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carl gilesToday we celebrate the centenary and life of the cartoonist Ronald “Carl” Giles (1916 – 1995), who was born and raised in North London.

Giles was probably the most beloved cartoonist of the 20C with his gentle pictorial commentary on the impact of politics and current affairs on – primarily – working-class Britain. The Giles annual became an inevitability for every dad’s Christmas stocking filler. Today it remains ubiquitous at charity shops and car-boot sales throughout the nation. Nobody could capture the misery of grotty British weather quite like Giles.

He worked for Express Newspapers between 1943 and 1989, producing three or four cartoons per week during most of that period, a total of over 7,000 pieces of work. Much of that time he alternated with Michael Cummings whose style was far more hard-edged, direct and overtly political. It was a nice balance.

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Giles developed his skills in an animation studio in the 1930s before joining the left-wing Reynolds Weekly as a cartoonist before being enticed by the larger coffers of the Express group. Uncomfortable to begin with, it was a situation which clearly grew on him, allowing him to feed his enthusiasm for classic sports cars, fine cigars. There was definitely a Mr Toad side to his character.

World War 2. Unfit for active service, Giles nonetheless had an extremely interesting war. As a war correspondent, his illustrations of army life became increasingly cartoony and mixing with the troops allowed him to develop the world-weary everyman characters which populated his post-war output. Doing reportage as an illustrator, when the Nazi regime crumbled, he frequently found himself in the grim surroundings of internment camps, notably Bergen-Belsen. Against his better judgement he couldn’t help liking the murderous camp commander Josef Kramer, who was an admirer of his work!

American soldier in WW2 enjoying an English pint. From the Carl Giles Collection, University of Kent.

American soldier in WW2 enjoying an English pint. From the Carl Giles Collection, University of Kent.

For more on Carl Giles, there are good entries in both Wikipedia and the ODNB (sub required).
I found this nice page, featuring Giles on the home front in WW2.

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Scan20151201_16270271The cartoonist Martin Honeysett died just over a year ago to the great distress of his family, friends and fans. He was 71. He had led an interesting and varied life, including a spell of lumberjacking in New Zealand and in his later years as a visiting professor at a university in Kyoto.

Born in Hereford, Honeysett was brought up in south London, where he attended the Croydon School of Art.  He drifted around for about 10 years before properly knuckling down to the business of drawing for a living. From the early 1970s, he became a regular and prolific contributor to magazines such as Private Eye, SpectatorThe Oldie, and Punch. He also worked in book illustration with Michael Palin and Terry Jones of Monty Python, dour Scottish comedian Ivor Cutler, author Sue Townsend and others.

But it is mainly for his one panel cartoons and magazine covers that Honeysett will be remembered. Acutely observed, black, grotesque and often a little unnerving, the main attribute of his work was that it was very, very funny indeed – so much so, in fact that a great deal of them required no caption. And they worked on several levels, because his drawings – misanthropic in the extreme – were funny of themselves – funnier than any other cartoonist’s – and on top of all that: the strange joke, every one a cracker.

Last week on the exact anniversary of Martin Honeysett’s demise, The Cartoon Museum opened an exhibition in his memory and honour: A Taste of Honeysett: the Acerbic Wit of Martin Honeysett. I visited last Thursday afternoon and was soon giggling happily, something you’ll not experience at any other London gallery. I noticed other punters were snorting and guffawing too, quite unselfconsciously. Here are some examples.

Private Eye, 16 April 1996. Estate of Martin Honeysett.

Private Eye, 16 April 1996. Estate of Martin Honeysett.

Martin Honeysett

Cover for Punch. 27 May, 1981. Estate of Martin Honeysett

There are dozens more like this, along with his illustration work. You soon realise, if you didn’t already, what a talented illustrator Martin Honeysett was, possibly somewhat camouflaged by his busy, scratchy style. This joy of an exhibition runs until 16 April. Do not miss.

There is a 148 page catalogue of the exhibition with introductory articles by Ian Hislop, Richard Ingrams, Bill Stott and the Cartoon Museum’s director, Anita O’Brien. It includes a generous colour section and is a snip at just £8.99. Available from the museum shop, online here or by phone on 020 7580 8155.

Finally, here is a brace of my own Honeysetts. Treasured.

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Martin Honeysett

 

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There are more than a thousand works by the Georgian satirical cartoonist Thomas Rowlandson (1758 – 1827) in the Royal Collection. The Prince of Wales (later George IV) bought most of these, not as a connoisseur (which he was), but rather in a vain attempt to reduce the circulation – among the aristocracy at any rate, for he always bought the best examples. Queen Victoria, by contrast, adored them. We’d like to think that her reputation as a dour moralist has by now been well and truly scotched.

