« Even as a youngster reading 2000 AD from its first issue in 1977, it was clear that Brian’s artwork was special. It was the perfect mixture of American-inspired dynamism, a British sense of the absurd, and avant-garde European SF imagery, rendered in meticulous, almost inhumanly perfect linework. It was a deeply seductive style… » — David Roach
As far as I can tell, everyone loves Brian Bolland‘s (b. 1951) work. It’s sophisticated in design yet direct, highly detailed yet clean as a whistle *and* neat as a pin, technically adept, varied but unfailingly his. As a sequential cartoonist, he can be a bit stiff, but as a cover artist, he’s pretty untouchable. For about a second and a half, I was tempted to spotlight his work in our Hot Streak! category, but that would have been absurd, such is Bolland’s high level of consistency and volume of work. So I’ll “merely” feature an even dozen of his Animal Man covers (out of a total of 64, 1988-1993).
After Alan Moore made an unexpected splash with his work on Swamp Thing, the folks at DC scrambled, in ‘have you got a sister?‘ fashion, to strip-mine the UK’s writerly talent pool. In came Grant Morrison, Neil Gaiman, Pete Milligan, Jamie Delano, Garth Ennis, Warren Ellis, and so on…
For the cockiest of these writers, the typical bravura move was to prove their commercial acumen by revamping the most obscure existing character they could think of* (typically, characters DC’s then-editors had never heard of); in Gaiman’s case, it was Sheldon Mayer’s Black Orchid**, and in Morrison’s, Animal Man. As minor characters (a lesson learned from Alan Moore’s Watchmen), these heroes could be subjected to numberless and unceasing torments and humiliations at the writer’s whim.
*To be fair, their first eighty-five choices likely had proved unavailable.
**Mayer had asked that his 1970s creation, The Black Orchid, never be given an origin or have her mystery dispelled. Gaiman just aped what Mr. Moore had done (but brilliantly) with Swamp Thing… and made her a literal plant. Bah.
Henry Mayo Bateman (1887-1970) was a British cartoonist now frequently described as ‘the most innovative cartoonist of his generation’. His main claim to fame is the ‘The Man Who…‘ cartoons; as it often happens with when the popularity of a creation goes far beyond what the artist originally had in mind, Bateman himself was ambivalent about it, and felt constrained by its acclaim. Be as it may, a lot of his cartoon collections (most of them hopelessly out of print) are named according to this template: Man Who Drew 20th Century (1969), The Man Who Was H. M. Bateman (1982), H. M. Bateman: The Man Who Went Mad on Paper (2012)… The one I have in my collection broke away from this mold –it’s a French collection titled Mimodrames, with all text inside, including the titles of cartoons, in both French and English. Strangely, the French cartoon captions seem more à propos than the English ones.
Bateman seemed to be predestined for his career; having decided at the ripe old age of 13 to dedicate his life to becoming an artist, he spent all his free time drawing and sold his first cartoon at 14 (!) Though his father was adamant that his sole male offspring should follow his footsteps and become a respectable businessman, Bateman’s small yet steadily increasing income from his cartoons and the growing demand for them by halfpenny weekly comic papers finally forced his pa to grudgingly agree to his son pursuing a career in art. Bateman was 16 at the time.
Bateman continued to sell cartoons throughout his studies; by 1906, his work was in demand by many publications much fancier than the inexpensive comic papers he started out in. Percy Venner Bradshaw, fellow artist and founder of the Press Art School, meeting him that year for the first time, found a ‘quiet, shy, delicate boy who was much more interested in colour than in line work, and who could only with difficulty be induced to talk about either‘. A fitting description of a man who appeared quiet and reserved, who felt things more keenly than his peers or his colleagues – a swift glance at his best work dispels an impression of similarity between him and the rowdier cartoonists. Not that Bateman couldn’t be funny – but something lurked behind the chuckle, some dark cloud lingering over his characters. As Anthony Anderson (not the American actor, nor the British murderer; all I was able to find out about him is that he’s listed as an editor of many books) notes in the introduction to Mimodrames:
« The more one examines his drawings the more one feels that, despite his conservatism, Bateman’s sympathies lay not with the offended but with the offender, a sympathy for the underdog, the little man. Indeed, in many of his cartoons, especially during the war, the little man was often Bateman himself – a clear self-portrait. »
This sensitivity comes loud and clear through Bateman’s writing as well – to quote, for example, his description of a medical examination undergone in 1916, when conscription for WWI was in full swing:
«In company with other doubtfuls, I was made to hop naked and submit to a bombardment of tests before a glaring army doctor sternly ordered me to ‘go away and get some clothes on’, as if I was responsible for appearing before him in that condition. And in return for my afternoon’s exhibition I was handed an unhealthy looking card bearing the magic symbol of C.3. I had done what I could to convert myself to cannon fodder. I just wasn’t fit for it. »
This description reminds me of Brel’s Au suivant (for those who don’t speak French, Scott Walker’s Next).
