Cartoonist Steve Bell

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Cartoonist Steve Bell

Post  eddie on Sun Apr 17, 2011 6:35 am

Thread for Twoody, Mr Bell's biggest admirer.


Steve Bell's self-portrait as "The Artist Who Lives Upstairs".


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Re: Cartoonist Steve Bell

Post  eddie on Sun Apr 17, 2011 6:44 am

The old ATU I site carried a thread on the history of British cartoon art, from Gilray to McGill which will have to be revived at some point.

Here's a quick taster of the tradition in which Steve Bell is working:


The Plum Pudding in Danger, 1805- Gilray.


One of Donald McGill's 'saucy' seaside postcards.


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Re: Cartoonist Steve Bell

Post  eddie on Fri May 27, 2011 12:24 pm

Steve Bell: 'You must discover the character behind the face'

Thirty years ago, political cartoonist Steve Bell drew his first If… strip; ever since, he's been a much-loved Guardian regular. He looks back on his career



Steve Bell The Guardian, Wednesday 25 May 2011

As London's Cartoon Museum celebrates three decades of his work, Guardian cartoonist Steve Bell talks about his childhood inspiration, his early work and a piece commissioned for the exhibition

Hitting 60 gives you plenty of food for thought. Having a retrospective exhibition at the same time gives further cause for astonishment. How did I ever manage to draw that small, without glasses or artificial aids? How did I manage without scanning and email? Well, everything went by train. How did I manage with four young children snapping at my heels? I used to work at night, when they were all tucked up. My oldest son, born the year I started working for the Guardian, is now 30 with ankle-biters of his own. He's grown – but have I?

There is no defined career path to becoming a cartoonist. I came to it almost in reverse. I have loved cartoons, drawing and having a laugh, but the notion of doing it for a living didn't take root until very late. I had studied art, but I found the idea of being an artist risible. (Monsieur L'Artiste was one of the first characters I ever drew at university.) So I started out as a teacher, but the stress was unbelievable. I knew things had gone too far when being off to have my wisdom teeth taken out felt like a relief. What I craved was a job where I could shut myself in a room and talk to myself, sometimes very loudly and in a variety of accents.

With my girlfriend Heather's encouragement, I handed in my notice and followed my friend from university, Kipper Williams, into the daunting world of freelance cartooning. I had no portfolio and no contacts, other than those Kipper gave me, and no plan, other than the fantasies engendered by my infinite sense of entitlement. It was the second best decision in my life. The best was to marry Heather, which I did that same year, in 1977.

While I was teaching, I had been drawing strip cartoons and illustrations, unpaid, for Birmingham Broadside, the city's answer to Time Out. I had introduced a character called Maxwell the Mutant: having been exposed to deadly radiation, in the grand old comic book tradition, Maxwell would mutate into someone unexpected every time he drank a pint of mild. Since 1977 was a Jubilee year, he naturally mutated into the Queen. His deadly adversary was Neville Worthyboss, a thinly veiled and rather inadequate caricature of the then Tory leader of Birmingham city council, Neville Bosworth. Despite my ambition and self-belief, I knew I needed to work on my caricatures. I never realised they would become a life's work.

Through dogged persistence (I still cherish my rejection letter from the Beano), I found work writing and drawing children's comics. My first professional effort in print, for IPC's Whoopee comic, was Dick Doobie the Back to Front Man; he sank without trace after a few months in 1978. But I was learning – and I had been paid.

At a leftwing publication called the Leveller, I introduced a strip about a really obnoxious supreme being, Lord God Almighty. But I wanted to draw comics about politics. I tried Time Out repeatedly, which in those days had a leftwing slant, but there was nothing going. Then I went to the magazine's offices for about the fifth time in 1979, immediately after the election of Margaret Thatcher, and saw the news editor, Duncan Campbell. He said they were looking for a comic strip to tackle the new Tory government. Would I like to submit a rough idea? I rushed home, grunted, strained and produced a pencilled rough of an allegorical strip where the animals were the people and the farm management were the government. They wanted one every fortnight; naturally, it became known as Maggie's Farm.

This was a huge break, but my Maggie needed work. I'm not someone who has an easy, natural talent for quick caricature, as Gerald Scarfe and Martin Rowson do. I take my time. It isn't simply a question of getting the likeness: you have to discover the character behind the face. My early Thatchers are no more than press photos rendered into line drawings, but then the woman herself was not yet a fully formed personality. The Iron Lady with Churchill's Trousers was an image that she consciously worked on, along with the darkening of her hair and the lowering and slowing of her voice. For a long time, though, I couldn't identify what it was about her that really got to me. What her government was doing was very, very nasty, but there was something else as well.