Rowlandson, like his exact contemporary James Gillray, was a Londoner. As an artist he was formally trained. He was a bon viveur, a prankster. Any money he had, he spent. He sometimes lived in damp and dismal accommodation. But free spirit that he was, he knew he could draw his way out of trouble when he needed to, and he did. His work wasn’t as angry as Gillray’s nor as moralising as Hogarth’s before him. One senses it was a bit cleverer than theirs; that ideas came to him more easily and simply flew off his pen as they did.

A new show at the Queen’s Gallery features around a hundred examples of Rowlandson’s works from the collection. They clearly demonstrate the scope and facility of his mind and pen. His talent as a caricaturist is demonstrated in this Hogarthian set of “types”.

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His more overtly political works take direct pot-shots at Royalty and the leading politicians and celebrities of the day (Pitt the Younger, Fox, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire etc.)

A whale swept up the Thames was making the news, detracting from the Duke of York's failings. Here he beseeches the creature to stick around.

A whale which had been beached at Gravesend was making the news, detracting from the Duke of York’s failings. Here he beseeches the creature to stick around.

The nation was fascinated by the French Revolution toward the end of a century of frequent conflict with France. Here are two examples of the same cartoon –  The Contrast – demonstrating how English Liberty was far superior to its French equivalent, very much grist to the mill. Overtly propagandistic, the uncoloured version was priced at only 3d, encouraging the widest possible distribution. Very much a you-never-had-it-so-good sentiment. This work also appeared recently at the Magna Carta exhibition at the British Library.
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After Trafalgar, there was a possibility that Nelson’s body would be transferred to another ship to be transported home, but the sailors of the Victory were having none of it. No real axe to grind, this patriotic and sentimental print makes the point. Nelson’s body was conveyed in a barrel of brandy of course, but hey.

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It would another half century before cartoons like this appeared in newspapers and magazines. They were distributed individually from print shops at prices ranging typically from one to eight shillings. Collectors tended to mount them in volumes to be handed around on social occasions. Buyers and those who couldn’t afford to collect would eagerly browse the latest examples in print shop windows. The back wall of the exhibition has a selection displayed in this way to give you a sense of the print shop window. I works rather well.
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And here is a rare and interesting survival: a screen decorated with cut-outs from the leading satirical prints. The wealthy could afford both to collect prints and to cut them up.

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These examples can but give you a tiny taste of the show, for this is a substantial and important exhibition, a must for anyone interested in the late-Georgian satire boom, the likes of which were not seen again until the early 1960s.

High Spirits: The Comic Art of Thomas Rowlandson, runs at the Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace
from Friday, 13 November 2015 to Sunday, 14 February 2016. Entrance is £10.00

Note. Included in your ticket is another quite exquisite exhibition running in the gallery over the same period: Masters of the Everyday: Dutch Artists in the Age of Vermeer.

All images courtesy Royal Collection Trust. Photos: Mike Paterson.

 

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At least two leading illustrators of Punch magazine in the mid-20th Century were warriors of World War I. Kenneth Bird (“Fougasse”) was seriously wounded in Gallipoli and went on to be the first cartoonist to edit Punch. And EH Shepard, OBE, MC (1879 – 1976), who saw extraordinary action in three theatres on the Western Front before serving in Italy.

Most of us know EH Shepard as the illustrator who gave us the Christopher Robin, Pooh and Piglet we all know so well, not to mention Ratty, Toad et al in Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows. After the war and for over 30 years afterwards, he provided cartoons and illustrations for Punch and other popular publications.

But during the war itself, during those long boring lulls between short outbreaks of terror, blood and death that soldiers know so well, he produced hundreds of sketches in pencil and ink as well as watercolours.

Shepard was born in London in 1879. In 1915, he signed up at a relatively advanced age of 35. He joined 105 battery Royal Garrison Artillery (RGA), with whom he remained for the whole confict. Extraordinarily, he saw action at the Somme, Arras and Ypres (Passchendaele), virtually unscathed. In fact, he unwittingly gained a reputation for being lucky to the extent that superstitious comrades began to stick close to him. This is all the more extraordinary given that he did spells as a forward observation officer (FOO) whose survival time typically was measured at under an hour. This was in stark contrast to his brother who was killed quickly and early in the Somme campaign. At the war’s end 105 battery was fighting in Italy. By this time Shepard had been promoted to major.

