You are browsing the archive for James Gillray.

Can cartoons be both funny – and diverse?

September 16, 2021 in Comment, General

Cartoon © Nick Newman

By Nick Newman and courtesy of The Spectator. 

Of the many challenges cartoonists face — rejection, money, drink, or lack of — one of the trickiest is the growing pressure to depict diversity. Nowadays readers often write to publications complaining about the dearth of ethnic minorities in our drawings and demand for cartoons to be more inclusive.

It’s like being trapped in a bad political cartoon, walking a tightrope above a minefield. A quick survey of my colleagues in the Professional Cartoonists’ Organisation highlighted the following:

  1. Cartoons involve laughing at someone. If that person is black, you risk appearing racist; even including a BAME character in the background of drawing can lead to accusations of tokenism (‘background box-tickers’).
  2. Including any minority character in a cartoon can run the risk of implying that the cartoon is about race and so can inadvertently politicise the cartoon.
  3. At the end of the day, it’s safer to make the pale, male and stale the butt of the joke.

Gag cartoons are about speed and recognition. Stereotypes are a form of visual shorthand designed to get an idea across quickly. The French? Man in stripy shirt. Teacher? Mortarboard. German? Fat man with sausage. Cartoons amplify for comic effect, which runs the risk of promoting race hate when depicting BAME characters. ‘I draw a lot of idiots saying daft things and don’t want any accidental inference that it is because of their race,’ says PCO chairman Clive Goddard. ‘Better to stick to white idiots than be misunderstood.’ British newspaper and magazine cartoonists are predominantly white, which can make any joke about ethnicity feel awkward or patronising. Cartoonists may be cowards, but we are not afraid to admit to our cowardice in avoiding the issue.

Cartoonists’ drawing styles present another problem. Characters with big noses can lead to accusations of anti-Semitism. One political cartoonist has been told to reduce the size of all Middle Eastern noses. Attempts to make cartoon characters more diverse can be tricky. Kathryn Lamb likens ‘inking in’ her cartoon faces to ‘blacking up’.

For caricaturists whose stock-in-trade is exaggeration, the problem is, appropriately enough, exaggerated. Morten Morland, The Spectator’s cover artist, says that whenever he draws Diane Abbott or Priti Patel, someone always complains. ‘It’s usually because they disagree with the cartoon itself,’ he says, ‘and need something to hit back with. So by hinting that the caricature is racist they aim to discredit the whole cartoon.’

In 2018, a caricature of Serena Williams by the Australian cartoonist Mark Knight of the Herald Sun was reported to the Australian Press Council for depicting her with ‘large lips, a broad flat nose… and [being] positioned in an ape-like pose’ while throwing a tantrum on court. The National Association of Black Journalists said the caricature was ‘unnecessarily Sambo-like’ and even J.K. Rowling weighed in, tweeting: ‘Well done on reducing one of the greatest sportswomen alive to racist and sexist tropes.’

Accusations of racism in cartoons stretch back to Gillray and beyond. The Georgian cartoonists depicted Africans as threatening and comical, with grotesque features and appetites. Cruikshank’s ‘The New Union Club’ (1818) is one of the most racist prints of the 19th century, depicting a debauched dinner held at the African Institution and attacking abolitionists such as Wilberforce. Two hundred years later the Commission for Racial Equality called for Hergé’s 1931 comic Tintin in the Congo to be withdrawn from sale because of its depiction of black Africans as simple, childlike and uncivilised. The New York Public Library locked its copy away. ‘Tintin in the Congo is a racist book,’ says the FT’s Jeremy Banx, ‘but Hergé was on a long journey, from King Leopold II to the Beatles, in which he ended up in a very different place to where he started.’ In later life Hergé himself referred to his early books as ‘youthful sins’.

There are lessons to be learned from history. In 1925 a glib cartoon by David Low portrayed England cricket’s run machine Jack Hobbs as a colossus compared with figures from history, including Caesar, Charlie Chaplin and a caricatured Muhammad. It led to rioting in Calcutta. As the staff of Charlie Hebdo found out, these days a cartoon of the Prophet is likely to get you cancelled — permanently.

We live in a sensitive age. Cartoonists agree on the need to promote diversity, but the complications are endless. Diversity itself is becoming a dirty word, suggesting ‘diverging from the white mean’. Meanwhile ‘inclusive’ is said to imply whites doing the including.