I came to realise, while drawing her over the first year of her government, that she was deranged, but in a very controlled way, and this was expressed in her eyeballs. Her utter self-belief, her total conviction of her own rightness, went way beyond arrogance. She was mad. Perhaps I subconsciously empathised with her for this. Even so, I hated her more than any other living being. Within a couple of years, she had managed to triple unemployment, slash services and lay waste to vast tracts of British industry.

When I saw Thatcher for the first time, in October 1980, at the Conservative conference in Brighton, I was horrified and intrigued. The crowd was terrifying; the whole occasion felt like a gathering of the undead. This was where she unveiled the deathless phrases: "You turn. If you want to. The Lady's. Not. For turning." The delivery was leaden. It was like a bad stand-up comedian addressing a particularly slow audience. Tory audiences are well turned-out, shiny and simple-minded, and in all the years I have been studying them, nothing whatever has changed.

The Guardian had informed me, in 1978, that they wouldn't be using my work in the foreseeable future. But in 1981, we had a newborn son and a mortgage in the offing. So in desperation I sent off more stuff. It paid off. In November 1981, the first If… strip appeared. Within six months, the ludicrous Falklands war had broken out, and since all imagery emanating from the Task Force sailing south was so rigidly controlled by the Ministry of Defence, the kind of surreal graphic speculation that only a cartoon strip can provide came into its own.

Nine years later, I was still hard at it when Thatcher fell from grace. It was great fun to draw a visual commentary on the fall as it happened. Her neck had thickened, her shoulders broadened, her quiff solidified. The eyeballs were wilder than ever: one hooded, one roaming free. Thanks to the wonders of fax, I was now able to draw a cartoon for publication the following day without having to go into the office (I had moved to Brighton). I produced my first big comment-page job on the day of Geoffrey Howe's devastating resignation speech, then another on the day Thatcher quit.

It was a horrendous amount of work, but it was addictive. With the arrival of John Major, and the outbreak of the Gulf war, I was sucked into doing two, three, then four large cartoons for the comment page a week, as well as the daily strip. I was so delighted at not to have to draw Thatcher any more that caricaturing Major came quickly and easily, as light relief. The logic was simple. He was one more useless Tory, only he was super-useless. He became Superuselessman, wearing not sleek red briefs over a bright blue body stocking, but Y-fronts over a grey suit. Major's slow death went on for far too long: by 1997, I was overjoyed to be drawing the blazing underpants sinking into the Thames, never to be seen again – except when they reappeared on Edwina Currie's head in 2002.

Tony Blair took longer to capture. It wasn't until stalking him at the Labour conference in Blackpool in 1994 that I noticed he had a little mad eye of his very own: politically and visually, he was channelling Thatcher. What Blair did was the appearance of conviction; what Gordon Brown did was the appearance of substance. Ten years of Blair gave way to the quick-quick-slow death of Brown. It was like drawing a crumbling cliff face, or the north end of a southbound cow.

At David Cameron's first conference as Tory leader, in Bournemouth in 2006, there was a sudden outbreak of pale blue skies, puffy clouds and trees waving in the breeze. The massed simpletons were still there, seething in the blue shadows, but they looked increasingly baffled. Then Cameron himself came on stage and burbled sweet nothings about the NHS. They didn't believe a word of it and Cameron didn't either, but he was channelling Blair. He had all the hand movements, the stiff, deliberate podium body language, and he could do sincerity almost as well as the master. But he's smoother and doesn't appear to possess any hair follicles. It turns out he is made of translucent pink rubber.

Saddest of all is Nick Clegg, a rather poor clone of Cameron, who in turn is a tribute act to Blair, who is himself channelling Thatcher. And who was she channelling? Her father, Alderman Roberts, the grocer of Grantham town? Winston Churchill? Adolf Hitler? Beelzebub? Who can say?

Am I getting cynical in my old age? I don't think so. I have a strong feeling that I was born cynical and that, somewhere within me, a dewy-eyed idealist has always been struggling to get out. I have been lurking under the podium, drawing politicians so closely for so long, that I have almost come to like them. I don't think they are any more venal and corrupt than we are. They talk bollocks because we talk bollocks – and because it's their job. Yet sometimes they say something that pushes a button and lights up the room. It is a rare skill and it doesn't happen often. Mostly, it is a slow slog through cliche and soundbite, followed by a slaughtering at the polls. What is worse is that many of them actually enjoy being done over satirically, since it shows that at least one person is paying them attention.

These men and women are professional idealists and I take my hat off to them. Then I kick them up the arse. Because it's not what they say or what they are, or even what they say they are, that gets my goat: it's the things they actually do to us in our name.

Bell Epoque: 30 Years of Steve Bell is at the Cartoon Museum, 35 Little Russell Street, London WC1, until 24 July

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2011


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Re: Cartoonist Steve Bell

Post  eddie on Fri May 27, 2011 12:28 pm


Thatcher, Heseltine and Howe, 1990- SB.

