June Director’s blog

After five months of closure, May saw us finally re-open the museum to the public! It has been
lovely to see visitors back in the galleries laughing away, and getting stuck into our new exhibitions. 

Our new In-Focus exhibition, Natasha Natarajan’s FML Comics, has enthused countless visitors – many of whom are being introduced to Natasha’s work for the first time, with copies of her book steadily disappearing from the museum shop’s shelves. It has been a pleasure to work with Natasha and to share her amazing work and stories. Throughout June we are hosting a series of events where Natasha and a collaborator will take up residence in the gallery for a day allowing visitors to see their live drawing, and in the evening they will chat about the day at an online event. You can buy tickets to all the events from our webshop.

V for Vendetta: Behind the Mask has received a very positive reception; as noted by The Times: ‘at a time when masks and protests have become so much a part of life, this new show at The Cartoon Museum feel apt’; and by Down The Tubes: ‘A really strong re-opening show from the Cartoon Museum’. That the exhibition has managed to find some visibility in the press in an incredibly crowded marketplace is a success in itself – opening a major new exhibition alongside 200 other London museums reopening with their own new exhibitions is far from ideal!. Alongside the incredible original artwork by David Lloyd and loans from Warner Bros from the 2006 film, the exhibition culminates in a series of co-created placards. The placards are original pieces of art, co-designed with people who have been involved in real-life protests. V for Vendetta: Behind the Mask draws together themes about protest, anarchy, and ‘taking control of your own destiny’. The co-designed placards bring the exhibition into the real world, looking at the stories of real people and their experiences, allowing visitors to make the connection between the story of V for Vendetta and themselves.

Building the V for Vendetta and FML Comics exhibitions was, if as busy and stressful as ever, also a joy – the museum has a very small staff team and are supported by an incredible and dedicated team of volunteers, who painted walls, produced set dressing, cleaned artwork, made text labels and even made some of the placards on display. I always say we are a small, close family team – this was exemplified by my mother-in-law, June, hanging artwork with the exhibitions team until 8pm, and my seven-month old baby, Etta, visiting to help out in her own unique way (making everyone smile and happily waving around pieces of discarded paper). Talking to volunteers who take part and hearing their pride in contributing to such a great exhibition in a visible way really underlined the amazing opportunities a small museum can offer that a larger museum can’t.

Visitors have also been able to enjoy the new display of comic art, hung recently in the Clore learning studio. With much of the permanent exhibition consisting of historical cartooning, we felt it was important to find a space to dedicate to comics. The walls of our Clore learning studio – newly painted a fetching red colour by the team – now feature approximately 5% of our comic art collection, including wonderful early Beano and Dandy pages, alongside pages from iconic comics such as Watchmen and Judge Dread.

Despite the long closure, now we are back on site we have been working hard to meet our new neighbours in Westminster. The Life Under Lockdown project, funded through the generosity of Westminster Council and our amazing members and supporters, started in the June half-term and the young people involved have been drawing some incredible one-page comics detailing their experiences of lockdown. We can’t wait to share them with you all! We will also be involved in some fantastic community projects coming up in the summer, starting with the team taking part in the Church Street Festival over the bank holiday weekend, an upcoming partnership with Mousetrap Theatre welcoming new families from across London to the museum for the first time, and a new series of classes for MIND, a partner we have worked with for many years to support people experiencing mental health issues to creatively explore issues and feelings through cartooning.

Finally, we were very excited to see our name among the nominees for the 2021 Museums & Heritage Awards, where we have been shortlisted for Fundraiser of the Year, alongside five other fantastic museums. Wish us luck at the awards on Thursday 1 July!

Director’s blog

Welcome to a new series of monthly Director’s blogs by Joe Sullivan, bringing you behind the scenes to explore what the museum team are getting up to.

Although we are still closed, it’s been a busy month at The Cartoon Museum, with staff returning to site to recommence work on two exciting new exhibitions. It has been a hard return for the team, with a huge gap left by the passing of Alison Brown, our much-missed Front of House Manager. Her funeral, held in March with social distancing requirements, was a sad but fitting tribute; soundtracked by a classic Billy Bragg tune and full of heartfelt stories and tributes shared by those in attendance, including our own Steve Marchant, Martin Rowson and Mark Stafford.

Staff were able to come back to work thanks to a significant grant of £96,000 by Arts Council England and DCMS as part of the Cultural Recovery Fund. On our return, work immediately began where it left off on two hugely exciting upcoming exhibitions. One remains a secret for now, but I can talk about a significant In-Focus exhibition that explores the work of Natasha Natarajan, a British-Indian web cartoonist and animator, who draws honest, thought-provoking cartoons about her place in the world. The museum has never featured web cartoons before, and we are delighted to be working with Natasha to introduce her unique worldview to our visitors. The exhibit will incorporate original artwork alongside animation, all designed in partnership with Natasha.

