Richard Warren

20thc British art and poetry (mainly), plus bits of my own – "Clearly I tap to you clearly along the plumbing of the world" (W S Graham)

Category Archives: cartoons

Entertaining goodness: Paul Sandby

Paul Sandby in 1780

Paul Sandby in 1780

The other day (while looking for something entirely different, in the usual way of things) I found myself browsing the many images by Paul Sandby in the British Museum online collection. Eighteenth century painters are a bit off piste for this blog, but indulge me. I was reminded of the two sides to Sandby’s work: his tasteful, deftly observed but mildly mannered bread-and-butter landscapes, and then the feverish density and oddity of his earlier caricature-styled work, particularly his ferocious attacks on Hogarth for his Analysis of Beauty, published in 1753. The (modest) Warren print collection includes one of these, featuring Hogarth sat in his own filth. It’s called The Analyst Besh****n in his own Taste – a fine title; “beshitten” is such a good old English word …

The many incidental small figures that populate Sandby’s views, most notably those of the busy military encampments in London in 1780, are witness to his deep fascination with folk of all ranks and stations – the fashionable visitors, the workaday, the ragged, the incorrigible, the feral children. Interestingly, at a point in the early 1750’s, roughly concurrent with his savaging of Hogarth, Sandby’s “figure studies” collided with his more experimental, caricaturish line, resulting in some fine images, particularly a little set of etchings titled Good Entertainment: A New Book of Figures, apparently published in 1752, when Sandby would have been 21 years old. And here they are. (As usual, click the thumbnails for enlarged slides.)


These owe something to the vernacular caricature tradition, such as the works of “Tim Bobbin”, but they’re not quite like anything else from the period. Sandby’s observing eye is wonderfully keen as always, but there is a visionary, almost expressionist intensity here, though it embodies an optimism that recognises the deep, sacred goodness in the ordinary, a kind of transcendent humanism; take, for instance, the steady gaze of the little girl with a doll, a child study utterly honest and emptied of all sentimentality.

Sandby’s mastery of bold tonal hatching gives these images at times a hallucinatory immediacy beyond even that of a photograph. Though more than 250 years old, the images are somehow oddly modern; the cook, captain and mate could be straight out of Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast. In a way, these long gone, anonymous individuals who confront us in the here and now are in the same family tree as the haggard and hollowed post-cubist peasants and tinkers of the Two Roberts and their school.

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A quick shot at Minimalism

I know we’re all Minimalists nowadays (at least in terms of interior design). But I’ve never quite learned to love it. I think Maximalism might be more my thing.

While black-bagging heaps of unworthy old artwork today, I came across this –

carl

– which I must have drawn (for no particular reason) about thirty five years ago, following the Carl André bricks sculpture controversy at the Tate. (For the Tate bricks, titled Equivalent VIII, see here.) The drawing is a homage to George Herriman’s magisterial comic strip Krazy Kat. The Kat has become Carl André (Krazy Karl? – not a bad likeness, actually), and is on the receiving end of a brick “dat will minimalize ya”, the brick being the invariable weapon of choice of Ignatz Mouse. (Those who know the strip will recall that Krazy always interprets these assaults, mistakenly, as tokens of love.)

As this little drawing is rather of its moment, I couldn’t quite bear to throw it away, so here it is.

Turfing through tatty folders of forgotten stuff I also found quite a few pieces of writing, such as:

  • An Erich Von Daniken piss-take titled “Was God a Submarine? An important message for mankind from the Master Celesteron,” which claims (among other things) that Romulus and Remus were adopted by a mobile drinks dispenser.
  • An early ‘seventies text describing a revival of dandyism and swordsmanship among urban delinquents (“I danced in a mirror of arcades. I dreamt I fought myself in a duel”) – a clear anticipation of Adam Ant and the New Romantics, nearly a decade before, I’d say.
  • A fictitious interview with David Frost about the psychology of car crashes (a bit J G Ballard, this one).
  • An impossibly lengthy synopsis of an opera (as given out by a broadcaster, shortly before the performance), which drifts into a paranoid religious rant.