As the Sun’s Steve Bright says: ‘You’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t. If you don’t, you’re racist on the grounds of exclusion. If you do, unless there’s a perfect balance, you’re accused of tokenism, which is also racist. And if you achieve that mythical perfect balance — you’d have to draw 100 people in every cartoon, and colour them according to percentages of population — you’re obsessive, and quite possibly insane.’

Unfortunately, deconstructing cartoons also sucks all the fun out of them. As the great Barry Cryer says: ‘Analysing comedy is like dissecting a frog. Nobody laughs and the frog dies.’

This article first appeared in the 11 Sept 2021 issue of The Spectator

You can see Nick interviewed about this piece by Spectator TV here. Bonus points to Nick for sporting his PCO badge.

Offensive Weapon?

March 16, 2020 in Events, General

Glenn Marshall writes:

Procartoonists recently hosted a panel discussion labelled ‘OFFENSIVE WEAPON?’ at the North London Story Festival. The talk centred around the issue of cartoons causing offence and where to draw the line. I was joined by Carol Isaacs AKA The Surreal McCoy and The Guardian’s Martin Rowson.

I opened with a brief look at the history of cartoons causing offence, including this one by Richard Newton in 1798, of John Bull farting in the face of George III – oh how we love a fart gag! Newton had his first cartoon published when he was 13 and went on to be supported by the radical publisher William Holland, producing further attacks not only on the Royals and Napoleon but also the slave trade. His short but prolific career ended when he died of typhus aged just 21.

This cartoon by James Gillray of the then Duke of York could’ve been a recent cartoon about the current Duke of York – it’s regularly pastiched. It was deemed acceptable when drawn 1792, but when it was included in a collection of Gillray’s work in the more puritanical Victorian era – around the 1840s – the books were impounded by the police for being obscene. It was only deemed suitable for the public at large in 2009!

Martin mainly talked about his own experience with offence. The cartoon above from the Guardian was his response to the 2017 van attack on the Finsbury Park Mosque, a comment on how some of the print media can incite hate.

Paul Dacre’s Daily Mail went apoplectic with a front page banner raging ‘Fake news, the fascist left and the REAL purveyors of hate’ and went on to an outraged ‘comment’ page. Clearly Martin was doing something right!

Bernard Verlhac (Tignous), Georges Wolinski; Jean Cabut, (Cabu), Stephane Charbonnier (Charb) Jean Cabut (Cabu).

Martin also talked about the Charlie Hebdo attack, paying tribute to the 12 people murdered including the four cartoonists above.

Carol, who is the PCO’s committee member for overseas, discussed issues around the globe of cartoonists who have been persecuted and censored. This covered many of the people we have campaigned for, along with our friends from Cartoonists’ Rights Network International

This is one of many great drawings Carol showed by the Syrian cartoonist Ali Farzat who has had a long history of being attacked and censored by the current regime for his work. He now operates out of Kuwait.

This topical cartoon by Niels Bo Bojesen from Danish daily newspaper Jyllands-posten published in January caused the Chinese embassy in Denmark to demand an apology.

Following our talk, we were fortunate that the next speaker cancelled, as we ran into a prolonged and lively Q&A.

Our travelling GAGGED exhibition on suppression and censorship of cartoonists sound the globe also had an outing over the festival.

Thanks  to the festival organiser from Middlesex University for inviting us along.

The Round-up

October 13, 2013 in Events, General, Links, News

Cartoon © Tony Husband / Photo © Rob Doyle @Procartoonists.org

Above: It’s difficult to whinge when your work is given pride of place in a fancy art gallery, but Procartoonists.org member Tony Husband still managed to include this observation of the cartooning community in the Hey Wayne! cartoon show currently taking place in Manchester. Tony’s art-related cartoons share the walls of the Richard Goodall Gallery with the work of fellow PCOers Bill Stott and Chris Madden, as well as that of Bill Tidy. Thanks to Rob Doyle for the photo, taken at Saturday’s private view. (There are many more pictures available here on Facebook.)

Another of our members, the fresh-faced and talented Will McPhail, was featured on ITV News last week after being named Young Cartoonist of the Year.

Steve Bell will be at the University of Aberdeen next month to give a free talk about early visual satirists including Hogarth, Gillray and Cruikshank. Find more details here. Another of those early satirists, Thomas Rowlandson, will be the subject of an exhibition in Edinburgh later this year.