Excitement with exhibitions aside, the most immediate benefit to being back on the museum site is that it meant we were able to package up all the shop orders we received during our closure, as well as a well-earned goody bag for Erin Pickard, winner of our January #DrawTheInauguration competition! We are now up-to-date with all our orders, so a huge thank you for your patience if you have been waiting for an order to arrive! We recently relaunched our webshop, with a more user-friendly experience and many more items to browse.

During the Easter half-term we ran online workshops for the first time. Our Learning Officer, Steve, taught children how to draw Beano characters, create their own superheroes, and learn to draw Manga-style artwork. With the success of the workshop we will be running them again during the June half-term. Children can also keep their pen-hand active with the free cartooning resources on our website.

That’s enough for now, as the hard work continues ready for reopening – I look forward to seeing you all soon on the 18th May!

Inspired by: Zoom Rockman tells us how his love of ‘Roger the Dodger’ led to a career working for The Beano and Private Eye.

For our second ‘Inspired by’ blog we meet a young man with a passion for cartoons from an early age.

Zoom Rockman is a British political cartoonist and animator. Self-publishing his own comics when he was 9 years old saw the start of a career that has gone from strength to strength.

Rockman shares the pivotal role of The Cartoon Museum in starting his career, and a touching tribute to our Front of House Manager Alison Brown who sadly passed away in January.

You can see Rockman’s current live animation puppet work here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3I-giqZwKi4

Claire Madge – Blogger in Residence

‘Mr Lobby’ – Private Eye No.1544

Q1 – When did you discover cartoons and comics?

I was at a car boot fair age 8 and I found a box full of old issues of The Beano. I’d never seen a comic before. I was completely hooked straight away. 

I liked making up funny stories in my head and I liked drawing funny pictures but up until this point I didn’t know you could put the two together so after I’d read everything in the box I started putting my ideas down on paper and I didn’t stop.
I did pages and pages and eventually I realised I had enough to print my own comics and sell them at school.

Q2 – Who were your favourite artists, characters or strips? What was it you liked about them?
I loved all the characters in The Beano but my favourite was ‘Roger The Dodger’. Going into shops and asking them to sell my comic felt like a very Roger the Dodger type thing to do – I guess I saw him as a bit of a role model!

Q3 – What do cartoons and comics mean to you?
Comics made a massive difference to me especially to my education. I’d been doing really badly in school, but once I realised I could work in cartoon form everything changed.

I was lucky because my head teacher took what I was doing seriously, he let me drop subjects I didn’t like to free up more of my time for comic making and I had my own workspace where I could get on with it.

I live in Haringey which has the worst boys literacy levels in the country. David Lammy [MP for Tottenham] gave me an award for being a ‘Positive Youth’ and I started getting invited in to other schools to run comic making workshops and show other kids who were like me how to get their ideas on to paper.

Q4 – How have you managed to take your love of cartoons and comics and turn that into a career? Was there a point when you suddenly realised this was what you wanted to do as a career?
I think my professional career probably started the moment I walked in to the old Cartoon Museum on Little Russell Street. It was this incredible place where cartoons from ancient times were on display and taken seriously. Upstairs there were tables where you could sit and draw and I felt very at home taking a seat.

Alison Brown (Front of House Manager) in the shop said she’d sell my comics for me and Steve Marchant (Learning Officer) taught me everything I needed to know. Everything with my career sort of unfolded from then on.

I met people like Paul Gravett – they call him the ‘Man at the Crossroads’ because he knows everybody in the industry. He put my name forward for a cartoon festival in South Korea and before I knew it I was on the red carpet at their opening event shaking hands with dignitaries – it was all very surreal.

My comic won an award and I was invited to Downing Street. I was on the cover of the Independent on Sunday Magazine! When I was 12 I got a job working for The Beano and when I was 16 I got my first cartoon in Private Eye. I’m 20 now. In my second year at Central Saint Martins studying Graphics.

Over lockdown I started making puppets and using them for live action animation and I think this is the direction that my work is now heading.

Q5 – What cartoons and comics are you currently reading? Who are your favourite artists that the reader should check out? What are you working on at the moment?
I read every issue of Private Eye – It’s great to all see the cartoons that made it in. I know most of the other cartoonists now and it’s fun to see who made the best joke on the latest things that are in the news. I look forward to seeing what people like Banx, Royston, Lamb, Grizelda, Jonesy, Goddard, Robert Thomson, Wilbur, Newman, etc have come up with…they’re all great!
As well as political cartoons, I’m currently working on an advert for a new biscuit, called Eton Mess – featuring one of my puppets of Boris Johnson, a Hogarth parody for a client in Canada, a logo for a company called ‘Troll Patrol’, a campaign for ‘10 years to save the world’ climate change project for The Lakes Comic Art Festival, my editorial cartoon for next week’s Jewish Chronicle, 45 President portraits for Iain Dale’s next book and getting ready for a new term starting at uni tomorrow!