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The Testing of a Patriot, 1915. Reproduced with permission of Punch Ltd.

To commemorate the centenary of EH Shepard’s joining the Great War, the House of Illustration has an exhibition of his wartime output. Amazingly, through much of the campaign he continued to do commercial work, particularly for Punch. And it’s hard to know what to think when he got a letter on the front via his wife, from his agent urging him to maintain his output! The show features a lot of correspondence, mainly between husband and wife, which reminds us of the staggeringly efficient postal service to and from the troops and also reminds us how close was the Western Front to London geographically.

No.2 Gun in Action, September 1917 © EH Shepard + IWM.

No.2 Gun in Action, September 1917 © EH Shepard + IWM.

The show also features other ephemera such as diaries, the artist’s watercolour palatte, bits of uniform etc. But mainly it’s all about the illustration. While most of it was created to amuse – both on the front and in the pages of Punch – some of the illustrations were created for strategic purposes, so we have beautiful wide landscapes with grid markings, for example.

Some of the early Punch work features propagandistic anti-German stereotyping, mostly very funny if taken in context (and possibly even if not). We have examples of caricatures of fellow soldiers, Gunner Jackson refereeing a football match is perfectly done in its simplicity, you feel you know him well. The final room features work by Shepard in the decades after the conflict. He didn’t dwell on it much – proper heroes tend not to – but he was always available to do illustrations for programmes or menus relating to reunions, some of which are featured.

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‘The accusing finger” (with apologies to Gunner Jackson) From the EH Shepard Archive, University of Surrey.

This is a wonderful exhibition which reinforces that which we already know: that EH Shepard was a massively talented illustrator who effortlessly produced work to raise the spirits of those in the most stressful circumstances imaginable, work which shines just as brightly a hundred years on.

EH Shepard: An Illustrator’s War runs until 24 January 2016.

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2015 is the Year of the Big Anniversary, it seems. They just keep coming. Here’s another one for you: this year is the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll. It was published in London by Macmillan & Co on 26 November 1865 with 42 illustrations by John Tenniel. This is key, because immediately the words and the pictures formed a symbiotic relationship which informed everything to do with Alice from that day hence, influencing how other illustrators, film-makers, producers etc visualised and presented and re-presented Alice to this day.

Alice in Blunderland by John Tenniel, 1880

Alice in Blunderland by John Tenniel, 1880

No where is this better demonstrated than at a new exhibition which opened this week at the Cartoon Museum: Alice in Cartoonland. 

As it happens, Charles Dodgson (i.e. Carroll) fancied himself as something of an illustrator and despite being turned down by various journals (“not up to the mark”), had plans to illustrate Alice himself. Fortunately, friends – including John Ruskin – persuaded him to engage a professional, and John Tenniel got the gig. The dream ticket, as they say, for there was none better.

Tenniel_sigAside from the man himself, dozens of cartoonists and illustrators who have sat on Tenniel’s shoulder this past 150 years are represented here. E.H.Shepard, David Low, Carl Giles, Steve Bell, Wally Fawkes (TROG), Ralph Steadman, Martin Rowson are just some who caught my eye. Steadman, in particular, stands out. At least three of his pieces from his award-winning Alice book from the early 1970s are featured here. For Alice’s situations and scrapes lend themselves as metaphors to a thousand situations for political satirists. Cartoonists love it, not least because it gives them an opportunity to acknowledge Tenniel by reproducing his showy mark!

Freeman Moxy © Martin Rowson

Freeman Moxy © Martin Rowson

The appeal of Alice is universal, hence this exhibition has much more of an international flavour than most previous Cartoon Museum shows, quintessentially British. Items from both Disney (1951) and Hanna-barbera (1966) studios typify American contributions, though there are others too from non-English countries such as Czechoslovakia. I particularly liked the trans-Atlantic colour cover illustrations for the New Yorker by Irish-born cartoonist Kenneth Mahood.

Alice in Cartoonland at the Cartoon Museum runs from 15 July to 1 November. Entry is included in the museum’s standard admission of £7.

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Ralph Steadman, The Cartoon MuseumA bit slow to catch up on this one for various reasons, I’m normally speedier with the Cartoon Museum, one of my favourite galleries.

This show has been on for a few months already. It celebrates the life work of cartoonist and illustrator, Ralph Steadman, who is 77 and still going strong. He is best known, possibly, for his collaboration with Hunter S Thompson and American work from the late 60s onwards. This stuff is mostly very angry and genuinely disturbing. Brilliant, but I shan’t dwell on them here.

Elsewhere, there are large colour poster items on political themes which are superbly executed. You may remember the one of policemen whose heads are revolvers.

