Leeds-based artist Simeon Barclay has been a fan of Beano for a long time. “I have a different relationship with it today but the impression it has left on me is quite profound,” Simeon relays. He claims that a couple of years ago, Beano references began seeping into his work; “It gave me the realisation that in part, my early inclination to draw was the urge to mimic and copy the illustrations in the pages of those British comics like Beano, The Dandy, Whizzer and Chips.” Mischief, comedy, kinship, solitude, and escapism were what the pages of those comics opened up to a young Simeon. “And yes, there was that sense of the anti-establishment that chimed with a lot of the news stories that took centre stage whilst I was growing up,” the artist continues. As a boy, anti-Thatcher sentiments, strikes, and uprisings were commonplace. Simeon thinks there exists a “revelry within the space of the frames for anarchy and turning conventions upside down, so there is an element of the carnivalesque, a sort of release for the viewer”. But this release, continues Simeon, is nevertheless contained, edged by the straight lines of the frame and “encapsulated in the regular format of the comic”.
For the exhibition, Simeon created a neon two-way mirror inspired by the Bash Street Kids character Plug, who the artist claimed as a leitmotif in his work: “his innate ugliness places him on the fringe of society. A mirror to societies’ normative tropes, he stands proud at the fringe in the liminal space where his mere presence enacts a criticality.” Simeon’s scrutinisation of Plug’s role takes the character beyond merely a comic trope, but becomes almost a socio-political reflective exercise. “Looking back throughout my readership of the comic,” Simeon narrates, “I can see that the illustrators have had real fun with him, constantly morphing him, his unpredictability was really exciting to me.” Plug’s character was “all the more heroic” in his unconventionality, says Simeon. He claims it’s a shame, to say the least, but in the absence of any relatable or expansive Black characters at the time of Simeon’s reading in the 80s, “Plug’s bonkers individuality opened up an unorthodox and contingent space in which to insert and mirror myself within the frame of the comic,” continues the artist.