Denise Dorrance talks about Mimi, her new cartoon series for The Mail on Sunday’s You supplement, in this interview.

And finally, the Illustration Cupboard gallery in London will be holding a selling exhibition of Daily Express cartoons by Paul Thomas, opening on 24 October. See the invite here.

Foggy and the n-Dimensional manifold

August 16, 2012 in Comment, General

Our anthropomorphic Foghorn has returned from his holiday and he’s got issues with the mutability of time.

Foghorn for July 28 2012 © Andy Davey @ procartoonists.org

© Andy Davey @ procartoonists.org

by Royston

Gillray’s timeless cartoons

May 16, 2012 in Events, News

The Plumb Pudding in Danger by James Gillray @ Procartoonists.org

Procartoonists.org member Pete Dredge was interviewed on the subject of the political cartoonist James Gillray for the BBC’s Sunday Politics Show in the East Midlands: Watch it here

Pete visits a new exhibition of Gillray’s work at the Nottingham Contemporary gallery and talks about how the 18th-century cartoonist’s work strikes a chord with modern audiences with its parallels to today’s events.

The free exhibition runs until July 1 — click here for details. To tie in with the exhibition there is also a series of talks, The Critical Currency of Caricature, which looks at the relationship between cartoons and politics.

James Gillray on gout cartoon @ procartoonists.org

The Gout by James Gillray @ Procartoonists.org

Cartooning on the Frontline

February 4, 2011 in News

Photograph: Antje Bormann

PCO member Martin Rowson delivered a talk on Caricatures and Commentary to the Frontline Club in London this week.

In discussion with Radio 4’s Laurie Taylor Martin spoke about subjects ranging from his caricatures of patrons at the Gay Hussar restaurant to the abolition of the Licensing Act in 1695 and taking in influences from William Hogarth, James Gillray and David Low on the way.

This was followed by a lively question and answer session where he fielded enquiries about how he deals with new political figures and the Danish Muhammed cartoons.

The talk can be seen in full (all one and a half hours of it) at the Frontline Club’s website.

English caricatures go on show in Germany

July 8, 2009 in Comment

James Gillray (1756-1815) The King of Brobdingnag, and Gulliver , 1803

James Gillray - The King of Brobdingnag, and Gulliver, 1803

An exhibition of classic English caricatures opened this week in Germany. The Arena of Ridicule – English Caricatures 1780–1830 celebrates the ‘golden age’ of English caricature and features the likes of James Gillray, George Cruikshank and Thomas Rowlandson and is at the Hamburger Kunsthalle in Hamburg until the 27th September.

Hello to the National Portrait Gallery!

February 5, 2008 in General

…who have been looking around here. We have a very nice and large exhibition of work disputing the theme of “art” opening in the spring which is looking for a nice London venue later in the year. If you are interested, please do get in touch here.

Cartoon caricature of Keira Knightley by Matt Buck – Hack

On matters ‘art’ we would also like to direct the attention of readers to this YouTube video about the exhibition of “humour” art which is currently on at the Hayward Gallery. Creative credits are due to the Culture Show and presenter Karl Pilkington.

And last, but not least, London’s Political Cartoon Gallery has an opening night tomorrow, Wednesday 6th February, for the much anticipated show about James Gillray. Bloghorn has blogged about this before. The show should be absolutely fantastic.

British cartoon talent

by Royston

James Gillray: father of the political cartoon

December 11, 2007 in General


An exhibition entitled Gillray’s Legacy: A Contemporary Perspective is at the Political Cartoon Gallery in London from January 16 until February 23.

The exhibition combines a selection of some of the Georgian caricaturist’s best-known works, side by side with reworkings of these “after Gillray” by modern political cartoonists, including Steve Bell, Peter Brookes, Martin Rowson, Vicky, Dave Brown and Nicholas Garland.

These later cartoons offer both a contemporary twist and a full-blooded testimony to James Gillray’s achievements as “the father of the political cartoon”, while also showing how his powerful images of our follies and misdemeanours have continued to influence subsequent generations of artists.

The Political Cartoon Gallery is at 32 Store Street, London WC1E 7BS, and is open Monday to Friday 9.30am –5.30pm and on Saturdays between 11.30am–5.30pm.

British cartoon talent