Archive for the ‘caricature’ Category

Punch magazine’s horn of plenty

September 28, 2017
Morten Morland cartoon from The Times newspaper showing Labour shadow chancellor John McDonnell with his mouth depicted as a Punch-style horn of plenty

Morten Morland cartoon from The Times newspaper showing Labour shadow chancellor John McDonnell with his mouth depicted as a Punch-style horn of plenty

The Times this week ran a Morten Morland cartoon showing Labour shadow chancellor John McDonnell with his mouth depicted as a horn of plenty – a cornucopia. This is a reference to an idea that goes back a couple of thousand years to Greek mythology. But it is a classical allusion that was very much kept alive by Richard ‘Dicky’ Doyle with his famous Punch magazine cover design that developed from 1844.

The horn of plenty from the left side of an 1847 Punch cover

The horn of plenty from the left side of an 1847 Punch cover

Buyers of Punch – just 6,000 of them each week in the satirical magazine’s early days – are the sort of people who will have had a classical education and so would be aware of the idea of a goat’s horn or horn-shaped basket overflowing with produce. It’s associated with Zeus, Hades, Hercules and Gaia.

In the case of McDonnell, he’s spouting forth a stream of policies at the Labour party conference; for Dicky Doyle in 1842, it was a cornucopia of fun, wit and entertainment.

The Punch cover is often described as never-changing, but that it not the case. The earliest issues from July 1841 showed a Punch and Judy stall. That idea stayed in place until the 20-year-old Doyle’s Mr Punch and his dog design took hold in April 1844. And there were several versions of that, though the main elements, full of classical references, stayed constant.

RGG Price’s History of Punch (Collins, 1957) states the frieze at the bottom was based on Titian’s Bacchus and Ariadne.  What appear to be the words ‘Exhaustive wit’ exude from the horn on the right, and ‘fun’ on the left. It is ‘satire’ that is raised up towards the heavens on the right among a multitude of mischievous imps, fairies and cherubs.

The cover of Punch magazine's almanac of 1842 by Halbot K Browne ('Phiz')

The cover of Punch magazine’s almanac of 1842 by Halbot K Browne (‘Phiz’)

This 1842 almanac cover is initialled HKB – Halbot K Browne – ‘Phiz’. He was one of five artists who did early covers for Punch (the others being Archibald Henning, William Harvey, John Gilbert and Kenny Meadows).

The engraver is also credited, Ebenezer Landells. He was one of the founders in 1841 of Punch, and acted as art editor, along with the journalist Henry Mayhew and William Last as printer.  This almanac sold very well and may have saved the magazine from closure, because sales had been running at 6,000 a week whereas they needed to sell 10,000.

However, the financial problems led Last to pull out in favour of working with Herbert Ingram on Illustrated London News. Landells had to sell his share to Bradbury & Evans, the publishers. Bradbury & Evans replaced Landells with Joseph Swain and gained complete control in December 1842. Swain was not credited on the covers.

Although Doyle’s design won out in 1844, it took five years to settle down into the image that lasted until 1956, when one-off colour covers by the likes of Ronald Searle became the norm. In particular, the detail of Mr Punch in the bottom frieze was altered in response to criticism that it was crude, a drawing of a British lion replaces the Punch stall on the easel and the circus typeface for the title was turned to wood, in a mockery of  the German illustration style of artists such as Alfred Rethel.

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On this day in magazines: Punch and Thatcher in 1977

February 24, 2017
How Trog portrayed Thatcher for Punch in 1977 (February 23)

How Trog portrayed Thatcher for Punch in 1977 (February 23)

‘Trog’ – Willy Fawkes – was a prolific cartoonist and did several Margaret Thatcher caricatures for Punch. This 1977 cover illustrated an article entitled, ‘What to do about the baby shortage’. The Conservative Party leader would not became prime minister for another two years. Here, she is portrayed as pregnant in the pose made famous by Alfred Leete in the ‘Your Country Needs You’ image of Lord Kitchener.