You can find out more about Zoom Rockman from the links below:
Instagram: @the_zoomcomic
Twitter: @The_ZoomComic

Draw the Inauguration Challenge – The winners

One thing that Lockdown hasn’t been able to quash is creativity. In the last few weeks the internet sensation Jackie Weaver – of Handforth Parish Council fame – has spawned songs, artwork and even a cake caricature. Whilst ‘I am not a cat’ generated thousands of memes and has had us all wishing for a feline Zoom filter.

What better way to capture that spirit of creativity than running a ‘Draw the Inauguration’ challenge, launched by British satirical cartoonist Martin Rowson in collaboration with the Cartoon Museum. Although the museum is currently closed, the competition complements our latest exhibition ‘Hail to the Chief’ a celebration of journalist Andrew Gimson’s new book “Gimson’s Presidents: Brief Lives from Washington to Trump” which is illustrated by Rowson.

The exhibition features the best and worst American Presidents over the last 231 years. Listening to Rowson talk about drawing different leaders highlighted how much easier it is to capture an individual when you are living through their era. It has been the most memorable transition of power in American history and our winning cartoons all included in this blog really capture the spirit of the moment. It is not just about the individual but the world they inhabit, a real snapshot in time.

Running from the 8th-20th January 2021 the competition came just after the storming of the US Capitol and the same day that President Trump announced he wouldn’t attend the inauguration. We ran two categories for adults and kids and the top 3 winning cartoons from each group are below.

In 3rd place we have Dave’s (@deequedraws) DeLorean time machine. A nostalgic homage to 80s film ‘Back to the Future’ and a wish to return to happier times. Dave is a teacher in Australia and wanted his drawing to convey how Biden might also want to return to earlier times to recapture some of his youthful vigour. At 78 he is the oldest man to talk the presidential oath, he is certainly going to need a lot of energy to face the challenges ahead.

In 2nd place James (@JamesDFMellor) has echoed one of the weirdest episodes of Trump’s post-truth quest to overturn the election thanks to lawyer Rudi Giuliani. A hastily convened press conference at ‘Four Seasons Total Landscaping’ instead of the ‘Four Seasons Hotel’ became the inspiration for a cartoon theorising an alternate universe inauguration.

I asked James how he drew his cartoon –

“I draw my cartoons with pen and ink before editing and colouring them on a Microsoft Surface Pro. Each year the digital side of things seems to become more extensive but I still can’t begin with a blank screen – I need to start with pen and paper.”

And… our winner in the adult category was Rob (@Telecoda). Drawing for Rob is just a hobby and he used to draw on his commute to work, sadly commuting is a thing of the past! I asked Rob about the inspiration behind his entry.

“I actually drew the cartoon as a response to Donald Trump losing the election and the following days of tantrums. I kinda thought it would be funny if he refused to leave the White House. Little did I know what January had in store for us!”

We also ran a kids competition that brought some real fun and ingenuity to the entries. My eldest two children have become CNN junkies since the US election. I don’t know if it is the constraints of lockdown or the nature of 24 hour television but we all watched the storming of the Capitol with my middle child declaring it was better than Netflix hit ‘Bridgerton’.

The Cartoon Museum has a number of free downloads on our website to help you get started with drawing caricatures, it seemed like our three winners needed no help in getting their own ideas down.

In 3rd place we have 8 year old Ciara. Wonderfully capturing the celebrity star dust of inauguration day by drawing Lady GaGa. Ciara likes drawing faces with masks on as it is easier and faster (that is one bonus to Covid). Ciara hasn’t visited us yet at the Cartoon Museum but we can’t wait to see her when we are open again.

In 2nd place we have Phoebe who is 6 years old, bringing Trump to life with a green ‘trump’, vibrant orange hair as well as a reminder of the rubbish that comes out of his mouth.

Phoebe likes drawing so much she drew individual cartoons in each of the Christmas cards she sent out this year, which was over 50 cards! I asked Phoebe why she likes to draw.

“I like drawing because when I draw something, it makes me feel happy and it makes me
feel calm and I just really like it. And when you’re bored, it’s the right thing to do, because
you can do it by yourself, you can do it with other people and it’s just really fun.”

Finally our 1st place winner in the kids category was Erin who is 8 years old (but very nearly 9) with an inspired balloon/banana installation. Erin is very interested in world news keeping up with events on ‘Newsround’ and ‘First News’. I asked her how she came up with her idea.

A HUGE congratulations to our young #DrawTheInauguration winner, 8 year old Erin! A brilliantly imaginative entry that bursts Trump’s bubble!

