Bloghorn asked author, Tim Benson, owner of London’s Political Cartoon Gallery, all about his new book, The Cartoon Century.
How long has it taken to write and collate the Cartoon Century?
I asked the publishers for three years, but I was given just over a year. It’s amazing what you can do when push comes to shove!
Why did you want to define a cartoon century in the first place? And how did you go about this?
The publishers originally wanted a complete history of Britain but I thought that ridiculous. It would offer no more than a snapshot and would have to miss a great deal. How can one cover a thousand years of history in just one book? This one covers 100 years of history and has 650 cartoons in it. Now that’s comprehensive and thus, I hope, meaningful. The 20th century was the age of the editorial cartoon. Today, Newspapers are in the decline due to fierce competition from the internet and 24-hour TV. Therefore, I argue, in the 21st century the political cartoon will never reach the heights they did during the last one. Fifty or sixty years ago, cartoonists were major celebrities. They were the highest paid men in Fleet Street. Sidney Strube and David Low even made it into Madame Tussards! Has anyone seen Steve Bell, Peter Brookes or Gerald Scarfe in there?
Did your ideas about what you were doing, change while you were writing the book?
It was, as they say an open book, and a lot of it was out of my hands. It all depended on the material I could find. Some events I wanted to cover were either ignored by the cartoonist, or, the paper, presumably, because they believed the subject of the cartoon was not suitable for publication.
Do you have any particular favourites – or high and low points in what you found while you researched?
I tried to include as many cartoons as possible that had not been republished in other anthologies. I love the prophetic ones where the cartoonist seems to have a crystal ball in front of him, such as one about mobile phones in 1922, and another from 1966 suggesting it was time for the Tories to have a woman as leader of the Party. I also enjoyed rediscovering cartoonists from provincial newspapers. Some of them were just as good, if not better, than many working as national newspaper cartoonists.
What’s the follow-up publication going to be?
Well, if I plan to do a direct sequel I’ll probably be just a bit past it at 148 when the time comes, so, instead I’m planning a prequel; a history of the 19th century through cartoons. It should be out by the end of next year.
Thanks to Tim for answering our questions. The exhibition show opens to the public at the Political Cartoon Gallery, on Store Street in London from Friday October 26th. Nearest tube is Goodge Street on the Northern Line.