Thatcher had been a member of parliament since 1959 and became Edward Heath’s education secretary in 1970, a post she held for four years until the Tories lost power. She replaced Heath to become leader of the opposition and in 1979 won the first of her three premierships, losing the party leadership to John Major in 1990. Next are two more Thatcher depictions by Trog, all also before she became PM.

Trog turns to Dickens for inspiration in this Thatcher caricature from 1971 for Punch magazine cover

Trog turns to Dickens for inspiration in this Thatcher caricature from 20 July 1971 for Punch

In 1971, Trog had turned to Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist for inspiration, a serial first published in Bentley’s Miscellany magazine in 1837, with a George Cruikshank engraving of the above scene. The Punch cartoon has Thatcher in the role of Mr Bumble, the workhouse beadle, taking umbrage at Oliver asking for more gruel. She was education secretary at this time and cut spending. In 1974, and caused a furore and was nicknamed ‘Thatcher the milk snatcher‘ for ending the practice of primary schoolchildren being given a small bottle of milk each day.

Thatcher as a hippy! Trog for Punch in 1975

Thatcher finds the grass is greener as a hippy! Trog for Punch in 1975

The idea of Thatcher as a spliff-smoking, guitar-strumming hippy is the sort of thing that would have to come from a cartoonist like Trog. The Punch cover is from October 8, 1975, a year after she had replaced Edward Heath as  leader of the Conservative Party.


To see almost 500 magazine covers and pages, look out for my book, A History of British Magazine Design, from the Victoria & Albert Museum, the world’s leading museum of art and design

 

 


On this day in magazines: Punch 1954

February 3, 2017
Illingworth's controversial Punch cartoon of Churchill from February, 1954

Illingworth’s controversial Punch cartoon of Churchill from February 3, 1954

From its inception in 1841, Punch magazine built on the great tradition of English satire.

Fleet Street's Punch Tavern, with the eponymous puppet above the doorway

Fleet Street’s Punch Tavern, with the eponymous puppet above the doorway

Its founders originally held meetings in the Edinburgh Castle Tavern on The Strand. However, when its offices moved from 13 Wellington Street in Covent Garden to 85 Fleet Street, the magazine’s editors also moved east, to the Crown and Sugar Loaf at 99 Fleet Street. So, when the architects Saville and Martin rebuilt the pub in 1894-95 with the Baker Brothers, as part of a public house boom, they changed its name to The Punch Tavern. Mr Punch’s sharp chin and nose can be seen above the door to this day, and the The Punch Tavern was listed in 1996.

By the 1920s, Punch magazine could boast that its advertising pages were booked months ahead. However, three decades later, Bradbury Agnew & Co, its publishers, could see that sales were in decline. Cartoonists had once been the scourge of politicians, but they had lost their bite in Punch and readers were being tempted away by new-fangled televisions. The response from Bradbury Agnew was to appoint a new editor, Malcolm Muggeridge, in 1953. He sacked the magazine’s lead cartoonist, EH Shepard, the Winnie the Pooh illustrator, who had held the position since 1945.

In 1954, Punch was still using a front cover that was little different from Dicky Doyle's design from a century earlier

In 1954, Punch was still using Dicky Doyle’s front cover design from a century earlier

Within a year of Muggeridge’s editorship, in the issue of 3 February 1954, Punch pulled off a controversial coup in Leslie Illingworth’s 1954 sketch of Winston Churchill for the weekly’s ‘Big Cut’ cartoon.

The portrayal of an ailing prime minister – rather than the man who had epitomised the British bulldog spirit – with the caption ‘Man Goeth Forth unto his Work and to his Labour until the Evening’ upset friends of Britain’s wartime leader and the man himself. Churchill has been quoted as saying: ‘Yes, there’s malice in it. Look at my hands – I have beautiful hands … Punch goes everywhere. I shall have to retire if this sort of thing goes on.’