Please click to see the video

“Donald Trump is an idiot so we decided to get rid of him like America got rid of him. We had some balloons left over from my little sister’s birthday so we used the orange one, of course, to represent his face.”

“I liked popping the balloon! It was like getting rid of him. Byeeee!”

We couldn’t agree more with that sentiment! Thanks to all of you who took part and keep an eye out for future competitions.

Claire Madge

You can find a video of all the entries here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q_ebCgBpsBo&feature=youtu.be

Follow @MartinRowson for more drawing challenges

Adult winners
1 Rob Baines @Telecoda www.bainescartoons.com/about/
2 James Mellor @JamesDFMellor www.jamesmellorcreative.com
3 Dave @deequedraws www.instagram.com/deequedraws/

James Gillray, A sun setting in a fog, 3 June 1783 – A Commentary

Image: James Gillray, A sun setting in a fog; with the old Hanover Hack descending (John Williams: London, 1783) – BMSat 6239

Charles James Fox sits proudly upon the white horse of Hannover. Behind Fox, resting on the horse’s hindquarters, is the severed head of the King impaled on a pike. In the background, the sun – projecting the figure of Britannia – slowly sets, becoming engulfed by heavy dark clouds. The horse is exhausted, its reins broken, as Fox guides Britain off the side of a cliff.

A Sun setting in a fog is a work of famed satirical artist-engraver James Gillray. A pioneer of British caricature, Gillray produced close to one-thousand prints in a career spanning thirty-years. Politically savvy, wonderfully witty, and undeniably entertaining, Gillray etched some of the greatest and most recognisable caricatures in history. The Cartoon Museum possesses an original copper-plate etching of A sun setting in a fog, and proudly encourages visitors to view this rare piece of print history.

James Gillray, A sun setting in a fog; with the old Hanover Hack descending, 1783. Copper-plate. The Cartoon Museum

Typical of James Gillray’s satirical prints, A sun setting in a fog is full of symbolism and nuance. Fox’s boots are made from ‘Spanish Leather.’ Hanging from Fox’s waistcoat is a fleur-de-lys. Another can be seen on the chest of the cockerel upon George III’s severed head. Inside the basket, labelled ‘Hopes and Expectations,’ is the Royal Crown pierced with a sword, alongside a sign that appears to read ‘Magna Carta.’ Fox’s saddlebags contain ‘lowis [sic] d’or’ (French money) and ‘Spanish Anuity.’ And finally, if the purpose of the print was not yet clear, Fox exclaims “Aut Cromwell aut Nihil” – either Cromwell or nothing.

Fox is depicted by Gillray as a pro-French, pro-Spanish, anti-monarchist. The print, produced in June 3 1783, was sold during the short-lived Fox-North coalition. An unlikely pairing, the Fox-North coalition was born from political crisis. The previous Shelburne-Rockingham Whig administration was similarly short-lived, with foreign secretary Fox accusing the King of placing Edward Thurlow in the cabinet to act as his Royal spy. With Rockingham dead, and mounting pressure from Fox and Lord North over his dealings with America, Shelburne’s demise was cemented.

From this single conjunction, the Fox-North coalition was born to the dismay of the King. Tensions came to a head when George III was given no role in determining the government positions under the Fox-North coalition. Fox feared another Thurlow situation and believed that the King had shown his intent in subverting parliamentary institutions. Never before had this maxim of monarchy been so openly challenged. Fox and North’s motivations were questioned, and the pair were accused of usurping power, with Fox even receiving comparisons to Oliver Cromwell.

Such is the context in which Gillray produced A sun setting in a fog. The pro-France and pro-Spain nuances denote Fox’s acquiescence towards the American Revolution. Fox saw American independence a lesser evil to a drawn-out war where America would receive the support of France and Spain. The reference to Cromwell is a depiction of the deep unease felt in parliament towards Fox’s quarrels with George III. The battered signpost, fitted with expressive hands characteristic of Gillray, warns of the impending doom if Fox is left unchecked. Gillray was not the only caricaturist to make such a comparison.

James Sayers, The mirror of patriotism (James Bretherton: London, 1784) – NPG D9749
James Gillray, A new administration or the state quacks administring (William Humphrey: London, 1783) – BMSat 6201

Through a satirical lens, Gillray portrays a representation of political crises at breaking point. The Fox-North coalition was in office from March-December 1783. George III nominated twenty-four-year-old William Pitt who comprehensibly defeated Fox and North in the 1784 election. Prior to the print in question, Gillray produced another titled A New Adminstration. Here, Gillray depicts Fox and North as a pair of quack doctors attempting to administer help to Britannia. In the background lies a mountain range representing the steep climb facing the new administration. In A sun setting in a fog we see Fox heading for the edge of that that very mountain, toward the valley of annihilation.

