Reach 07 - The World's First Comic

Cultural Education | Foghlam Cultarail

Next year, visitors to The Hunterian will be able to see the world’ first comic and the world’s second comic, too. The world’s second comic, by Swiss author Rodolphe Tôpffer, was produced in the 1830s. The David Kunzle Collection of Los Angeles is lending the original manuscript, the first edition (and a pirate US version that is America’s first comic) to The Hunterian. Everyone used to think that this was the earliest comic, but they were wrong: The Glasgow Looking Glass was drawn up in 1825.

But weren’t there comics before 1825? The mastermind behind the exhibition, Professor Laurence Grove from the College of Arts, hopes that the show (co-curated by Peter Black of The Hunterian) will challenge the way that visitors think about comics. In fact, the first thing that visitors will see when they enter will be ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. Comics are everywhere, and other points of comparison include pieces by Andy Warhol and Lichtenstein. “Which one is real art, which is high art?” asks Professor Grove, “the answer, of course, is that you can’t make the distinction. Part of the fun of this exhibition is that it’s mixing up high and low art and challenging these type of notions”.

From the ancient Egyptians to the Romans to the Renaissance, there will be old as well as modern, recognisable comics. But the exhibition hopes to show continuity here too: every “old book” will be matched to a work by Frank Quitely, one of the most famous graphic artists, who lives and works in Glasgow and is famed for work on Batman and Judge Dredd. So behind a sixteenth century manuscript of a sinking ship, there will be a Frank Quitely work that also depicts a ship. There are other works, too, such as an issue of the Batman comic where Batman visits Scotland, which will be “making the link” for the audience. Professor Grove is especially please with this touch, as it will help to draw in comic book fans and the general public, making the exhibition more accessible. Frank Quitely has also been very generous, providing The Hunterian with access to the works in his studio for free.

Professor Grove is also working with Sha Nazir of Blackhearted Press to design the exhibition. It is really important for Professor Grove and The Hunterian that people who love comics can learn about their culture, people who love old books can find new associations with comics, and others can simply come to learn and be impressed. The designer had to be someone who could provide a background to contextualise all of this in the display. The current idea is to design the exhibition floor as empty comic book panels, so the visitor will create their own story as they experience the exhibition.

And just as the exhibition pathway is unwritten and undefined, the book that is to accompany the exhibition will be in different sections the reader can approach in whichever order they choose. Professor Grove says: “it’s not a book that you start at the beginning and end at the end because this isn’t an exhibition that you start at the beginning and end at the end. It’s an exhibition that questions all that”. Blackhearted Press are also involved in discussions relating to the publication of the book which  has been supported by funding from the Friends of Glasgow University Library.

Professor Grove is confident that the world’s first comic will draw attention from press and public. He says that the ideal audience are “people who are prepared to question everything they know about comics and the culture of comics”. The exhibition is still looking for sponsors, though, so if you are an organisation who would like to support this exhibition and help to make new connections, please get in touch with the College of Arts (





If you wish to find out more about this article or about how you can progress your ideas (i) as an academic wishing to engage with a non-academic organisation or (ii) as a non-academic organisation interested in engaging with the academic knowledge base, please email the College of Arts KE Team.


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