You are browsing the archive for John Jensen.

by Royston

John Jensen on wit and wisdom: Part 2

February 15, 2010 in Comment

In the second part of his series on wit and wisdom (read part one here) PCOer John Jensen pinpoints a crucial difference between the British and European senses of humour

Cartoon competitions are a great tourist draw. In lands where overt or even covert censorship persists, an appearance is given that freedom of speech is encouraged. It isn’t.

The exhibitions are usually broad generalisations filled with visual euphemisms: there are countless brick walls, endless rolls of barbed wire, and doves of peace in need of a vet.

Words are not wanted here, so that the cartoons can speak to everyone. But not everyone appreciates the same visual language. UK cartoonists contribute to many of the exhibitions but their work is in a minority and is markedly refreshingly different to that from most European cartoonists.

Brits like humour, Europeans appreciate wit. Wit is serious stuff, humour is fun. They are two different worlds. Both worlds, the witty and the humorous, are limited by the subjects that are set: global warming, freedom of speech, pollution, sexual liberation, female emancipation, domesticity in today’s world … and on and on.

The cartoons are not only wordless, they are timeless – immediate topicality is not an option – and there must be nothing directly political. The ingenuity of the cartoonists is stretched to the limit and the limits are much the same as those felt by the surrealists: there is only so much symbolism to go around.

Eventually the terrain looks all too familiar. Beautiful draughtsmanship can’t hide threadbare ideas.

What do you think about what John is saying? Have your say in the comments below. The final part of John Jensen’s article will appear on Bloghorn soon.

by Royston

John Jensen on wit and wisdom: Part 1

February 11, 2010 in Comment

In the first of a three-part series on wit and wisdom, PCOer John Jensen looks at the international language of cartoon competitions

I have just received through the post a beautifully printed catalogue of cartoons. It contains the results of the annual Turkish Aydin Dogan International Competition, with seven Brits vigorously waving the Union Jack, among them PCOer Ross Thomson who picked up a ‘Success Award’. Iran contributed 162 cartoonists.

The catalogue lists the judges and shows their work. It lists the competitors and shows their work, spread throughout 220 glossily printed pages. The quality of the draughtsmanship is, as always, varied but there is a mass of genuine talent there too.

Where once I would have been delighted by the catalogue, however, today the elation is just not there. Grumpy old man? Of course. Complaining about the new, fresh talents? Not at all. Draughtsmanship is not the problem. Ideas are.

Bloghorn cartoon - The End of Ideas © John Jensen

Back to square one for just for a moment – don’t run away now, this is important. When Freud, way back when, revealed the workings of the unconscious mind there was a feeling that a new world of endless vistas had been opened up: sex, horror, fantasy, cans of worms (lots of those). Surrealism was born, but before long it died, because it became boring. There was only so much the unconscious mind can offer up. This seems to hold with some forms of cartooning.

If you are young and fresh to the game there is a thrill and great pleasure in discovering what’s going on in the rest of the cartoon world, of submitting your work to great international exhibitions.

But if you have followed the exhibitions for more than four or five decades, you realise that there are limits to the cartoon imagination too, particularly in international exhibitions.

What do you think about what John is saying? Please jump into the comments below. There will be more thinking about the end of ideas from Jensen on Bloghorn next week.

by Royston

Wit versus humour, by John Jensen

February 8, 2010 in Comment

Coming soon: John Jensen writes for Bloghorn about ideas, wit versus humour, and the international language of cartoon competitions. Watch this space.

John Jensen rugby illustration © Punch Ltd

Rowland Emett – eccentrically whimsical inventor

September 17, 2009 in General

PCOer The Surreal McCoy reports on John Jensen’s illustrated talk on the workings of cartoonist Rowland Emett‘s imagination at the Cartoon Museum in London last night.

Admitting he was ‘genetically propelled to enjoy Emett’s work’ John showed what an accomplished technician Emett had been with drawings of trains and planes (he had worked as a draughtsman for the Air Ministry) as well as his elaborate filigree work for bizarre and outlandish machines which are also on show at the museum until November 1st.


