Courtesy of one of our members, Chris Madden:Read More
An exhibition of Margaret Thatcher cartoons, The Eyes of Caligula and the Lips of Marilyn Monroe, opens at the Chris Beetles Gallery in London today (11 June).
The gallery is promoting the event with the caricature above by Procartoonists.org member Jonathan Cusick. The exhibition features cartoonists including Jak, John Jensen, Larry, Ed McLachlan, Matt and Peter Brookes.
Running alongside it is a retrospective exhibition called Daggers Drawn: 35 Years of Kal Cartoons in The Economist. Both exhibitions run until 22 June. More details at the Chris Beetles website.
Rupert Besley delivers part two of his article on the humble cartoon postcard. You can read part one here
Postcards and cartoons are the perfect marriage, the dream team, two forms of relative ephemera, each made for the other. Both are finding life tough at present, as old-style print gets edged out by new electronic media, and each has need of the other. Postcards must adapt to survive.
It has been done and can be again. In the 1980s, Scottish postcards were stuck in a rut of lurid images of heather, pipers and Highland cattle knee-deep in Loch Lomond (sometimes with faked sunset added on top). Along came Colin Baxter and Michael Macgregor, bringing misty, seductive, moody views of Real Scotland and whole new businesses were born.
Failure to change did for card-firms in the past. Dixon’s operated from an aircraft hangar of a factory, filled with huge presses that pumped out cards to fill every creaking carousel in the land. For a card to succeed, it had to sell in hundreds of thousands. But nobody wanted to see the same card year after year.
As with print-on-demand books, the technology is now here for small runs and rapid distribution. As papers and magazines cut back on cartoon “extras”, cartoonists need to explore new outlets for their work. Postcards need new life breathed into them; cartoons need more ways of being circulated and seen. The two should get together more often.
Postcards are effective carriers of simple messages. Mostly the messages are equally trite on front and back. But the space is there for other purposes, whether for promoting a place, a business, a particular event, or campaigning on a topical issue. Or maybe just to spread a joke. (And why not?)
Cartoons, too, are handy means of encapsulating difficult ideas and sending messages that are witty, memorable and quick to take in. Make a set, put them on cards and hey presto: collectibles.
To take off again, postcards need a novelty factor, some new twist on all that has been done before. Marketing and making money from cards is never easy; they are low-price items and fiddly to deal with. Those are the challenges – and the opportunities.
Just don’t write off the humble postcard. It may yet have a future.
Thanks very much to Procartoonists member Rupert Besley for writing for us and for the terrific sequence of cartoons.
We are pleased to announce that Procartoonists will be working at the first Duchampions this summer. The event celebrates the anniversary of a famous association between Marcel Duchamp – father of the conceptual art movement – and the great British seaside at Herne Bay in Kent. It should be a giant cone plus double flake and chocolate sprinkles sort of experience.
The poster artwork above was made by Ralph Steadman, Procartoonists.org member and lately a man of Kent.
Procartoonists member Rupert Besley takes a look at a much-loved old form for cartooning: the postcard
In 1899 a Norwegian cruise ship doing the coastline despatched 20,000 postcards in the course of one trip*. The unfortunate crewman charged with postmarking each stamp suffered blisters to the hand.
In 1903 the British alone sent 600 million postcards – and that excludes the number sold but then not mailed, collected in albums or stuffed in drawers. 1902-15 is generally hailed as the Golden Age of the Postcard.
Everyone was at it and the postman could call up to five times a day. A cautious estimate puts the number of postcards produced and sold worldwide in the years 1895-1920 as at least 200 to 300 billion (most of them now in my loft).
Those days are gone. There are quicker, easier, cheaper ways of keeping in touch. Email and the txt mssge have done for the postcard, as have Royal Mail and the Post Office, intent, it would seem, on killing off all forms of postal communication. Kicked in the teeth but not yet dead, the postcard won’t let go that easily. Miraculous revivals have happened before.
The first postcard craze came on the back of improved cheap printing, increased travel and the passing of laws that gave holidays to workers. By the 1920s the novelty had passed. Card sales slumped and publishers went out of business.
Then, in the 1970s, came a second Golden Age, thanks to better colour printing and a new wave of foreign travel. Holidaymakers liked to show they had gone one better than their neighbours on choice of destination.
Again, it would not last for ever. Not many people beyond the collector Martin Parr were keen in the 1990s to seek out tired images of dull places where parked cars had not moved or fashion changed for 30 years.
In 1998 the company J Arthur Dixon finally closed, the postcard side of its business being acquired by John Hinde. Within a few years Hinde’s, too, gave up on postcards, turning instead to novelty gifts from the Far East.
Judge’s hit the rocks (receivership) in 1984, but continued in new hands on a more limited operation. Bamforth’s hit similar hard times. And yet … Royal Mail recently recorded more than 106 million postcards still passing through their system in a year, 10 million up on 2001. The humble pc may yet outlive the PC.
The postcard outscores new technology on several points. Gift or souvenir, it’s something physical and collectible, a permanent reminder. Stuck on shelves, perched on ledges, pinned on noticeboards, cards have staying-power.
They don’t even need posting to have an effect. Hans Fallada’s famous cat-and-mouse chase novel, translated as Alone in Berlin, is based on fact: from 1940, mysterious scrawled postcards appeared in the halls and stairwells of buildings, attacking the Nazi regime.
Rattled by the effects of this propaganda, the Gestapo took three years to find the perpetrators – not the major conspiracy it suspected but a modest, barely literate couple who had suffered family loss to the Nazi war machine. Gripping but grim. Postcards have that power.
Usually it’s a lighter message they send. In the 1950s my great-aunts lived together on virtually no income in a house unchanged since it was fitted out by their grandfather in the 1870s. On the walls hung dismal dark prints of battle scenes and death, from Nelson at Trafalgar to The Return from Inkerman.
But into the frame corners and front of each picture my aunts had inserted cheerful postcards guaranteed to raise a smile. Which brings me to cartoons (At last! – Ed).
Thanks to Rupert from the scene setting and look out for part two of his postcards feature next week.
*Figures from An Entangled Object by B. Rogan, University of Oslo