Richard Warren

"Clearly I tap to you clearly along the plumbing of the world" (W S Graham)

Tag Archives: comic strip

‘Philosophy in the Boudoir’ and a pint of gin

Another find from an old folder – my original of the Englished version of the Internationale Situationniste poster of late 1967 by Raoul Vaneigem and André Bertrand. By “original” I mean offset-litho’d on two separate pieces of foolscap in 1968, though I have no idea how many generations of copies that might represent.

posterThe French original can be seen neatly archived here, just over half way down. It’s observable that some captions are rather freely translated, and the “extra” after “supermarket” at top right was removed for some reason. As for who did the English version, I’ve no idea, but it found its way speedily onto the front of International Times 26 of February 1968, dressed up in red and blue (visible at – click on “1968” as the direct page link doesn’t seem to work). IT 27 contained a follow up letter on this signed by a pseudonymous “Random Banana”, who may or may not have been the translator.

I see that Guy Debord’s archives are now officially a French “national treasure”, and to be the focus of a massive exhibition at the Bibliothèque nationale this spring. I ebayed off some situationist ephemera myself a while back. The most eager purchasers turned out to be a collector of rock T-shirts and a radio DJ. Under post-modernism we are all now pro-situ’s, and the internet is littered with situationist graphics – mostly, Lord help us, on sites hosted by design companies. (Surely the deadly ideology of “design” should be top of the bonfire list for today’s cultural revolutionaries?) Despite this, only isolated panels of this poster pop up on Google, so it seemed like a public service to post it whole.

The original has been described as a détournement of a comic strip, but it’s not. Bertrand’s artwork looks as if it was assembled from tracings of magazine photos. The offsetting of outline against solid black lends it a pleasing style, so that the whole thing has now assumed huge retro-Pop appeal. Very commodity, in fact.

However uncomfortable I may feel these days with some of the sentiments expressed, I still admire their absolute intransigence. But the subjectivist, survivalist, almost mystical direction of Vaneigem’s thought of that era has long since been recuperated by the marketeers of “free choice”. The refusal to pay may save a few bob but beyond that it doesn’t get us very far. Freedom from choice, as Devo pointed out, is what we want.

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.