I would also be remiss in failing to mention his work for satirical magazines Punch and the Tatler (the famous ‘The man who…’ cartoons ran in the latter, often in glorious colour double-page spreads). According to Anderson, Bateman became the highest paid cartoonist in Britain around the 1920s and 1930s.
Bateman’s dearest ambition throughout his life seemed to have been to become a serious, dedicated painter. When he was 46, he set his lucrative career aside, and went to Spain and France to paint. Anderson ends the introduction with the nicest epitaph I’ve read in a while:
«He spent the next three decades gradually shedding more and more of his old life, retiring to a small house on the edge of Dartmoor, travelling extensively and on his own […], always with his sketch books, his paints and his fishing rod. He became peaceful, solitary, content. He died on the island of Gozo in 1970, still painting every day, living in a small hotel with very few possessions but in the room with the finest view. »
Another source mentions that Bateman fought long and hard with Inland Revenue, so perhaps his self-exile to Gozo, an island in Malta, was not as poetic as it sounds. I wasn’t able to find much information about that, other than his obvious dislike of taxmen (exemplified by cartoons such as The Income Tax Official in Hades) – but taking periodic stabs at the taxman is a traditional cartoonist sport, so it doesn’t really prove anything.
These were some of my favourite Bateman pages, I hope you enjoyed them!
« I was told a couple of bishops had given up Punch when I started drawing for them. » — Beryl Antonia Botterill Yeoman
Ever since I featured my very favourite of her cartoons, way back in October of 2019 — how different the world was then! — I’d intended to return to the topic of Australian-English cartoonist Beryl Antonia Botterill Yeoman (1907-1970) for a more sustained and substantial look… and now I have.
The Anton nom de plume has a rather storied history: at first — their professional collaboration began in 1937 — Beryl and her brother Harold were a two-headed cartoonist who signed ‘Anton’. In 1949, Harold dropped out of the partnership, owing to the rigorous demands of running an advertising agency, and thereafter Antonia and Anton were one and the same, a left-handed (not by birth or choice, having lost two fingers on her right in her teens), female cartoonist in a decidedly male-dominated field.
All of today’s selections first saw print prior to 1952 in the august pages of Punch (1841-2002); it’s entirely possible that Harold had a hand in some of them.
Should you find yourself down Somerset way, drop by The Crown at Wells, a 15th century inn (featured in 2007 in Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz!) that houses Anton’s Bistrot, whose venerable walls are adorned with some choice Anton original art.
« Upon its head, with red extended mouth and solitary eye of fire, sat the hideous beast whose craft had seduced me into murder, and whose informing voice had consigned me to the hangman. » — The Black Cat (1845)
What can I tell you about the legendary English cartoonist and bon vivantHunt Emerson — born in 1952 in Newcastle and still devilishly active these days — that he can’t tell you in his own words?
« Changing from the ghosts of faith to the spectres of reason is just changing cells. » — Fernando Pessoa
Today, let’s transport ourselves to the foggy, boggy British Isles, where every crumbling castle holds its lot of revenants and spectres within its mouldering walls.
The great cartoonist, tinkerer and beloved eccentric Frederick Rowland Emett (1906 – 1990) was evidently quite at ease within this spooky world, as you shall see. He first came to prominence as a prolific Punch cartoonist, beginning in the late 30s. In the 1950s, though at the height of his powers, he found himself struggling with waning eyesight (an exacting style was his!), so he brilliantly shifted his creative focus to building what he had hitherto been drawing. You may have encountered some of these creations in the 1968 film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (Emett andRoald Dahl… fancy that!).
Obviously, there is much to discuss about this astonishing creative soul (watch him at work!). In the spirit of manageable narrow focus, I’ve kept it to three of his spookiest Punch cartoons from the late 40s-early 50s. Just consider it an amuse-gueule, an opening salvo. We shall return with a more panoramic view, you just wait.
