View from across the pond.
March 11, 2008 2:20 PM   Subscribe

British Political Cartoonists have always had a certain "edge". Also seen here, and again here. The UK Guardian's cartoonist Steve Bell (each cartoon has its related news story) was first noted for his cartoon "If.." starting pre Falkland's war, and starring a cast including God, Margaret Thatcher and a Penguin. Here is some of his earlier work. Political Cartoon history includes A Cartoonist's response to the events of 9/11 by Martin Rowson, also from the Guardian.
posted by adamvasco (12 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
One thing I will say. Beetle Bailey is just about the worst comic in the paper. At least Garfield can be made funny and did have an edge to it - at one time. Bailey is the same gag running for 60 years - only time has made the context completely inappropriate and rather ghoulish, a bit like if Hogan's Heroes aired -during- WWII instead of 25 years later.
posted by BrianBoyko at 2:48 PM on March 11, 2008

Good god, I love Steve Bell. Partly for the reason that, as time goes on, his objects of ridicule, from Thatcher through to Major and on to Blair, always end up resembling Bell's caricatures of them.
posted by Len at 3:08 PM on March 11, 2008

I think political cartoons can be great, but they share the debilitating cynicism of the British press. If we're on the topic of editorial cartoons, Plantu has been on the front page of le Monde for 30 years+ (the link is to an archive of 80 famous Plantu images).
posted by athenian at 3:56 PM on March 11, 2008

Steve Bell is awesome, both in technical skill an the way he'll nail a subject - and of course most of all in the way that he's not afraid to be downright nasty.
posted by Artw at 4:06 PM on March 11, 2008

Also he does very nice crosshatching... For a good part of my childhood whenever i would draw something I'd always try to include some intricate crosshatching in immitation of Bell or Robert Crumb.
posted by Artw at 4:09 PM on March 11, 2008

Steve Bell didn’t feel so constrained in The Guardian, which ran a cartoon on 13th September of Bush saying "We’re gonna bomb... abroad!" The following Monday I said on Radio 4's Front Row that in his place I wouldn’t have drawn a cartoon like that so soon after the event, when cheap gags seemed wholly inappropriate.

Of course Bush did straight away use 9/11 as an oportunity to invade a random foreign country, so I'd say Bell was actually rather insightful there.
posted by Artw at 4:17 PM on March 11, 2008

I love his take on GW. I can't look at the younger Bush without the word 'Freem' popping into my head.

but they share the debilitating cynicism of the British press

I think politicians have led to the cynicism, as they always have and Steve Bell continues the fine tradition of mercilessly lampooning those in power, of whatever political persuasion.
posted by itsjustanalias at 4:08 AM on March 12, 2008

BryanBoyKo: The Guardian features neither of these syndicated strips. This is about "edge". Sticking it to venal politicians. Its knife fighting not furry animals with floppy ears.
Itsjustanalias: Indeed Steve Bell is following in the steps of James Gillray He has written a short biography for BBC Radio which is downloadable.
posted by adamvasco at 4:42 AM on March 12, 2008

One thing about British political cartoons: they tend not to follow the American habit of labelling every damn element. Really, cartoonists: if you have to label an elephant 'GOP', the tall black guy 'OBAMA', the woman 'HILLARY' and the old white man 'McCAIN', consider a job that doesn't involve the graphic arts.

(Bell talks about this, among other things, in a piece written about a 2003 visit to a cartoonists' convention in the US.)

It'll be interesting to see how his handling of the presidential candidates evolves, because it usually takes a while for him to 'get' them: the Bush of 2000 was more of a likeness, and the little chimp just sort of emerged in 2001.

What I love about Bell, though, is his ability to create an ongoing personal cartoon vocabulary while drawing deeply upon his predecessors (Low, Gillray, sometimes Hogarth) as well as all manner of artworks. My favourite, which is in mono on browning newsprint, is a parody of Chinese posters: Prescott the dog exhorts acrowd under a banner of Blair, waving a slipper, as banners around him proclaim vapid slogans: 'CLEAN SIERRA', 'PRESSED PYJAMAS', 'TIDY PEOPLE IN SENSIBLE FOOTWEAR'.
posted by holgate at 10:26 AM on March 12, 2008

holgate: from the article you linked: -
The net result of this timorousness, which is not exclusive to the New York Times by any means, is that Bush gets away with lies and murder while the press beats itself up about the ethics of Jayson Blair, the young, black, New York Times journalist who notoriously faked stories.
I don't think this would have made an American Newspaper.
posted by adamvasco at 11:25 AM on March 12, 2008

No, it wouldn't.

I'm not sure what I think of that particular Bell cartoon. I'm not exactly comfortable with it, because it's representative of Bell when he doesn't really have a handle on a figure: it's quite superficial, short on caricature, and overly broad. But I'm also aware of the one big taboo on free expression in the US, when it comes to presidents or candidates and assassination.

Most people in Britain don't know much about Obama, but what they do know is the fate of those typically mentioned in the same sentence as him -- JFK, RFK, MLK. The black, bleak idea that America's most talented political figures end up getting shot is commonplace. And so Bell's 'going there', to a place that most Americans don't like thinking about.
posted by holgate at 9:43 AM on March 13, 2008

Not only "going there" but maybe also with the thought that "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Obama is also going to be a target for every muck raker and shit sifter. He seems to be selling the American dream. What will happen if /when he is elected and it all begins to go pear shaped; as the grave problems of the war, the economy, unemployment immigration etal. all become his problems?
Its a troubling cartoon, I agree, but that is what makes it a good, but not a great cartoon. It certainly makes a person think as is shown by your response here. It makes a person think as well as have just a gut reaction, and that can't be bad.
posted by adamvasco at 3:12 AM on March 14, 2008

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