By Daniel Jinks


George, M. Dorothy, ‘Description’, British Museum Online Collection – https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/P_1851-0901-143

Mitchell, Leslie, ‘Fox, Charles James’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2007) – https://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-10024?rskey=oKBmgm&result=3

Sherry, James, ‘Commentary: A new administration’, james-gillray.org – https://www.james-gillray.org/pop/state-quacks.html


A week ago we lost the heart and soul of The Cartoon Museum.

Alison Brown passed away in the early hours of Thursday 14 January. She was in hospital recuperating from a short illness, before contracting COVID-19, complications from which led to her untimely death at just 39 years old.

Born in Newcastle, Alison studied photography at the Surrey Institute of Art and Design. She previously worked at the V&A and The Courtauld Gallery shop. Joining the Cartoon Museum in 2006, she worked with many of the current team for most of the intervening 14 years, and her passing is a devastating blow to the trustees, staff and volunteers. Alison played a huge part in the move to the new Wells Street site, packing up and moving most of the museum almost single-handedly and contributing eye-catching ideas for the new site. She was incredibly proud of the Museum’s move and reincarnation.

Alison was a cornerstone of the museum since she started as the Front of House Manager and was the first face many visitors saw as they came through the door, greeting them with a friendly smile, a shock of colourful hair, and her anarchic, self-deprecatory sense of humour. Over the years she brought wonderful events and exhibitions to life. A passion project for Alison, was ‘Sensible Footwear: A Girl’s Guide’, the exhibition celebrated Kate Charlesworth’s graphic memoir and highlighted LGBTQ female comic artists, bringing diversity to the museum’s exhibitions and celebrating queer and female voices. Her ability to concoct themed cocktails for book launches and other events was legendary! She oversaw the museum shop, stocking a varied range of books and gifts, starting exciting new ranges, and created great opportunities for visitors to discover the next amazing artist (that they had never previously heard of) including new young artists, stocking the self-published comics of now-established artists such as Zoom Rockman, whose comic she started selling when he was 9 years old.

Alison was also the face of The Cartoon Museum at public events across the country, promoting the museum at festivals such as MCM, The Lakes Festival, Thought Bubble, and the London Film and Comic Con. Meeting the public and chatting about comics and cartoons, recruiting new museum Friends, and delivering the museum’s mission to entertain, educate and inform, Alison had the ability to make everyone her friend. Tributes from cartoonists and comic writers and artists have been numerous, but she is best summed up by her partner Allan, who wrote in the international comics new site Bleeding Cool:

‘She was the ray of light for everyone with the good fortune to know her … she was the kindest, happiest and most wonderful soul I have ever met.’

Alison will be much missed by the museum team, and by the extended comic and cartoon community. Thank you, Ali, for all the memories, and rest in peace.

On My Bookshelf – Joe Sullivan – Director of The Cartoon Museum

Who are you? 

My name is Joe Sullivan, I’m the Director of The Cartoon Museum. I recently celebrated my first year in the job having come into post in January 2020. Of course, due to the pandemic I have only spent about four months on site and actually working during that year! I have been a fan of cartoons and particularly comics for many years, having been an avid reader of the Beano and Dandy as a kid. These days my favourite regular strip is probably David Squire’s wonderful sideways looks at the world of football each week in The Guardian.

Outside of the museum I am involved in the heritage sector as the Chair of the London Museums Group. As a passionate Londoner and museum-goer I want to help build skills for staff at the capital’s many wonderful spaces, to enable museums to work with wider and more diverse audiences. I also find time to play the guitar most days, and hang out with my brand new baby daughter!

What is on your bookshelf?

I want to highlight two picks:

1. ‘Motivational Quotes To Help You Be More Positive’ by Chris (Simpsons Artist), which came out in 2015. I love Chris’ weird and surreal ideas and art style – the idea of the baby Jesus being massive, or a depressed anthropomorphic Thomas the Tank Engine wishing he wasn’t born as a train really tickles me in a way that utterly baffles my wife.

2. ‘Back, Sack & Crack (& Brain)’ by Robert Wells. This book gives a wince-inducing look at Robert’s history with a mystery illness that never seemed to get better. The honesty and creativity that sparkles from the pages is great to read, if a little squirm-inducing. Men don’t talk all that much about ailments and weaknesses, and this was an ‘I see you’ moment for me.

Was it a purchase or a present?

My wife bought the Chris (Simpsons Artist) book for me to commemorate starting my job at The Cartoon Museum in January 2020, and it sits on the book pile on my desk making me laugh regularly. I bought ‘Back, Sack & Crack (& Brain)’ during the first UK lockdown, as Robert drew my favourite cartoon featured in the Museum’s #Draw The Coronavirus e-book (Chris Whitty asking ‘Do You Like Eggs?’) and I wanted to check out some of his previous work.

Tell us about your first visit to the Cartoon Museum? 