Illingworth had held down two positions right at the top of the cartoon world through the war, working for both Punch and the Daily Mail. As the British Cartoon Archive says:

It was noted in 1942 that Illingworth’s busiest time began on Thursday mornings, after the Punch cartoon had been commissioned the previous day. This was “Illingworth’s toughest period of the week…when he has a Punch cartoon and two Mail cartoons to produce before Saturday”, and he would often work through the night and into the next day to produce the detailed drawings. His wartime cartoons were very successful, and after the war a cutting of one of his Daily Mail cartoons – from 14 January 1944 – was found in the ruins of Hitler’s chancellery.

As the Political Cartoon Society points out, Churchill was deeply offended, but it was Muggeridge’s strategy to ‘make a loud nasty noise of the kind nobody associated with Punch‘.  It quotes Muggeridge saying to a friend in late January 1954:

As he sprang from the train [Muggeridge] remarked with profound satisfaction that the issue of the magazine he had just sent to the press was ‘likely to get us all in a lot more hot water’

It also cites Churchill’s doctor, Lord Moran: ‘There was something un-English in this savage attack on his failing powers. The eyes were dull and lifeless.’

Writing in the Journal of European Studies, Mark Bryant sums up his view on Illingworth in an article entitled ‘Crusader, white rabbit or organ-grinder’s monkey? Leslie Illingworth and the British political cartoon in World War II’:

If anyone deserved an award for his work in peace-time or war it was Illingworth. Praised by Sir Alfred Munnings, former president of the Royal Academy, he has been called ‘the last of the great penmen in the line of English social satirists starting with Hogarth’ and ‘probably the most outstanding cartoonist that Punch ever had’. Nicholas Garland has also described him as ‘the last of a great line of black and white draughtsmen … There is no mystery about his work. It is just superb.’ (1 September 2001, pp 345-366, vol 31, issue 123)

Ronald Searle's cartoon of Churchill in Punch from 18 April, 1956

Ronald Searle’s cartoon of Churchill in Punch from 18 April, 1956

Even after that controversy, Muggeridge’s Punch did not leave Churchill alone. Ronald Searle set about the prime minister again in 1956. The photograph Searle depicted on the wall behind Churchill is of the PM at the Yalta conference with Stalin and Roosevelt in 1945.

The newspaper headline refers to ‘Stalin in disgrace’ and the titles of the books on top of the bookcase are ‘Roosevelt, the Truth’ and ‘Inside Roosevelt’, referring to criticism of the US president’s record that had emerged. Roosevelt’s death within months of the Yalta conference was met with shock in the US because his declining physical health had been kept secret from the public.

Muggeridge left his position after four years, probably because the Punch owners found him  too controversial.


To see almost 500 magazine covers and pages, look out for my book, A History of British Magazine Design, from the Victoria & Albert Museum, the world’s leading museum of art and design


The precursor to Bottomley’s John Bull

June 24, 2016
The first issue cover of John Bull from 1 April 1903

The first issue cover of John Bull from 1 April 1903

Horatio Bottomley is rightly regarded as one of the biggest swindlers in British history, using the pages of both the Financial Times, which he helped found, and John Bull magazine to help promote his financial schemes.

Bottomley was at his most bombastic in the pages of John Bull, which was one of the best-selling magazines during the Great War. It’s the magazine with which he is associated as editor, but, in fact, there was a humorous magazine by the same name launched just a few year before Bottomley used the name, as can be seen above.

The first issue of that John Bull was in 1903 – dated April 1st –  and the editor was Arthur William À Beckett, a magazine veteran who had worked on several titles, including Punch, though perhaps not very successfully. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography describes A.W.’s deputy editorship on Punch from 1880 as presiding over the magazine‘s ‘decline into decrepitude’ because he would change nothing and refused to introduce new blood. Eventually, in 1902, was asked to resign.