But this being London Historians, I’d like to tell you about his London work from the early to late 60s. Some Private Eye stuff early on, and we have some excellent Hogarth homages, bringing up-to-date Marriage à-la-mode, and  Taste in High Life (1 and 2). We then move on to New London Street Cries, following Paul Sandby and Thomas Rowlandson, except this time featuring a cabbie, a Soho pimp, etc.

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New London Cries No. 1, Private Eye, 12 November 1965. © Ralph Steadman

Ralph Steadman. The Cartoon Museum

New London Cries No. 9, Private Eye, 4 February 1966. © Ralph Steadman

Steadman was still a youngish man during this time, but it’s clear that not only does he not embrace the brave new world of the so-called Swinging Sixties, he actively disapproves of the collective foolishness; he observes, he doesn’t participate. It is not affectionate ribbing: he casts a jaundiced eye and then renders with a viscious pen. Hilarious.

There is a wonderful picture from 1967 featuring the newly-opened Playboy club in London. It’s about “the man who touched he girl at the Playboy club” while all around are agasp and swooning. Steadman had nurtured a friendship with the elderly H.E. Bateman around this time; they had drawing sessions together.

Nearby in the room are commissions for a new 1972 publication of Through the Looking Glass. You can plainly see that Steadman has put heart and soul into these, they are quite exquisite and in my opinion the best work in the exhibition. The draftsmanship is breathtaking. The example below at 500px gives you an idea, but you really need to see the real thing. I think he bests Tenniel, how about you?

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Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There, 1972. © Ralph Steadman

The thing about cartoon artwork is that it is mostly privately-owned. Virtually every piece in this show is labelled “Private Collection” and this is true of most shows at the Cartoon Museum, so you only get one go at seeing them in the original. Try not to miss these.

STEADman@77 ends on 8 September.

Entry is £5. £4 to London Historians members. Free to Friends of the Cartoon Museum and Art Pass (The Art Fund card).

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The Dandy Comic: 75 Years of Biff, Bangs and Banana Skins
24 October – 24 December, The Cartoon Museum.

the dandy cartoon museum londonThe 4th December is the 75th Anniversary of DC Thomson of Dundee’s famous comic, The Dandy. The publishers have chosen this moment to bring the curtain down on the print edition and attempt to soldier on manfully online. Once enjoying a circulation in excess of two million, in the early 21st Century sales of this giant of a comic have of late reduced to a trickle. From its earliest days, The Dandy was an almost immediate success. It was considered so important to the public morale, that even in World War 2, the government encouraged continuity as DC Thomson delivered Desperate Dan and colleagues into our homes, albeit in a 12 page fortnightly edition.

I don’t think there’s anything the publishers could have done to halt the decline. There’s nothing much wrong with today’s Dandy. But Just as it and The Beano eclipsed earlier Victorian and Edwardian forms of comic, so too are they are now out of their time when children have a plethora of other compelling diversions to occupy them. Most are electronic and don’t involve reading at all.

So this exhibition is timely. If Desperate Dan, Korky the Cat and Winker Watson were your weekly companions, you’ll love it. And even – as in my case – if they weren’t (I took Wham!, Smash! and occasionally Pow!), you’ll appreciate the talent of the comic artists and writers who produced this stuff week in and week out. In particular, I love the work of Desperate Dan himself’s creator, Dudley D Watkins (1909 – 1969). He also drew Our Gang and for the newspapers, the wonderful The Broons and Oor Wullie. There are many illustrators here represented, including the crew still working today. But the guiding spirit of the comic was the legendary Albert Barnes, who ran the comic for 45 years – from its inception until his death in 1982. One might suggest that with his passing, the comic’s end was simply a matter of time.

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1960s: Korky the Cat does Beatlemania © D C Thomson & Co. Ltd.

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Wartime: Desperate Dan makes short work of the Nazis…

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… and the following decade watches the Queen’s coronation perched on the hands of Big Ben. © D C Thomson & Co. Ltd.

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Even the best efforts of Harry Hill can’t turn the tide in the 21st Century. © D C Thomson & Co. Ltd.

The Dandy harks back to an age when – apart from the long shorts – boys wore the exact same clothes as their dads, right down to the patterned sleeveless pullovers. Post war, pre-Beatles. So, all a bit sad and very nostalgic. This is a lovely show which features artwork of about a hundred cartoon strips dating from the earliest days in the 1930s right through to this century.

Do go.

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Next: trog, aka the wonderful Wally Fawkes 7 January – 10 March 2013

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