Swing by the Wellcome Collection, London’s museum dedicated to all things scientific and weird, and you’re likely to spot Robert Bidder in his uniform, a ‘stylish’ fleece and lanyard. A visitor experience assistant, Robert’s job is to look after the galleries, hold fort on reception, write and deliver talks and, in his words, “tell people where the toilets are”. But what you won’t realise from his cheery customer-focused exterior, is that Robert is also the genius behind the Wellcome Collection’s weekly comic, Body Squabbles. An exploration of scientific discovery ranging from topics like the senses, death and crisps, Robert’s work spans the awe-inspiring, bemusing and downright emosh.
Robert, a Fine Art grad from Goldsmiths, began doing illustration for the museum a couple of years ago, often sketching responses to visitors’ thoughts about their experience. But just over a year ago, the Wellcome Collection digital team were re-designing the website and wanted to find something that would keep people coming back for more. Robert suggested a comic, and Body Squabbles was born.
The brief is simple: each comic has to relate to the Wellcome Collection’s vast range of interests, plus the format must be square. Other than that Robert has the freedom to go as factual or as abstract as he desires. “My friend Jacob described the series as ‘profound/stupid’, which I found very satisfying,” Robert tells It’s Nice That. “I’m prone to being charmed by aphorisms and I’m interested in the language used in self-help culture, therapy and popular religious tropes, but I also get joy from seeing these inflated ideas getting punctured by crassness, stupidity and nonsense.”
Robert’s aims for the comic change slightly week on week. Sometimes he tries to explore something sincerely, at others he revels in daftness. “Sometimes I don’t know what I’m doing at all,” he says. “I think I like things best when they are not quite sure of themselves, a bit murky or on the edge of falling apart. I hope that readers get a feeling of this not-quite knowing, but trying to work it all out anyway. If they just get a laugh or a grimace out of it that is good too.”