from gentle slapstick right through to the boundaries of acceptability with blasphemy, gratuitous violence and gore.


  • Beano Book 1955 bad boys ‘Dennis the Menace’ and the ‘Bash Street Kids’
  • From Hell (1999) by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell

2. To See Ourselves
Social class and prejudices have frequently been explored in comics – whether seriously and humorously. Comics are sometimes one of the few places where certain social groups can see themselves in print.


  • Class War Comix: New Times (1974)
  • Lighter Than My Shadow (2013) by Katie Green

3. Politics: Power and The People
Comics have been used to political ends: to illustrate an ideology or movement, to radicalise society and to attempt to attract members to a party or pressure group.


  • When the Wind Blows (1982) by Raymond Briggs
  • V for Vendetta (1982) Alan Moore and David Lloyd

4. We Can Be Heroes
18th and 19th century popular literature often presented criminals as romantic heroes, a seditious tradition that continues into comics. British comic book heroes today can surprise: they’re often not the expected muscular straight white male, and their values may be far from wholesome. In recent decades British comic writers and artists have worked in the USA, where they have re-interpreted the superhero genre, adding new twists to well-known characters and creating others that question the All-American dream.


  • The Triumph (1939) showing an early Superman, redrawn for the British market
  • Tank Girl (1980s – 90s) artwork by Jamie Hewlett

5. Let’s Talk About Sex
Earliest British erotic comics date from the 1940s and 50s, and draw on earlier traditions of pornographic illustrated books. We look at the progression from mail-order titillation through to comics strips in ‘girlie magazines’, semi-legal gay male comics, and obscene underground titles.


  • Him International (1976) : ‘King’ by Bill Ward
  • Lost Girls (2006) by Alan Moore & Melinda Gebbie

6. Breakdowns
There is a long relationship between drug taking, magic, and comics, resulting in stories that move into other dimensions and artwork that explodes out of the traditional panel structure. Experimentation has led to cross-fertilisation with other art forms; new possibilities are opening up with the move into digital publishing.


  • Cyclops (1970) : ‘The Unspeakable Mr Hart’ by William Burroughs, later developed as ‘Ah Pook is Here’
  • Arkham Asylum (1989) by Grant Morrison & Dave McKean : Batman, The Joker, and Crowley’s tarot card

Image credits: The Trials of Nasty Tales, 1973, cover art (c) Dave Gibbons / Misty – well known 1978 dark female comic book of supernatural and horror stories, photography (c) British Library Board.

© 2013 Arts Thread