A.W. wrote The À Becketts of Punch, about his time on the satirical weekly with his father and brother (Gilbert Abbott and Gilbert Arthur), which was published by Constable in 1903.

The inside masthead for John Bullfeatured famous names such as Louis Wain and Max Beerbohm

The inside masthead for John Bull featured famous names such as Louis Wain, Harry Furniss and Max Beerbohm

The masthead inside the first issue of John Bull by W. Reynolds shows a fabulous roll call of contributors: A.W. carries a bull on his back ahead of a cast made up of A.P. Graves (Irish writer, assistant editor of Punch and inspector of schools), caricaturist Max Beerbohm, cartoonist Harry Furniss, lyricist and writer Adrian Ross, Louis Wain – renowned for his anthropomorphised animals – as Dick Whittington with a devilish-looking cat, Cyril Pearson as a sphinx, Percy Fremlin, adventure writer Sir Gilbert Parker, Sir William Robinson and the Welsh poet Sir Lewis Morris.

A.W. died in 1909, but John Bull appears to have predeceased him, with the British Library holding just one volume, with the final issue dated 25 June 1903.

The magazine was based at 5 Henrietta St in London’s Covent Garden. The street has long associations with publishing. Jane Austen lived at No 9 in 1813-14, the Royal magazine was at No 19 in 1914, along with C. Arthur Pearson’s other titles. In the 20th century, it was the home of Dorling Kindersley for many years.

To see almost 500 magazine covers and pages, look out my book, A History of British Magazine Design, from the Victoria & Albert Museum, the world’s leading museum of art and design

Alfred Leete’s advertising characters

March 29, 2016
Alfred Leete's Father William character in London Opinion advertising (1927) for Younger's Scotch Ale

Alfred Leete’s Father William character in London Opinion advertising (1927) for Younger’s Scotch Ale

Alfred Leete was a regular on London Opinion magazine and drew the most famous image of the 20th century – the Lord Kitchener ‘Your Country Needs You’ cover that became the famous poster. No doubt that image will soon be all over the media again as the centenary of Kitchener’s death approaches in June (and I’ve written a book on the Kitchener poster coming out next month from Uniform Press).

Leete was an artist on the George Newnes title from at least 1910. He also did a lot of advertising work and, aside from Kitchener, this led to probably his most famous character – Father William – for William Younger’s Scotch Ale.

Younger’s illustrated adverts in the early 1920s focused on characters who might drink the ale, as several examples from the Shut Up About Barclay Perkins blog show:

William Younger advertising for its Scotch Ale in 1923 from the Nottingham Evening Post

William Younger advertising for its Scotch Ale in 1923

Newspaper cuttings from the Nottingham Evening Post on the same blog suggest Leete’s Father William being used in 1924:

Nottingham Evening Post cutting shows Alfred Leete's Father William character for William Younger Scotch Ale in December 1924

This Nottingham Evening Post cutting shows Leete’s Father William character in December 1924

In 1927, this Lever advert appeared on the back page of All Sports magazine.

Alfred Leete 1927 Lever advert on the back page of All Sports magazine

Alfred Leete 1927 Lever advert on the back page of All Sports magazine

So, Leete was clearly an expert in creating character in print.

Alfred Leete's 1924 Father William character is still used for William Younger's Best beer from Charles Wells today

Alfred Leete’s Father William used today

In the 1930s, Younger’s merged with McEwan’s as Scottish Brewers, which ended up as Scottish & Newcastle in the 1960s. That fell into the hands of  Heineken and the brand is today part of Bedford-based Wells & Young’s.

Incredibly, Leete’s Father William character has retained its appeal since 1924 and graces the pumps for William Younger’s Best to this day.