A suitably surreal slideshow traced Emett’s career, including artists such as Saul Steinberg and Hokusai who influenced him. It also highlighted the many different mediums in which he drew, which ran from scraperboard to watercolour. During the Second World War Emett had provided cartoons for propaganda purposes including an acidly-drawn caricature of Hitler in uncharacteristically lurid colours and with a French tagline.


There will be another talk at the museum on Wednesday 23rd September when Emett’s daughter Claire will share anecdotes and memories of her father’s life. The talk is from 6.30pm – 7.30pm. Entrance is £5, Concessions £4 and Friends of the Museum £3.

The Cartoon Museum, at 35 Little Russell Street, Bloomsbury, is open Tuesday-Saturday 10.30am to 5.30pm and Sundays 12pm to 5.30pm.

Cartoonists talk to Artists and Illustrators magazine

August 12, 2009 in Comment

The August 2009 issue of Artists & Illustrators magazine features an interview with six prominent British cartoonists. Nick Newman, Peter Brookes, Posy Simmonds, and PCOers Morten Morland, Kipper Williams,and John Jensen talk about how they got started in the ‘business of satire’.

by Royston

John Jensen talks Rowland Emett

August 10, 2009 in General

PCOer John Jensen is to give an illustrated talk on the early work of cartoonist Rowland Emett, entitled The Eccentric Whimsicality of Mr. Emett, Inventor at the Cartoon Museum in London.

The talk is a tie-in with the exhibition Engines of Enchantment: The Machines and Cartoons of Rowland Emett which is at the museum until November 1.

John Jensen’s talk takes place on on September 16, from 6.30pm – 7.30pm. Entrance is £5, Concessions £4 and Friends of the Museum £3.

The Cartoon Museum, at 35 Little Russell Street, Bloomsbury, is open Tuesday-Saturday 10.30am to 5.30pm and Sundays 12pm to 5.30pm.

by Royston

Laughter on willow at cartoon show

July 6, 2009 in General


With the 2009 Ashes series fast approaching, the Chris Beetles Gallery in London is set to stage A Celebration of Cricket: From Ashes to Zooter

The exhibition runs from July 15 until August 8 and features cartoons, illustrations and watercolours from 200 years of cricket.

More than half the show will be devoted to cartoons. From Sir Len Hutton to Shane Warne, few cricketers of note have escaped the hawk-eye of the cartoonist. The show will feature Glen Baxter, above, Mark Boxer, Tony Husband, Jak, John Jensen, Larry, Nick Newman and many more. It will be opened by Sir Ian Botham, with 10 per cent of all opening night sales going to the charity Leukaemia Research

The Chris Beetles Gallery, at 8 and 10 Ryder Street, St James’s, London (nearest Tube Green Park or Piccadilly Circus) is open Monday to Saturday, 10am – 5.30pm. The gallery’s website can be found at

John Jensen on Trog and Illingworth

June 3, 2009 in Comment

Leslie Illingworth by Trog (via

Leslie Illingworth by Trog

PCOer John Jensen writes on cartoonists Wally Fawkes (Trog) and Leslie Illingworth:

Two great cartoonists were seen recently at Tim Benson’s Political Cartoon Gallery. One of them was dead, the other elderly but very much alive. Wally Fawkes ‘TROG’, a wonderful caricaturist, was paying his respects to an old friend, the late Leslie Illingworth (1902-79) whose drawings were on display in a new exhibition. Tim Benson’s book – Illingworth, political cartoons from the Daily Mail 1939-69 – was also making its debut.

TROG is no longer drawing and for the cruellest of reasons: his eyes have let him down. This is a tragedy for Wally and a loss to the many people who appreciate and love his skill. I’ve known his work since the early 50s and known him personally, but slightly, for more than forty years. Yet, in company with many people who ‘know’ Wally, I barely know him at all. He doesn’t mind making a display of himself when trumpeting his jazz, but when it comes to drawing he rarely puts in an appearance, refuses to make speeches let alone give a talk or lecture. When he does turn up he is invariably a quiet presence and, for some of us, far too modest. But that modesty doesn’t derive from uncertainty: Wally knows his worth, he just doesn’t shout about it. His qualities speak for him. Unlike his jazz,Wally’s drawing is not spontaneous nor is it laboured. Instead, his caricatures result from observation and analysis of his subjects: forensic dissections.

