The ‘Miraculous Cartoons’ from Canterbury Cathedral

Words by Liam O’Driscoll Art by Karrie Fransman.

2020 saw the 850th anniversary of the murder of Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral. Becket was a friend to King Henry II but once appointed to Archbishop in 1162 he fell foul of disagreements with the King over the competing powers of Church and State. A programme of events to explore the life and death of the martyr and saint was postponed due to Covid, but as a major exhibition on Becket opens at the British Museum, interest has grown in the 12th century troublemaker.

Alongside the anniversary, Canterbury Cathedral is undergoing a major £24.7 million restoration project, with £13.8 million coming from the National Lottery Heritage Fund. Part of that investment is focussed on opening up the Cathedral’s heritage to a wider audience, and through a number of ‘Miraculous Cartoons’ the Cathedral team are hoping to appeal to a younger and more diverse audience.

Working with seven comic artists and illustrators the team have been exploring stories of pilgrimage in the ‘Miracle Windows’, a series of stained glass panels in Canterbury Cathedral’s Trinity Chapel.

Words by Liam O’Driscoll Art by Karrie Fransman.

The first two tales to be translated into comic form are ‘The Two Sisters of Boxley’ by Karrie Fransman and ‘Ralph de Longvilla’ by Mike O’B. Community Engagement Manager Liam O’Driscoll has written the text to go alongside the artwork, using his background in journalism and his studies in creative writing to rise to the challenge of distilling the stories into a very small number of words, allowing the artists to set the mood and landscape. The text of ‘The Two Sisters of Boxley’ was inspired by the relationship between his nieces and it is the comic touches alongside sibling love and rivalry that brings the cartoons authenticity.

“So much fun working on these projects discovery about 12th century life and beliefs. Like school with none of the boring parts”. @KarrieFransman Instagram

It is clear from speaking to O’Driscoll that the strong collaborative approach with a wide ranging team has been the real strength of the project. Annie Partridge from the Canterbury Archaeology Trust has fed into the historical accuracy of the illustrations and Canon Emma Pennington has helped explain the role of Becket as a saint and the beliefs of pilgrims who travelled to be blessed at the Cathedral.

Words by Liam O’Driscoll Art by Mike O’B.

Giving the artists creative flexibility has been key to unlocking the stories and O’Driscoll credits Karri Fansmen’s role not only as an artist but as writing mentor for the project.

Detailed academic research by Rachel Koopermans, Associate Professor of History at York University in Toronto, and Director of the Stained Glass Studios at Canterbury Cathedral Leonie Seliger have uncovered the 12th century origins of the Trinity Chapel windows which were previously believed to have been heavily restored in the Victorian era. During their meticulous studies of each individual pane of glass they found that bathing figures were dotted with leprosy which helped the ‘Miraculous Cartoons’ artists reflect the disease in their stories.

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of the project was how to explore themes of disability which are frequently portrayed in the pilgrimage stories. Zara Slattery, artist and comic illustrator worked as a disability consultant and tutor running a number of workshops facilitated by Square Peg Arts for neurodiverse children. The workshops provided opportunities for the children to reference the stained glass windows in their own creative cartoons.

Words by Liam O’Driscoll Art by Mike O’B.

O’Driscoll explained that the comics give the characters a voice and representation that was not present at the time. The inherent diversity of the stories which feature poor beggars to rich landed gentry give opportunities to share very different narratives. By using a range of illustrators and artists the comics provide a visually different presentation for stories that were evidenced as a reason for Becket’s canonisation.

With 5 more comic collaborations planned the final comics will be pulled together into a graphic novel due to be published later this year. The graphic novel will not only include each of the stories but their historical and religious context too.

850 years after Becket’s death Canterbury Cathedral is seeking a new delivery method for age old stories hoping the comic form will bring the ‘Miracle Windows’ to a wider audience. The skill, knowledge and artistic interpretation of a diverse team has shone a fresh light on the stained glass bringing 12th century storytelling into the modern age.

Claire Madge – Blogger in Residence

You can find our more about Canterbury Cathedral by visiting their website:

To find out more about this project you can email Liam O’Driscoll – Community Engagement Manager – Canterbury Cathedral:

Karrie Fransman –

Mike O’B –

Zara Slattery –

Best of Times… Worst of Times: an interview with Paul Atherton

Paul Atherton is a campaigning film-maker, playwright, artist and one-time cartoonist who has been homeless for over 12 years. His work is often inspired by visits to museums – his most famous work, The Ballet of Change, was inspired by a visit to Tate Britain.

In September 2020, Paul visited The Cartoon Museum and was inspired by the collections to use cartoon art for his next work, a collaboration with Private Eye and Spectator cartoonist Mike Stokoe called Best of Times… Worst of Times, serialized in Pavement magazine.

Best of Times… Worst of Times takes a look at the failure of Boris Johnson’s so-called ‘Everyone In’ initiative that aimed to house homeless people in hotels during the COVID-19 pandemic, from the perspective of someone caught up in it at ground level.