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Re: Cartoonist Steve Bell

Post  eddie on Fri May 27, 2011 12:30 pm


Blair's got his eye on New Labour, October 1994- SB.

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Re: Cartoonist Steve Bell

Post  eddie on Fri May 27, 2011 12:33 pm


Superuselessman, aka John Major, March 1991- SB.

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Re: Cartoonist Steve Bell

Post  eddie on Fri May 27, 2011 12:35 pm


Major goes down the Thames in 1997 like a Turner painting- SB.


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Re: Cartoonist Steve Bell

Post  eddie on Fri May 27, 2011 12:37 pm


After Hokusai, 2005- SB.

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Re: Cartoonist Steve Bell

Post  eddie on Fri May 27, 2011 12:39 pm


Gordon Brown fighting a losing battle, May 2008- SB.

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Re: Cartoonist Steve Bell

Post  eddie on Fri May 27, 2011 12:41 pm


Rubber-faced David Cameron looking down on the nation, January 2010- SB.

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Re: Cartoonist Steve Bell

Post  eddie on Fri May 27, 2011 12:43 pm


Performances rated at the general election leadership debates, April 2010- SB.

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Re: Cartoonist Steve Bell

Post  eddie on Fri May 27, 2011 12:45 pm


The coalition couple, May 2010.

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Re: Cartoonist Steve Bell

Post  eddie on Fri May 27, 2011 12:47 pm


Labour's aspiring leaders re-imagined in Motown, June 2010- SB.

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Re: Cartoonist Steve Bell

Post  eddie on Fri May 27, 2011 12:49 pm


George W Bush publishes his memoir, November 2010- SB.

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Re: Cartoonist Steve Bell

Post  eddie on Fri May 27, 2011 12:53 pm


Cameron in bed with the bankers, January 2011- SB.

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Re: Cartoonist Steve Bell

Post  eddie on Fri May 27, 2011 1:09 pm

Steve Bell: 'He's never kind, he's never affectionate'

Steve Bell's 30-year career as a political cartoonist for the Guardian has earned him respect - and a certain amount of fear. Some of his victims pay tribute to him

Interviews by Homa Khaleeli The Guardian, Wednesday 25 May 2011


Nick Clegg


Nick Clegg gets the wrong answer to his AV referendum, 2011. Photograph: © Steve Bell, 2011

Seeing Steve Bell at work is impressive: I remember him sketching at breakneck speed while standing in a muddy field in Cornwall on the campaign trail, with hundreds of colourful pencils sticking out of his pockets. For that skill, I will forgive him for depicting me as a cardboard figure with a massive chin.

Satire and cartoons are an essential part of a robust democracy and, over the last 30 years, Steve has proved to be one of the best. When you're his subject, his cartoons can make you take a sharp breath. But that's exactly why they work.

Edwina Currie


Edwina Currie and John Major's underpants, 2002. Photograph: ©Steve Bell 2002

The one that sticks in my mind is a famous one that was in the National Portrait Gallery. He portrayed me as an enormous chicken laying an egg. It's one of the cartoons of myself I did not buy. I'm not sure whether he would have sold it to me, but my vanity was not such that I wanted that on my bathroom wall. Others I remember – dare I say Mr Major in the blue underpants? I thought: I wonder if he is ever going to phone me and just check how accurate that is.

He's never kind, never affectionate. So it can feel hurtful. Afterwards, you realise it's very funny and clever, but at the time you feel miffed that your enormous contribution to the country is not being recognised. Does it make you feel better when you see your political rivals skewered? Oh yes!

Steve Bell is a remarkable talent. I'm not in the least surprised at his longevity. Long may he continue.

Menzies Campbell


Menzies Campbell overshadows Charles Kennedy, 2005. Photograph: © Steve Bell 2005

It's bittersweet to be in a Steve Bell cartoon. You join very exclusive company but the unnecessarily frank way in which you are portrayed ensures the pleasure of membership is short-lived!

I like Steve Bell. Any time we meet, we josh each other. But every now and again, I harbour the improbable wish that I could do a cartoon of him emphasising his more obvious features to return his many "kindnesses" to me.

After I became leader of the Liberal Democrats, I never felt the need to buy any of the originals of the cartoons in which I featured, although I do have a couple of cartoon strips that date from the time when he portrayed me as Ming the Merciless. I suppose, if you are a typical politician, you are only likely to collect the cartoons that approximate to your own view of yourself. Having experienced the acid brush of Steve Bell, I can't resist taking a certain atavistic pleasure when I see others suffer the same fate. There is a certain equality of treatment: no one is above his reach.