Three collections of his work have been published none of which do him justice though they are better than nothing. First, from Canada, Trog, the Cartoonist of the Year, Le Pavillon International de l’Humour, Montreal, 1976; The World of Trog, Robson Books, 1977, and finally, Trog, Forty Graphic Years, Fourth Estate 1987. All in black-and-white. All lacking colour! Colour is one of Wally’s strengths.

Leslie Illingworth would have been pleased Wally turned up for the occasion. They were old friends. Leslie is generally considered to be the last of the great pen-draughtsmen in the Punch, Victorian tradition. Sad, therefore, that none of his drawing for Punch appear in Tim Benson’s selection. This is not for the want of trying, but circumstances said No. Draper Hill a collector of Illingworth’s vintage originals, and author of the definitive James Gillray biography, died recently. He had been ill for quite a while and uncontactable. A future volume, perhaps, in due course? Leslie, like Wally, was a wonderful colourist. If Illingworth had a fault, and he had, it was that power and emotion were in thrall to his precise draughtsmanship. That said, it is the penwork, the superb scraper-board cartoons and his colour illustrations that remain to be admired in the pages of Punch and, when possible, collected.

Illingworth was the kindest of men. Too generous sometimes. His Welsh accent was beguiling and his huge bushy eyebrows were the only alarming thing about him.

The exhibition of cartoons by Leslie Illingworth continues at the Political Cartoon Gallery, 32 Store Street, London WC1E 7BS. You can contact them at 020 7580 1114 or

You can read more of John Jensen’s contributions to Bloghorn here.

A cartoonist on cartoonists

April 13, 2009 in General

PCOer John Jensen watches a conversation with Posy Simmonds and Steve Bell and finds them to be cartoon chalk and cheese

Posy Simmonds and Steve Bell, both satirists but so different from each other and both so good, were brought together at Kings Place, London; the Guardian’s new glass and glister home.

Posy Simmonds at work, with not a computer to be seen

On stage in front of a full house in a modern theatre there was some amiable bumbling about. Drawings were not easily found, one was left at home. Posy leaning down to scrape sketches and sketchbooks from the floor. It was all comfortingly, mythically English.

Informally chaired by the Guardian art critic William Feaver, the event brought forth snippets of interest: Steve, for example, claimed he can’t invent characters. He must caricature, and fortunately politicians just present themselves. How does he do it? He Googles a lot, takes photos at party conferences, and of anything of interest anywhere, and the whole lot is piped onto CDs: “I’ll show you my family snaps if you like.”

Posy does invent. Brilliantly, of course. No caricatures. She is meticulous and possesses the sharpest eye for detail and ear for dialogue of any living person. Posy is like one of the nurses she sometimes draws in her strips, smiling and saying, “This won’t hurt a bit”, as the needle slips in deep. Her patients awake stunned to find a whole landscape peopled with characters of the artist’s imagination but who remind us of everybody we have ever met and more than a few we would cross the road to avoid.

Excerpt from Tamara Drewe © Posy Simmonds

She uses no computer. Reference material is is stored in Posy’s retentive memory but, as back up, much is filed away. Posy treasures many clothing catalogues so that if shoes from, say, the 70s are wanted they can be found with a simple indoor search. (Just great if you have the space.)

A miniaturist in drawing production, Steve thrashes and whacks about in his same-size-as-printed space using a sharp pen as the bluntest of instruments. His strip “If …” is drawn in the morning and “the Big One”, his political cartoon, during the afternoon.

Guardian Comment cartoon © Steve Bell

He claimed that that day’s deadline [the event was last Monday, April 6] was 7.30pm and he started work on his big political only by 6.30pm. That was pushing it a bit and I suspect is not entirely typical. However, it may help explain the occasional uneven nature of his work. When inspiration flags (not often) it shows, but when (usually) he is on form you can hear the cries of pain all the way from Whitehall. Posy’s work is leisurely, lucky woman, and probably timeless.