Paul kindly took time to chat to the museum blog to give an insight into his life, work, and inspirations.

What inspired you to use a comic strip to tell the story of Best of Times… Worst of Times?

The idea was born on a visit to The Cartoon Museum between lockdowns in September 2020. I’ve been a huge fan of the museum since I discovered it before its move from Bloomsbury. On my first ever visit to the old establishment with my son we bumped into a film hero of mine, the filmmaker Mike Leigh, who I suspect was doing exactly the same thing as I was doing on my recent visit to the new venue – searching for that elusive spark of creativity from the artistic work of others.

Was it always going to be a comic strip?

Actually no, the original idea was spawned by spotting the Charles Jameson Grant cartoon The Political Drama No. 60 ‘Effects Of The New Bastards Law’ (1834), which is in The Cartoon Museum’s main collection. I couldn’t get over the language and the imagery, and thought ‘how the hell has nothing changed in nearly 200 years?’.

The cartoon was talking about poverty, the government policy causing it, and a society that seemingly didn’t care one jot about it. Exactly as things are now. I wanted to originally write a compare and contrast story about the lack of differences between the 1800s and the present day and how so little had changed.

This idea then morphed into something more Hogarthian, a Rakes or Harlot’s progress if you would – a compare and contrast of what actually happened to me, against what should have happened to me, over a fictitious period of 24 hours when I was actually taken in from Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 5 – a place that for the past two years I had called my bedroom – into hotel rooms under the initiative in April 2020.

When I had written down the idea, it just cried out for imagery.

Where did the collaboration with Mike Stokoe come from?

The story had been commissioned for The Pavement, a magazine explicitly designed for those experiencing homelessness that comes with survival tips, a list of places that you’ll need, personal stories and even cartoons.

My editor, Nicola Baird, had given the edition I was writing for the theme of ‘solutions journalism’, and loved my pitch. When we discussed the idea of turning it into a cartoon, she explained that Mike, like many other noted cartoonists, had dawn for the publication in the past and was offering to do more, so introduced us.

What was your experience of working in a new medium?

Everything about this was new for me, I’d never written a comic strip before. We had to do everything over zoom as we’d gone back into lockdown, which was also a new way of working for me, and I didn’t really understand the process – indeed I only had what I had gleaned from The Cartoon Museum exhibitions and watching Kevin Smith’s classic film, Chasing Amy!

Mike though was utterly brilliant, he understood things instinctively from the word go. You’ll notice in the strip that my trademark hat is always in the frame – at the time he had no understanding how important the hat was to me.

Most of the humour comes from the drawings and that’s all Mike too. I loved the idea of me sleeping in a bed for the first time in years, dreaming about me sleeping in a bed.

He tells me that it was the hardest thing he’d ever worked on, not least because of the number of words he had to fit into some of the frames, but he loved every minute – though you should ask for his side of the story before I shower him with too much praise!

Where did the title come from?

Keeping in the theme of being inspired by campaigning Londoners like William Hogarth, I obviously stole the opening lines from Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities for my title. Dickens was of course well known for his campaigning work against the poor houses, which of course brings us back to that original Grant cartoon. It also perfectly elucidated the problem between the two narratives: the best of times showing how things should have been, but the worst of times showing the reality.

How important do you think museums are to sparking inspiration and creativity?

There isn’t a piece of artistic work I’ve produced that hasn’t directly or indirectly been inspired by a museum visit, and I think that’s true of all good creatives.

All artists search for inspiration, and that inspiration always inevitably comes from research in one form or another and that usually starts with a library or museum visit. Culture is the life-blood of Britain’s genius; to not nurture it is to give up on the idea of Britain entirely.

Right now, it feels like we need a revolution! Walking through the museum’s recently opened V for Vendetta: Behind the Mask and Natasha Natarajan’s FML Comics exhibitions highlights the dilemma perfectly. On the one side is the brash campaigning days of the 1980s and 1990s, and the birth of the iconic mask of revolution – on the other side is the personal fears of an insecure millennial struggling with the intricacies of a 21 st Century life.

Taking a wander around Steve Bell’s curation of the Museum’s main collection, Drawing Life, and you see the stiff upper lips of the long past; the bawdy builders of the 1970s; the rebellious cutting wit of the 1980s and 1990s; before entering the 2000s and finding a society trying to find itself.

Only museums give you that kind of insight.

Where can people see Best of Times… Worst of Times?

The first part of 10 frames was published in the May 2021 edition of The Pavement, a bi-monthly publication that is available free in London & Edinburgh through a variety of outlets, and the second and final part is due for publication in July 2021.

Both parts will be available on The Pavement, and Stokoe and I are also working on bringing it to the public on a much larger platform – so watch this space!

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 –

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 –

Follow @MartinRowson for more drawing challenges

Adult winners
1 Rob Baines @Telecoda
2 James Mellor @JamesDFMellor
3 Dave @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 –

Mitchell, Leslie, ‘Fox, Charles James’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2007) –

Sherry, James, ‘Commentary: A new administration’, –


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.

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