« It is a well known fact that all inventors get their first ideas on the back of an envelope. I take slight exception to this, I use the front so that I can include the stamp and then the design is already half done. » — Rowland Emett
« Quite suddenly I began to draw. No one paid much attention to this, nor to the fact that the drawings were immediately grotesque. This was assumed to be one of the penalties for being ‘cackhanded’, local dialect for mocking a left-hander, which is what I am. In addition, nobody suggested that there was anything ludicrous in the fact that, for the first time since the Searles had plodded their way through the bogs to escape the Vikings, a left-handed Searle was proclaiming that the had to be An Artist, instead of a gravedigger, or whatever. » from Ronald Searle in Perspective (1984, Atlantic Monthly Press)
Who’s Out There? is a peaceful little family – we don’t often have disagreements about cartoonists or their art, and if occasionally one of us loves something while the other one is neutral about it, it doesn’t often happen that we are in total dissent. However, exceptions proving the rule, British illustrator Ronald William Fordham Searle (1920-2011) is one such point of contention: I like his style, co-admin RG doesn’t much care for it.
I was a little late to the party, and came to Searle’s in a rather circuitous fashion. In a used bookstore (isn’t how these things always start?), I noticed a book called The Grapes of Ralph: Wine According to Ralph Steadman (1996, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), and was intrigued enough to purchase it. Steadman’s splotchy, wild style was perfect for a book about fermented grape juice – he frequently coloured his art in a manner reminiscent of wine stains, and the unhinged art hinted at the artist being more than slightly soused. Well… where, you may ask, does Searle come in? Steadman was heavily influenced by his style, so much so that for a while I embarrassingly thought that Grapes of Ralph was actually illustrated by the former.
However, Searle has proven to be a lot more appealing to me from an aesthetic viewpoint – I have kept The Grapes of Ralph, but I don’t glance in its direction often. As for co-admin RG, he explains that he mainly dislikes Searle for being responsible for bad copy-cats like Steadman.
There are plenty of articles written about Searle – his extensive body of work has gained its share of acclaim and awards, and many appear illustrators appear to have been heavily influenced by his style. For example, The War Drawings of Ronald Searle from Illustration Chronicles tells the story of how Searle survived, and chronicled with daily sketches, the experience of being a Japanese prisoner of war. There is no need for me to go over that chunk of history. That being said, a lot of his books are quite out of print, and those are generally the ones I find most interesting. Before Searle’s art went progressively more speckled and unfocused (which is what Steadman, with whom this post started, is mostly channelling), his drawings had a crispness of exaggeration I find really appealing, a certain floweriness under the cover of which very acerbic (and very British) observations are delivered to the delighted viewer.
My favourite is his St. Trinian series (from 1941 and onwards), chronicling shenanigans at a boarding school for girls. What started as a series of doodles to amuse a friend’s schoolgirl daughters became an institution of its own – this topic was so popular that Searle’s cartoons were even adapted (awkwardly, in my opinion) into seven (!) movies. I recommend this helpful article from Tweedland The Gentlemen’s Club for historical details. For all the popularity of these schoolgirls from hell (in any obituary, you’ll find some sentence to the effect of ‘for many people, the St Trinian’s cartoons define Ronald Searle’s career‘), St. Trinian collections have been long out of print, for the most part, and one has to make do with mostly inferior, dubiously printed paperbacks claiming to be Best Ofs.
Knell Knudel from Lambiek Encyclopedia explains: « The topic [of boarding schools] had inspired many British novels before. But ‘St. Trinian’s’ was far less realistic and darkly disturbing, motivated by Searle’s war-time traumas. The little girls torture each other on a rack, collect mushrooms to poison people, drown each other at the beach or study books on how to shrink human heads. Amazingly enough, ‘St. Trinian’s’ became massively popular, despite the fact that the world was still recovering from a world war. In 1948 the first book compilation was published. Many more would follow. Gags appeared in countless magazines all over the world. Yet Searle quickly grew tired of his hit series. He felt its formulaic comedy severely limited him. In 1952 he brutally discontinued his hit feature by dropping an atomic bomb on the dreaded school! While it presumably killed its characters, it didn’t terminate its popularity. »
Though quite a few collections of cartoons were published at the time, the following three are of main interest: Hurrah For St Trinian’s (1948), The Female Approach (1950), and Back to The Slaughterhouse (1952). Thanks to my bookseller friend Barney (visit his store!), I am the proud possessor of The Curse of St. Trinian’s: The Best of the Drawings (1993, Pavilion Books), a hardcover edition, which scratched the itch but did not quench my desire to own the original editions, with their gloriously yellowed paper and characteristic fragrance.