Cartoons are a traditional feature of British political coverage and the cartoonist's pen stroke has often conveyed judgments more deadly than anything journalists would dare to express. Whoever heard of a politician suing because of a cartoon? You would literally be laughed out of court.

John Prescott


John Prescott gets lampooned for his love of croquet, 2006. Photograph: ©Steve Bell 2006

Every politician likes to think they aren't going to be dumped on, but cartoons don't play to the normal rules. And the images do influence people's attitudes. The character Steve Bell turned me into was a bulldog. I couldn't see if I had any balls or not, but the suggestion is I hadn't. And I had no teeth. That was his judgment on me politically, I assume.

Do I like being drawn as a toothless politician? No I don't, but that's the press. Cartoonists put things in a sharper way and you accept that. It can be funny and powerful; it's a licence to take the piss, and Bell does it very well. It would be nice if he thought I was sucking people to death instead of biting them.

I always see him when I am on a platform, there on the front row, drawing everybody. You are always curious to see it. He's a brilliant cartoonist, that can't be denied, and he captures political moods and moments. I think he had very strong views on Iraq; maybe he looked at the decision-makers and decided they were too compliant. Come to think of it, I don't think there are any heroes in his cartoons.

I still buy books containing his cartoons. If he paints someone up as I see them, I think he has good judgment. If it's about me, I think he's faulty. Political cartoons are important. If people like me are a bit upset, well, it's like a critic writing about a play: the actor might not like it, but it's part of the judgment.

Paddy Ashdown


Paddy Ashdown at Liberal Democrat party conference, 1998. Photograph: © Steve Bell 1998

The first time I was drawn by Steve Bell I was half-shocked, but mostly flattered. I must like him. I've got him all over my office walls.

I think his cartoons are brilliantly drawn: you don't always know from a quick glance how much work goes into them. While he gets to the heart of the issues of the day, there are also completely random and zany elements. I think I'm quite politically aware, but I only get about 50% of what he's joking about. They are always funny, though. It's like a cartoon version of The Goon Show.

I like him as a person, too. I always go and have a chat and joke with him when I see him. I particularly like the one where I am leaning on my hands while someone reads out a resolution that includes the words "boring as fuck". I said: "How did you get that past the Guardian?" He had Tipp-Exed the word out before the editor had seen it and then put it back in afterwards.

Diane Abbott


Diane Abbott and fellow Labour party leadership candidates, 2010 Photograph: ©Steve Bell 2010

I first met Steve Bell 25 years ago, when he was in the early stages of his career. We were working on a left-wing magazine called The Leveller. It was obvious then he was very iconoclastic, very different from the other cartoonists. I thought he was brilliant. It's fantastic the Guardian has given him a platform for all these years.

He hasn't done all that many pictures of me, but there is one I loved – of me and the boys [Labour leadership contenders Ed and David Milliband, Andy Burnham and Ed Balls]. They were my backing group. It was a really nice drawing, but it packed a punch: there was something intrinsically funny about me being Diana Ross, but it also made a political point about the sameness of the male contenders.

I think I have got off relatively lightly so far, but I don't want to say that in case he does a horrible one! When you see his cartoons of a rival, you feel a touch of sympathy because he is so clever. But I don't think he's cruel. What he does is take a particular image and use it again and again and that gives it power. The idea of John Major in his underpants: he used that over and over and it became part of the political lexicon. It spoke of his timidity, caution and greyness.

Political cartoons have survived because they are so effective. I think he is the finest cartoonist of his era.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2011

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Re: Cartoonist Steve Bell

Post  eddie on Tue Dec 13, 2011 4:50 am

Bumped for Twoody.

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Re: Cartoonist Steve Bell

Post  eddie on Mon May 07, 2012 5:43 pm



Guardian review of current Gilray exhibition:

Nottingham Contemporary is... showing 40 prints by that greatest of English satirists, James Gillray. It has some of the classics, stupendous images from the 18th century that have long since entered our culture. Pitt and Napoleon carving up the plum pudding of the globe with their sharpened knives and forks; "Little Boney" stamping his foot like some deranged Shirley Temple. The French sans-culottes as raving hyenas, teeth filed to fangs; the Georgian fops parading their wasp waists, skinny as furled umbrellas.

It's a choice selection of political outrages – the French threat, the tax "reforms", the hypocritical excesses of the government as well as the monarchy. It is also a fine selection of bodies: bulging breeches, towering quiffs, vast cake-holes, unfeasible girths and appetites. The plutocrat excretes his lunch of stolen gold as a worthless heap of nothing.

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Re: Cartoonist Steve Bell

Post  eddie on Sun Jun 17, 2012 3:02 am

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WdTS45f2qgk
Political cartoonist Martin Rowson in conversation with Will Self.

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