Steve’s voice, unsurprisingly, is resonant – good timbre – particularly when giving a maniacal cackle at something which amuses him. Posy, is quiet even when speaking but is also crystal clear. She is slim, was dressed smartly in a black trouser suit, as cool as you please. Red shoes. I don’t remember the colour of Steve’s shoes but his belly is potting nicely, thank you.

Two great talents together on top of their form on one fine evening. The Guardian’s Kings Place entrance currently sports an exhibition of Posy’s drawings and strips. Go!

Link: Posy Simmonds speaks about Tamara Drewe

by Royston

John Jensen recalls some beaut, bonzer comics

December 15, 2008 in General

Following on from his look at the weird and wonderful work of Fletcher Hanks, PCOer John Jensen takes another trip back to the comic books of the 1930s and 1940s with the focus on his native Australia

“The Case of the Haunted Piecrust”, “Wocko the Beaut”, “Supa-Dupa Man”, “Speed Umplestoop” and “Tripalong Hoppity” – all of these and many more funnies fell out of the wonderfully zany mind of cartoonist Emile Mercier.

A panel from “Wocko the Beaut”, courtesy of

Mercier was born in New Caledonia in 1901. Twenty years later, in Australia, he began his career as a freelance cartoonist. During the Second World War, the bulk of his work, the comics, appeared in an array of Frank Johnson Publications. Johnson encouraged Australian talents and his publications developed a character and liveliness which set them apart – sometimes for the better, sometimes not – from the many US imports which which were dumped in Australia, usually as ships’ ballast, during the war.

Due to wartime paper restrictions, Johnson was forced to reduce the size of some offerings: Star Pocket Comics ran for at least 14 issues, successful in spite of some issues being printed on brown wrapping paper. The same paper shortage brought forth a decree that there would be no new regular runs of comic books.

Johnson resorted to cunning to deal with the situation. His regular characters continued to appear each month but each issue bore a new title: King Comics, Amazing Comics, Gem Comics, Slick Comics, Bonzer Comics, Flash Comics and more. When imagination failed, the word “new” was tacked to an old title and the process began over again. Mercier’s work appeared in most of these issues.

Mercier was a people watcher but the people he watched, ordinary everyday Australians, were transformed into creatures of his eccentric universe. Occasionally in the background of a cartoon someone would be walking around with springs on his or her feet, or on stilts or jumping around on pogo sticks. His characters’ feet quite often sagged at a ninety-degree angle half way along the sole of the foot. Dogs, cats and boozy types abounded. Mercier’s cast list was very Australian.

I met Mercier just after the war, and I asked him for his definition of a good cartoon. “A good cartoon, sonny, is one that is accepted, published and paid for,” he said. You might argue with this definition but for me it was heart-lightening.

A few months after our meeting I took my first comic strip, “Mary Mixup, Female Spy Terrific” (by Jon J) to Frank Johnson Publications where, to my amazement it was accepted and published. My mother, who hated comics, wouldn’t have them in the house. When I took home my copy of Gem Comics No.27 with “Mary Mixup” within, Mum took it, tore it and threw it away.

John Jensen’s “Chester Nutte” was published in Gem Comics, circa 1947

In spite of this, other titles followed, such as “Chester Nutte”, a time traveller, above, and “Snooper McDroople, Ace Newspaper Reporter”. Mercier’s drawing never influenced me but a little of his humour rubbed off. The strips improved a bit over the twelve months I worked on them and there were strips for other comics publishers too, but “Mary Mixup” was an abomination.

Frank Johnson wanted to withhold payment because the drawings were so bad. I remembered what Mercier had told me, and squeaked: “If the drawings are good enough to publish, they are good enough to be paid for.” A voice from a neighbouring office said, “Y’can’t argue with that, Frank.”

Johnson paid up – eventually. I think he was so traumatised by my demand that he continued to use my work, and pay for it … eventually.

Bloghorn says click J for Jensen.

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