My first visit was at the new Wells Street site in November 2019, after applying for the Director job at the museum. Despite the rough edges (unpainted floor, loudly trickling pipe) I was really taken with the charm of the place, and the wonderful range of cartoons and comics on display. The Comic Creators exhibition was on when I first visited, and I particularly liked seeing Beano’s and Dandy’s in their draft phases, where pencils and stuck-speech bubbles were still evident. I thought there was huge potential in the site and collection, and was excited to join the museum as it moved forwards in the new site.

Comic Creators exhibition 2019 – 2020

Tell us about a favourite cartoon or exhibition from the Cartoon Museum? 

I’m very proud of the Dear Mr. Poole exhibition, and particularly proud of Emma (Stirling-Middleton – museum curator) and the team for pulling it together in the short time that they had. When I started at the museum, the Trustees wanted a new temporary exhibition in, as Comic Creators had been up for six months. Emma stumbled across a box of letters written to Philip Poole, who supplied pen nibs and art materials to pretty much every famous cartoonist. She pitched an exhibition that displayed these never-before-exhibited letters as a ‘love letter’ to the man behind the artists, the olde-worldy London shop, and the materials that enabled a cartoonist to ply their trade. In just three weeks from sign off to opening date, and on a budget of £3000, the team designed a vibrant, unique and warm exhibition that demonstrated everything about where the museum hopes to go in the future.

Dear Mr. Poole exhibition
Dear Mr. Poole exhibition

Will the real Margaret Thatcher please stand up.

(Top picture: Gillian Anderson as Margaret Thatcher – The Crown Series 4, Copyright Netflix. Photo credit: Sophie Mutevelian)

I was born in 1975, the same year that Maggie Thatcher became leader of the Conservative Party. I was 4 when she became Prime Minister and 16 when she left office, I vaguely remember her tears as the ‘Iron Lady’ facade crumbled away.

Admittedly that makes me feel a little old, but what really makes me feel old is that my 16 year old daughter is studying Margaret Thatcher at A-Level as part of ‘The Making of Modern Britain 1951-1971’ syllabus.

It has been an education for me to return to my younger days and look at the Thatcher years with adult eyes. We have been riveted by the brilliant documentary ‘Thatcher: A Very British Revolution’ from 2019 on iPlayer and I find myself recalling our first female Prime Minister as ‘Maggie Thatcher Milk Snatcher’.

Seeing Mrs T. through my daughter’s eyes has been fascinating, we have talked about female leadership and feminism. We have talked about the 1980s and 90s when showing emotion, compassion and kindness were seen as female attributes and viewed as a weakness. We have discussed how those very same qualities displayed by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in 2020 have brought her plaudits. We have followed debates in the US election on what it means to have the first woman Vice President-elect, as Kamala Harris makes history on the other side of the pond.

As lockdown sees us watching more and more television, season 4 of the Netflix blockbuster ‘The Crown’ has hit our screens. We have been faced with a very different portrayal of Margaret Thatcher in the form of Gillian Anderson.

There has been much debate around Anderson’s rendering of such a divisive figure. Some accusing her of parody whilst others praising her efforts to bring her power-suits to life. But have efforts to give Mrs T the Hollywood treatment, for those who don’t remember her reign, left us with a reputation that is too romanticised and sympathetic? Is Anderson’s popularity rubbing away at the real image of Thatcher?

John Major as maggot in Margaret Thatcher’s nostril with Thatcher stabbed in the back  
Martin Rowson, 1991. The Cartoon Museum

This is where the Cartoon Museum’s collections are invaluable and I have thoroughly enjoyed getting a chance to rifle through them. I have chosen a couple to illustrate this blog alongside an irresistible pair of Margaret Thatcher and Neil Kinnock ‘Spitting Image’ slippers. There is humour here but amusement that packs a punch.

Margaret Thatcher presenting to Queen Elizabeth II
Martin Rowson, 1987. The Cartoon Museum

he caricatures of Margaret Thatcher take recognisable physical attributes of hair, dress and facial features and blow them up to an exaggerated level. I don’t know why but I never realised the Queen Elizabeth and Margaret Thatcher were born just a year apart. The essence of Thatcher often cruelly rendered but displayed with an innate storytelling ability that takes us straight back to the 80s and 90s and sets the scene for political troubles and strife.

In an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Front Row programme Gillian Anderson talked about piecing together Thatcher’s voice. How she took the portrayal to parody and then reigned it in to find a character that sat somewhere between the real and the unreal.

Spitting Image slippers showing Margaret Thatcher and leader of the opposition Neil Kinnock in twin beds
Peter Fluck and Roger Law, 1983-1990. The Cartoon Museum

Perhaps we should also take that view of our first female Prime Minister. Using the Cartoon Museum’s collections to help us strike a balance between a Netflix docudrama and the cold light of day.