For example, admire the characterization of Angela Menace, as depicted in these three glorious cartoons (one could make a triptych):
« Searle was born, in 1920, in Cambridge, into a socially anonymous background, where male children were expected to be clerks or minor civil servants. Placed almost squarely in the middle of society, he had the ideal vantage point from which to observe his country, without having to suffer the distortion of an undue affection for his origins. It is an easy background to shrug off if you know what you want to do with yourself, and Searle did know, from an early age. We felt obscurely that Searle’s drawings begged authoritarian disapproval simply by existing in such profusion. That they also flayed their subjects with a merciless and unforgiving line – both grotesque and precise – made it all the better. That it was done with such sympathetic relish made it even better than that. Parents were embarrassing, hypocritical cretins, either callous in the victory of worldly success, or living pitiable lives of continual defeat; schoolmasters incompetent frauds, either grasping, sottish, brutal, ignorant or half-dead. Searle got them just right. » — Nicholas Lezard, in an introduction to The Terror of St Trinian’s and Other Drawings (another best-of collection issued in 2006).
The Female Approach, interestingly enough, featured plenty of men, too…
… alongside the usual ingénues (who have no idea what they’re doing, but they do it anyway) and temptresses (who know exactly what they’re doing).
Searle died in 2011 in his beloved France, where he had been living since 1975. He was 91 years old, and spent his last years as a bit of a recluse (though still drawing), far away from the public’s eye – when he passed away, one got the impression that some thought he had done it already years ago. As for St Trinian’s, its popularity seems to sort-of, kind-of linger on: there was yet another movie in 2007, though I would posit that we need fewer movies, and more proper, hardcover reprints of the material that left an enduring trace in people’s memories.
Have a gander at Perpetua, a wonderful website dedicated to everything Searle.
Ah, yes, it’s time to paddle once again to British shores, after fortifying myself with a few dainty tea sandwiches. In rough chronological order…
Here is a Dr What and His Time Clock strip I found on the excellent Blimey! The Blog of British Comics. I’ll quote Lew Stringer, its author, who is a lot more knowledgeable about British comics than I’ll ever be: «... a weekly humour-adventure serial that ran in Boys’ World in 1964, published by Odhams. The hairstyle and clothing of the character is obviously based on that of the first Doctor as portrayed by William Hartnell. Here’s the episode from Boys’ World Vol. 2 No. 33, dated 15th August 1964. The art is by Artie Jackson, who later drew Danger Mouse (preceding the TV cartoon of the same name/concept) for Smash! in 1966. Jackson also drew many of the Danny Dare strips for Wham! »
In case you didn’t know, a beano is British slang for a noisy festive celebration, or, in other words, some sort of a party. Biffo the Bear is not my favourite character from this very long-running publication (started in 1938, still ongoing), but I really like the way this octopus is drawn.
Scream Inn, written and illustrated by Brian Walker, was a beautifully-drawn strip published in Shiver and Shake (and, later, Whoopee!). The location: a hotel run by ghosts. The premise: these ghosts delighted in playing pranks on humans, and offered a million pounds to anybody who would manage to stay at their hotel for an entire night. Readers were invited to suggest what type of person could make it through the night (and were granted a one quid reward if their suggestion made it into a story).
In this one, a friendly octopus is borrowed to terrify a clown:
Cookie’s many-tentacled friend Olly makes another appearance a month later, this time used to spook “Jake the Peg with an extra leg”.
Incidentally, isn’t this a nice header?
Elephant on the Run ran in Cheekly Weekly and was drawn mostly by Robert Nixon, with some other artists occasionally filling in. This strip boasted a pleasantly surreal premise: the elephant, Walter, is being relentlessly pursued by a mysterious man in a plastic mac… and suffering from a bad case of amnesia after an unfortunate circus act mishap, he has no idea why he’s being hunted, or what the man wants from him. Still, he runs! Both of them donning a range of improbable costumes to fake each other out – as in the following strip, in which Walter dresses, among other things, as a one legged pirate to elude detection. This sort of wackiness is why I love British comics.
« It’s no good trying to teach people who need to be taught. » — Aleister Crowley
You may have happened across our earlier post on that astounding but tragically short-lived touche-à-tout, Gerard Hoffnung (1925-59). Well, here’s a look at another facet of the man’s work, crafted this time in tandem with, of all people, the definitive-but ambivalent biographer of opprobrious occultist and Ozzy song subjectAleister Crowley, namely the intriguing John Symonds (1914-2006). Come to think of it, the affiliation makes impeccable sense, and it proceeds swimmingly.
In an era where it often seems that those rare adults who yet read do so at toddler-ish levels, it’s easy to forget how many so-called children’s books of yore had plenty to offer the refined adult mind. Here, then, are some highlights from Messrs. Hoffnung and Symonds’ 1955 opus, The Isle of Cats.
