Thursday, August 2, 2012

British Cartoonists Album: Part 1

A British Cartoonifest
I haven't posted for a couple of months thanks mostly to  a crisis of confidence with which I'll deal in a future post. Maybe. In the meantime I'd much rather talk about another old book that's surfaced during my never-ending excavation of the Great Garage.

I picked up British Cartoonists Album (no "the," no punctuation) decades ago in one of the little used-book stores that once dotted Los Angeles. In those pre-Internet days the Album was like a tiny window providing a tantalizing glimpse of a wonderful world that I would never get to explore.

It's always seemed to me that English comics are among the world's most woefully-underdocumented. Thanks to the World Wide Web the situation is improving, especially given blogs like those of Lew Stringer and Dez Skinn, men who are not only historians but also writer/editors who have worked in the field for years. Their articles have been an endless source of enlightenment. Even so, the sheer volume of English comics--newspaper strips, comic papers, comic books, annuals, etc. etc.--would provide years of material for an army of researchers.

The Cartooonists Album was published in 1962 by Anthony Gibbs & Phillips, Ltd. It was "prepared under the auspices of the British Cartoonists Club." No editor is listed, just the list of the club's officers, beginning with His Grace the Duke of Bedford.  The 128-page hardback is a smorgasbord of gag cartoons, political cartoons, and newspaper strips.  In most cases the artists, especially the political and gag cartoonists, are people I'd never heard of. Probably English readers will know many of them. Over the next couple of postings I'll offer glimpses of this cartoon treasure trove.

As a prelude, here are the book's vital statistics, followed by a listing of the featured artists. To my annoyance many of them are identified only by their last names. Fine in 1962, when everyone knew them, but less than helpful when you're Googling a cartoonist named "Lee."

 

This page offers two quite different strips. The first is Barley Bottom by Lucian. Believe it or not the only Web reference I've found to Barley Bottom is a 1963 article in The Catholic Herald describing a "harmless wart cure" mentioned in the strip. Obviously those are caricatures of real MPs in panel one. Can any English readers identify them? Of all the work in the book, Double Trouble by Brian White is the most old-fashioned. This isn't surprising: White was born in 1902. In the late 1920s his company produced animated commercials for movie theaters. Decades later he worked on the milestone animated feature Animal Farm.
 
On the left of the spread below is a  nicely-drawn political cartoon by the above-mentioned Lee. It's one of several cartoons basing its gag on corporal punishment in English public schools. The right-hand page features two cartoons by Bill Tidy. Tidy was one of the few English gag cartoonists I knew when I bought the Album. Earlier I had stumbled upon a reprint of his Fosdyke Saga strip. I love Tidy's stuff; his gags are consistently funny. His art style reminds me of Larry (also represented in the Album), but paging through the book I notice a number of gag men with similar styles. Was there a "granddaddy" cartoonist who influenced them?

 
Here's a nice find: The opening days of Jane, Daughter of Jane, drawn by Dutch cartoonist Alfred Mazure. This was one of several English "girl" strips done by this talented (and nearly forgotten) artist-writer. One of them was Romeo Brown, which "Maz" originated. That strip was later taken over by Peter O'Donnell and Jim Holdaway--you may have heard of them. Daughter of Jane was an attempt to re-create the success of Jane, the iconic World War II pin-up strip. Unfortunately it didn't catch on. On the right page are two gags by Leslie Starke, a Punch cartoonist, and an episode of Will Spencer's Animal Crackers. This amusing panel ran for twenty years and was syndicated overseas, including in the US.
 
 Wrapping up today's episode is a montage of really great stuff. First comes a John McNamara Paul Temple daily. I used to follow this strip in the Menomonee Falls Gazette. McNamara's layouts were a bit stodgy--just like the scripts--but his draughtsmanship was excellent. Lew Stringer posted some later Temples in which the venerable hero was redesigned to appear more up-to-date. The strictly-upper-crust stories didn't change, though.

Following McNamara are two panels by Arthur Ferrier, a legendary pretty-girl cartoonist. Ferrier is credited with pioneering the English pinup-strip in the 1930s with a weekly feature, Film Fannie. He did other weeklies and in 1953 did a daily strip, Eve.

I don't know anything about Vic Wiltshire. He may still be around: ebay.uk  offers many copies of a 2002 book by Derek Robinson and Vic Wiltshire, A Load of Old Bristle. It's a humorous illustrated glossary of Bristol dialect.

Winding up the spread is a smashing panorama from Tony Weare's Matt Marriott, reproduced criminally small. In fact my one gripe with the Album is its indifferent reproduction. The rough-surface book paper doesn't help, and too many illustrations are much too small. Later in the book several continuity strips are represented by syndicate proof pages--an entire week of strips shrunk to fit a page the size of an American comic book. Ouch!

Next post I'll show some of those strips, ouch and all.

10 comments:

Jon Edgar said...

thanks for this article. My grandfather is Brian White and this book reference is most useful to add to the biographical material. I happen to be a sculptor so that strip is especially poignant to me these many decades later.

Smurfswacker said...

I'm glad that I could provide a grain of information about your grandfather. Is any of his biographical material online? I'd like to know more about what obviously was a long and wide-ranging career.

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Isabelinho said...

I'm the proud owner of that Matt Marriott board. See here (please, scroll down): http://kuentro.blogspot.pt/2012/07/matt-marriott-arte-impar-de-tony-weare_13.html