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Life without cartoons would be unthinkable, but do we bother to think?

July 11, 2020

If, as I do, you subscribe to one printed newspaper, but rely on the internet for much of your other input on life, I wonder if you’ve noticed how few cartoons appear on the social media.

Flashy graphics, yes. Also stills from animated movies. But cartoons? Not so often.

I find this a shame, because I adore cartoons. I’ve commissioned them, I buy them, I have them all over the walls of my house. In days gone by, you used to be able to buy annual compilations of work by artists like Carl Giles. But nowadays, since the demise of Punch, the only nationally-circulated publication in Britain that has cartoons in its DNA is Private Eye, which still produces an annual.

Politicians still love them, because no matter how grotesque are the caricatures of themselves, they’re symbols of vanity, evidence that they matter. When they put them in their downstairs loos, its not only a statement that they don’t deserve a more exalted place in their homes. It’s also a piece of self-advertising in a room most people visit.

If you don’t – or I don’t in my selected online biosphere – see cartoons in the social media too often, does that mean that caricature is a dying art, or at least in decline?

If so, that would be sad. Because cartoons are powerful. They mock, they lacerate, they make you laugh. Often enough they make you think, because – cliche alert – sometimes pictures are worth a thousand words. They pack an emotional punch, stimulating parts of the brain that other art cannot reach.

Many of them I think of as works of art. Peter Brookes (above), Gerald Scarfe (below) and the immortal Hogarth come to mind.

One of the problems in viewing their work online, particularly in a blog like this, is that the fine detail of cartoons are often difficult to make out. If you read this post on a mobile phone, you might miss Boris Johnson’s clenched fist and his deepening scowl in the middle part of Brooks’ tableau. Whereas you’re able to view it in all its glory if it’s spread out in front of you in a printed newspaper.

Likewise, a cartoon like this one, which is by Hunt Emerson, another of my favourite artists, is more difficult to appreciate on a small screen:

Beyond the UK, cartoonists still do their job of provoking and challenging, sometimes with lethal consequences, as the artists at Charlie Hebdo found out. But satirical magazines like Hebdo, Private Eye and the late Mad Magazine appeal to limited audiences, as do comics, another source of employment for talented artists.

So is there a decent living still to be made as a creator of cartoons, unless you happen to be one of the elite practitioners whose work appears in the print media? Is the decline in circulation of newspapers around the world also limiting opportunities? And are the most talented young artists, who might be the next generation of Gerald Scarfes and Ronald Searles, being lured into the TV and film industry as animators?

All I know is that even if professional opportunities are limited in the post-COVID era, there will always be people who will draw on placards, spray on walls and find other ways to get their work into the public domain.

And long may they continue. Because a world deprived of their wit, artistry, pathos and humour – be it gentle or biting – would be a poorer place.

From → Art, Books, Media, Sport, UK

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