As a bonus, for the finale, here’s the poster Hoffnung was commissioned to illustrate for the classic, Brexit-anticipating 1949 Ealing Studios comedy Passport to Pimlico. [ watch the trailer! ]
One might call the illustrator and comics artist Kellie Strøm a bit of a cosmopolitan – born in Denmark, he grew up in Ireland and, in adulthood, made London his place of residence. He has accomplished much, but seemingly obtained little recognition for it – his graphic novel (The Acid Bath Case, 1992, published by Kitchen Sink), a collaboration with Stephen Walsh, seems to have been lost in the rivers of time, despite being a striking showcase of Strøm’s black-and-white, precise-yet-graceful style. He also has a great eye for colour, as becomes evident from a quick glance at Star Wars comics he’s illustrated (but does anybody read Star Wars comics?), or, in a much more pleasant and hopefully longer-lasting and farther-reaching vein, his paintings for children’s books.
Personally, I have a soft spot for his illustrations in glorious full colour – I believe that it’s a rare skill to be able to use a full rainbow palette and not end up with gaudy or downright ugly results. Let’s have a look!
The following are pages from Fortune, Fate, and the Natural History of the Sarlacc, written by Mark Schultz and published in Star Wars Tales no. 6 (2000, Dark Horse). Watch an unfortunate victim plunge into the gullet of a merciless tentacled beast!
For comparison purposes: this is the original art…
And the following are pages from the printed comic:
I also mentioned Strøm’s career as an illustrator in children books. The results are beautiful, and, I sincerely hope, well-remunerated.
Panels from Het Zeemans – ABC (2008, Rubinstein Publishing) – or, in other words, Sailors’ ABC:
2014 saw the release of the tentacle-wealthy Worse Things Happen at Sea(Nobrow Press), in which « historical ships are attacked, enveloped and engorged by monstrous sea creatures surfacing from the deepest depths of the darkest oceans. » Must be Strøm’s Nordic roots re-surfacing, though apparently he cannot swim!
An average, ‘nuclear’ family moves to a small town in the Midwest, which turns out to be mind-numbingly strange… a fact entirely lost on the clueless parental units. Sound familiar?
It’s obvious, given the time frame (five years late), that Gross Point was, to be charitable, keenly influenced by the television show Eerie, Indiana (1991-92)… whose short run (just one season and a mere nineteen episodes… plus fifteen novels!) belies its lasting appeal and influence.
But, and there’s a sizeable ‘but’… both series provide considerable, often subversive entertainment, and come from a long line of high-concept, cœlacanth-out-of-aqua sagas. You might say that Gross Point stands as a darker, yet goofier Eerie, Indiana. Incredibly, it was still approved by the clearly-agonizing, utterly irrelevant Comics Code Authority!
The facetious small print:
Gross Point is a fictitious town, not to be confused with that differently-spelled one in Michigan. The magazine Gross Point is a work of satire. The stories, characters and incidents mentioned in this magazine are entirely fictional. No resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or comatose, deformed, deranged, disfigured, dismembered, disembodied, discarnate, decaying, reincarnated, undead, immortal, reanimated, telepathic, pyritic, telekinetic, magical, transformed, trans-channelled, enchanted, cursed, possessed, monstrous, cannibalistic, demonic, vampiric, reptilian, lycanthropic, subterranean, mummified, extra-terrestrial, or interdimensionally-stranded, is intended or implied, or should be inferred. Any similarity to same without satiric purpose is coincidental.
In Issue two, we are told that:
Gross Point differs from most new DC titles in recent memory in that it was internally created. The concept from the series was the brainchild of the internal development program of the Special Projects Group, headed by Group Editor Martin Pasko [ né Jean-Claude Rochefort, in Montréal, QC ], who is also this title’s editorial overseer.
In other words, Created by committee, which accounts for the utter lack of originality… which is yet no impediment to its ultimate worth.
However, and a big However it is, some savvy, enlightened creative moves were made, most of all by recruiting stupendous penciller/inker Langridge, as well as Sean ‘S.M’ Taggart (perhaps a bit of nepotism, what with him married to a DC editor, but never mind, he’s good) and writers Dan Slott and Matt Wayne, among others.
The series lasted a not-too-shabby fourteen issues, which you can still get your calloused mitts on dirt cheap online and in the quarter bins, as it’s never been collected. I daresay it might have been a smash hit… if, say, Scholastic had published it.
Well, that wraps up another year’s selection! If you’re craving more, then the 93 entries of the previous trio of Hallowe’en Countdowns are (un)naturally at your disposal.