The Satirical Print Trade of Late-Georgian London – An Overview

The late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth century has been described as the “Golden Age” of caricature. This period saw late-Georgian London become bloated by numerous works of graphic satire by a variety of celebrated artist-engravers. The satirical print trade was situated in the printshops of the fashionable West End. Here, prints were produced, displayed, and sold. Developed parallel to a consumerist society, satirical prints were a pervasive feature of late-Georgian London. With thousands of satirical prints produced each year, caricature morphed London into a ‘City of Laughter.’

Despite popular perception, satirical prints were not aimed to be consumed by the masses. Due to the rising demand and costs of production, satirical prints were increasingly targeted towards the rich. From the days of William Hogarth in the 1750s, to the onset of the nineteenth century, the price of satirical prints doubled. As a result, satirical prints were prohibitive to the vast majority of London’s population. Notwithstanding notions of societal politeness and proper conduct, satirical printshops, situated in the beau-mondé of society, attracted a fashionable and eminent clientele, who found enjoyment, and saw political opportunity, in the grotesque, crude mockery of satirical prints. The immense popularity of caricature remained throughout the subsequent Victorian era, and through to the present day. This article will present an overview of London’s satirical print trade, including production and exchange, as well as those involved in cultivating caricature’s ascension to the forefront of British culture.

Gillray and the Printshop

Undoubtedly, prominent Georgian caricaturist’s contributions and legacies had an enormous impact on modern day cartoons. Chief among these was James Gillray, who, along with his publisher Hannah Humphrey, established a printmaking superpower, producing over-a-thousand satirical prints across a 30-year career. Recently described as the ‘King of Cartoon,’ James Gillray’s influence on the development of the art-form is immeasurable. In its exuberant and exaggerated style, Gillray’s work embraced the principles of caricatura and popularised its unfaltering use in British satirical culture. Often poking-fun at royalty and political figures such as James Fox and Napoleon, Gillray dominated the trade until his death in 1815. Gillray worked above Humphrey’s shop where his work would be produced and displayed upon its many vibrant windows. Together, Gillray and Humphrey flourished, becoming the most prominent and successful association of caricature’s “Golden Age.”

James Gillray, Very Slippy-Weather (Hannah Humphrey: London, 1808) – Bmsat 11100

Gillray and Humphrey were rivalled by, and on occasion, in collaboration with, a number of satirical artist-engravers and printsellers. Samuel William Fores boasted the services of an abundance of artists, such as James Sayers and Thomas Rowlandson, at his ‘Caricature Warehouse’ on the corner of Sackville Street and Piccadilly. Fores formed a partnership with Charles Williams, who, in attempt at conning the public, often produced copies of Gillray’s work. William Holland of 50 Oxford Street favoured the talents of young caricaturist Richard Newton, who together produced many satirical prints of a whiggish and revolutionary nature. Other prominent satirical artists included the Cruikshank family, chiefly Isaac and George, who often touted their services to various publishers and printsellers. The printselling triumvirate of Humphrey, Holland, and Fores dominated the trade in the 1780s and 90s.


At these shops, single-sheet satirical prints were produced, displayed and sold. Where comparisons can be made with modern day, the production process differed quite substantially. Georgian printmaking was an arduous and time-consuming process. Unaided by electronic printing presses, most of the work was done by hand. The primary process used by artist-engravers was intaglio printmaking. Satiric artists made use of many intaglio techniques. Chief among these were engraving and etching. In engraving, the artist used a sharp V-shaped pointed tool known as a burin to engrave lines into a copper plate. The burin could be manipulated and applied with varying levels of pressure to alter the line’s thickness and depth. Etching, Gillray’s preferred technique, involved covering copper with an acid-resistant ground. Parts of the ground are then removed with an etching needle to create a design. The plate is then placed into an acid bath, which bites into the exposed areas of the copper leaving a permanent imprint. Detail can be added with additional techniques such as aquatint to create textured layers of shading.

Burin, Library of Congress, Washington D.C. (Digital File Number: LC-DIG-ppmsca-08131)

During the engraving process, costs, such as copper and equipment, were fronted by the artist-engraver, who was usually paid a fee by a publisher to design the plate. The design is then passed to the publisher for printing. The plate would be covered in ink, which seeps into the impressions on the copper. Excess ink is cleaned off before the plate is passed through a printing press, transferring the etched design onto the paper. The costs of ink and paper, as well as external colourists and printing presses, was fronted by the publisher, who, in turn, received all the profits from the prints sold. The nature of the process often led to mistakes and reworks, not helped by each design having to be etched into the plate as a mirrored image.