And much more similar. No wonder I never got anything done. None of it publishable, or even good enough to be published, I dare say. What shall I do with it all? Shove it back in the folder and come back to it in another thirty five years, probably. Though by then I’ll be 98 years old …

Ally Sloper’s Jubilee

As all the jolly nonsense kicks off, here’s a great moment from a much earlier Jubilee – the “gratis plate” from the 1887 Golden Jubilee number of Ally Sloper’s Half-Holiday, wonderfully drawn by W F Thomas, who took over the character from William Baxter. Alexander Sloper Esq, F.O.M. (Friend of Man) provided an irreverent take on events of the time, but was always kept, ultimately, within respectable limits; Sloper may have been a ducker and diver, but he was also a definite royalist. Here, to mark the occasion, he is created Baron Sloper of Mildew Court by Her Majesty, who uses his umbrella for the purpose. (Click for a more detailed view.)

The caption identifies the celebrities present (real or fictional, showbiz, royal or otherwise) as Lord Randolph Churchill, the Marquis of Salisbury, Arthur Roberts, Sir Arthur Sullivan, His Grace the Dook Snook, Mrs Langtry, W J Penley, George Grossmith, Henry Irving, Lord Charles Beresford, HRH the Duke of Edinburgh, Herr Winklemeir, Mrs Weldon, Chirgwin, the Hon Billy, Lardi Longsox, Uncle Boffin, Nellie Farren, Tootsie Sloper, Tottie Goodenough, Phyllis Broughton, Mrs Sloper, W Terriss, Alexandry Sloper, Jubilee Sloper (the baby), Charles Bradlaugh, the Lord Mayor of London, W H Smith, Red Shirt, Buffalo Bill, Lord Bob, the Princess of Wales, Ellen Terry, HRH the Duke of Cambridge, HRH the Prince of Wales, the Right Hon W E Gladstone, the Elder McNab, Snatcher, and Toddles (the two dogs). Some Google opportunities there. But where is Ally’s partner in crime, Ikey Mo? Was he a bit too Jewish to be granted entry on this occasion?

I suppose this style of “truthful” comic art, like the amazing Snark illustrations of Henry Holiday, was at its root informed by Pre-Raphaelitism. (The Half-Holiday was published by Gilbert Dalziel, nephew of the Dalziel brothers.) There’s plenty of Sloper elsewhere on the net, but apparently not this image, which I’ve lifted from Denis Gifford’s 1976 Victorian Comics. For more, it’s well worth using the browse button here. For an intelligent account of the Sloper phenomenon, go here.

Trog, John Minton and ‘Flook’

I was a childhood victim of my parents’ choice of newspaper, the unspeakable Daily Mail, in which Rothermere had once proclaimed “Hurrah for the Blackshirts!” Only one thing was worth reading in the Mail: Flook, the snappy, satirical and beautifully drawn comic strip created in April 1949, a month before my birth. Flook was always drawn by Wally Fawkes as “Trog”; it was written by Fawkes’s fellow jazzmen Humphrey Lyttelton (from 1953) and George Melly (from 1956). Its only rival in the Mail was the hopelessly suburban and unfunny Fred Bassett.

Launched as a strip for children, Flook soon turned savvy and adult, with a great line in social commentary. Flook, the oddly snouted companion of young Rufus, the other central character, became less “magical” and more of an innocent satirical eye, and in the process used far less his ability to metamorphose into objects of his choice.

John Minton’s biographer, Frances Spaulding, mentions in passing that Fawkes took drawing lessons from Minton. This makes a lot of sense when you take a close look at Trog’s style. In the earlier years, as demonstrated in the Flook cache online in the British Cartoon Archive, the line was loose, fluid, almost erratic and amateurish at times, though soon showing the Minton influence. But by the mid ‘fifties it had tightened up wonderfully, and Fawkes became a master at enclosing finer lines of detail within heavier outlines, at hatching and small texture, at an alternating use of white line on black, at integrating silhouettes, and at stacking layers of figures within the enclosed perspective of the individual panel.

