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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