Trade Card of Thomas Wilson, Printer & Engraver (London, 1760-80) – BM Heal, 99.179
James Gillray, A sun setting in a fog; with the old Hanover Hack descending, 1783.
Copper-plate. The Cartoon Museum
© Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection, B1981.25.1028

The Fall of the Single-Sheet

Just like any successful business, limiting costs was a prime concern of satirical printmakers in ensuring marketability and profit margins. As a result, poor impressions often reached the market as the publisher simply could not afford to waste the money and time invested in producing a print. Moving into the nineteenth century, printsellers such as Thomas Tegg enjoyed huge success in poorer quality, cut-price reproductions and reissues from old and worn plates. Whereas Humphrey continued to reap the benefits of Gillray’s pre-eminence, the single-sheet printshops that dominated the trade in the 1780s and 90s began to falter. To aid their businesses, the majority of these shops had to adapt and diversify their stock in order to maintain profitability. Print stock was often supplemented with other printed materials, stationery, and services.

Punch (London, January 1849)

By 1810, Ruldolph Ackermann exercised control over the higher end of the trade at his “Repository of Arts.” Ackermann’s shop produced and sold additional services, such as fine art and carriage-design, all of which were produced on-site, providing him great control over his trade. Chief among these was the shop’s namesake. An illustrated periodical, The Repository of Arts included caricatures produced by various satirical artists and paved the way for the many caricature magazines that controlled the trade by the 1830s. These magazines were collections of caricatures, reminiscent of a modern-day comic-book. In the 1840s and 50s, the magazine Punch even helped coin the term cartoon as the humorous illustrations we see today in newspapers and comics. Though the single-sheet satirical print fell into obscurity, its legacy, and the contributions of late-Georgian artist-engravers and printsellers, cannot be understated.

Article by Daniel Jinks

Selected Bibliography

Donald, Diana, The Age of Caricature: Satirical Prints in the Reign of George III (London, 1996)

Gatrell, Vic, City of Laughter: Sex and Satire in Eighteenth-Century London (London, 2006)

Hill, Draper, Mr. Gillray the Caricaturist (London, 1965)

Rowson, Martin, ‘Satire, Serwers and Statesmen: Why James Gillray was King of the Cartoon’, The Guardian (March 2015)

Sherry, Jim, james-gillray.org

Baker, James, The Business of Satirical Prints in Late-Georgian England (London, 2017)

Clayton, Timothy, The English Print 1688-1802 (London, 1997)

Inspired by: Alex Wheatle tells us how the Beano became his safe space.

As Blogger in Residence I am delighted to bring a new series of blogs called ‘Inspired by’ to the Cartoon Museum. We all love comics and cartoons, but how have they inspired us? How have they got us to where we are now? Is it just about having fun or is there something a little bit more going on? 

Alex Wheatle is a celebrated author, he grew up in a children’s home and this was where his love of comics began. Arrested during the Brixton Riots in 1981 it was whilst serving time in prison that his love of reading helped turn his life around.  

Alex’s life is featured in ‘Small Axe’, a new series of programmes directed by Steve McQueen that airs on BBC One on Sunday 6th December.  

His latest book for young adults ‘Cane Warriors’, is set in Jamaica in 1760. It is inspired by a real life slave rebellion. 

Claire Madge – Blogger in Residence

Q1 - When did you discover cartoons and comics? 

I first discovered cartons and comics when I was around 5/6/7 years old.  For cartoons, I loved the Flintstones, The Wacky Races, Penelope Pitstop and most of the Warner Brothers cartoons like Daffy Duck and the Road Runner. 

For comics I loved the Beano, Whizzer & Chips, The Dandy and Shoot magazine. 

Q2 - Who were your favourite artists, characters or strips? What was it you liked about them?  

I cannot remember the names of the artists but I recall characters like the Bash Street Kids, Dennis the Menace, Desperate Dan, Lord Snooty, Billy Whizz, Minnie the Minx.  They were simply funny and made me laugh and forget where I was  – that was very important for me at the time.    

Q3 – What do cartoons and comics mean to you?  

I wasn’t aware of it at the time but comics and cartoons offered me a space where I could be safe for a short time – where I could be me.  It offered solace. 

Q4 – Do you think cartoons and comics had an impact in your choice to become an author? How have they influenced your career? 

Looking back now, I firmly believe that comics and cartoons did have an influence – for a start, reading comics from such an early age, helped my English no end.  When I entered school, I was always one of the tops in the class for spelling.  It also gave me a love of story. 

Q5 - What cartoons and comics are you currently reading? Who are your favourite artists that Cartoon Museum fans should check out? 

At the moment, I am reading Jason Reynolds’ Long Way Down, a graphic novel, brilliantly illustrated by Danica Novgorodoff.  It’s perfect for reluctant readers. 

Alex Wheatle – https://www.alexwheatle.com/ 

Cane Warriors – https://www.alexwheatle.com/cane-warriors 

‘Small Axe’ – https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p08vxt33 

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds – https://www.faber.co.uk/9780571366019-long-way-down.html

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