His work showed a fondness for pattern reminiscent of Edward Bawden, and he also developed a splendid virtuosity in stylised foliage in the Minton manner, though given the confines of the format, trees and leaves usually had to be tucked into corners. Even Fawkes’s children’s heads took on the distinctive horizontal elongation first seen, for example, in Minton’s Children by the Sea. The only faintly regrettable intrusion was the standard printer’s mechanical dotted grey tone, but Fawkes was cleverly restrained and appropriate in his use of it.

Not too much survives from the mid to late ‘fifties high era of Flook. In 1958 Faber and Faber put out a selection of three recent strips – “Roman in the Gloamin’”, “The Great Battersea Safari” and “S.S. Tapioca Cruise” – in a Giles book type format, titled simply Flook, but sadly the Mail never repeated the experiment. “Roman in the Gloamin’” has been scanned in its entirety here, so I’ll just pick out a few frames from my favourite, “The Great Battersea Safari”.

In this adventure, the permanently adolescent establishment mandarin, Sir Montague ffolly, persuades Flook, as a practical joke, to pose as a rare wild animal in Battersea Park, within the gun sights of the Blimpish big game hunter Buffie Cordite-Smith (“Col. [Retd.] The Bluffs”). The ensuing safari winds through London from Covent Garden to Trafalgar Square, then heads west to cross the river for its Battersea Park denouement, via a rowdy Chelsea party thrown by Caroline Toppe-Draw, Sir Montague’s niece. “Safari” is 20th century British illustration at its best, soaked through with the cultural flavour of the time and place, all beautifully observed.

Here the safari makes a stop at the Fetish coffee bar in the King’s Road. Notice Fawkes’s clever use of silhouette and white line, and the opening up of the perspective of heads, potted plants and paraphernalia inside the coffee bar. Over fifty years on, the bar and its inhabitants seem remarkably modern – only the spelling of “cappuccino” has changed.

The Toppe-Draw party gets completely out of hand. The musical context is nicely sketched in these scenes: at the Fetish coffee bar the musicians play skiffle (“It takes a worried man …”), while at the Cheyne Walk party the hired band play modern jazz, read Kafka during their break, and say things like “She’s a jazz-type chick, the one in the pink. She wants to know like mad too.”

In the black and white counter-changing and the stylised detailing of the bed post, the Blue Room at Toppe-Draw House shows the clear legacy of Braque, maybe via the still lives of Robert MacBryde and other ‘forties and ‘fifties painters.

The Battersea Park setting of the final scene gives Fawkes an opportunity to indulge in Mintonesque leaves and branches, for which he clearly had a considerable affection.

the man who invented “New Labour”

My 1981 Cienfuegos Press comic book version of some of Bakunin’s anarchist writings, under the snappy title of A Critique of State Socialism, has recently been reprinted by ChristieBooks in a limited edition of 100, at £12 a throw. A bit of a collectable, really, but I’m flattered. More details on the site, http://www.christiebooks.com, though you may need to search a bit.

Stuart Christie suggested that  a new page or two, taking the analysis through the fall of the Iron Curtain and on to the present, might be a good idea. I tried, but wasn’t happy with my efforts, so we didn’t add anything. State socialism doesn’t seem much of a live threat these days …

If you click on the cover image above and take a careful look at the larger of the two tanks that are busy squelching the working people’s uprising, you’ll see that it’s emblazoned “NEW LABOUR PARTY”. Yes, this was drawn in 1981. I lay claim to the distinction that, with uncanny foresight, I invented the term “New Labour” two decades ahead of the reality. Should have copyrighted it …

The teeny tiny tank is marked “SDP”. Anybody remember them??