>> Kitchener, the man and the poster, from Uniform Press in June

 

New Statesman’s curious case of John Major’s ‘mistress’

August 23, 2015
new_statesman_2015jul17_660.jpg

New Statesman’s ‘motherhood trap’ cover illustration earned the ire of several women politicians (17 July 2015)

New Statesman is a leftwing magazine that, as befits a political weekly, likes to stir things up occasionally. This recent cover for ‘The motherhood trap’ by Helen Lewis generated a fuss when it was criticised by SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon as being ‘crass’ and reinforcing prejudice. The Tory leader in Scotland, Ruth Davidson, tweeted: ‘oh do sod off’.

But New Statesman really got itself into deep water in the 1990s with an article, ‘The curious case of John Major’s “mistress”‘.  It sparked a libel  case that became curiouser and curiouser, damaged the PM and had a stunning denouement – nine years later. At the time, the article nearly sank the magazine as it celebrated its 80th anniversary year with a revamp to try and boost its 22,000 circulation.

New Statesman 1993 jan 29 John Major Clare Latimer

The curious case of John Major’s ‘mistress’: New Statesman of 29 January 1993 with a photomontage by Richard Camps showing Clare Latimer in the background

It was January 1993. Major was the son of a trapeze artist and former City banker who had never been to university. He had risen through the Tory ranks to take over as prime minister and leader of the Conservatives after the ousting of Margaret Thatcher in November 1990. He then won a tight election in 1992. Major himself was regarded as the grey man of British politics. However, his government was plagued by sexual and financial scandals and led to the label of ‘Tory sleaze’. Prominent among these scandals was actress Antonia de Sancha selling a kiss-and-tell story to the News of the World of a ‘toe-sucking’ affair with David Mellor. Major vowed to back his culture minister ‘through thick and thin’, but Mellor eventually resigned as a minister. Such scandals derailed Major’s ‘back to basics’ campaign that aimed to encourage support for traditional morality and the family.

The New Statesman article set out to investigate who was driving persistent  rumours that Major was having an affair. It had been obliquely referred to in newspaper diary columns and the satirical puppet-based TV series Spitting Image. The standfirst and headline summed the article up:

It is the ‘story’ that dare not speak its name. Steve Platt and Nyta Mann investigate the rumour, gossip and nudge-and-a-wink innuendo behind … the curious case of John Major’s mistress

It talked about a ‘deliberate attempt to undermine the new prime minister’, ‘dissatisfied Thatcherite Tories’ and ‘investigative muckraking’ by the newspapers. The ‘mistress’ often surrepticiously cited was named as Clare Latimer, who  had done the catering for events at 11 Downing Street when Major was chancellor from 1989 and carried on working for him when he was PM.

Major and Latimer separately sued for libel, against both the New Statesman and the satirical magazine Scallywag, which also carried the story.

The New Statesman insisted the article never intended to assert that an affair had taken place. It was ‘anatomy of a rumour’. But Major and his lawyer, David Hooper, who was reputed to charge £250 an hour, pressed the writ. The magazine’s wholesalers, distributors and printers quickly apologised and paid damages without a fight. These were seen as ‘soft’ targets. However, they, in turn, were able to make New Statesman pay these costs. In an article that argued Major had damaged his reputation in bringing the case, the Sunday Times estimated the damages at £26,500 to Major and £30,000 to Latimer with costs of £80,000 (11 July).

Paperboy threatened by libel laws: New Statesman of March 12

Paperboy threatened by libel laws: New Statesman of March 12

New Statesman editor Steve Platt fought the case, quickly raising £100,000 from an appeal to readers for donations towards its costs (as Private Eye did in cases such as its fight against Robert Maxwell). It campaigned for reform of the libel laws to protect printers and distributors from such claims with a cover story entitled ‘Would you sue your paperboy?’

Its legal bills topped £200,000 and the magazine came close to collapse. However, Major settled in July for just £1,001 in damages, in what the Sunday Times called ‘a derisory climbdown’.

The Economist agreed, describing Westminster talk of ‘John the Wimp’ (10 July):

A popular reading of Mr Major among his Tory critics is that he is a man who throws in his hand when the stakes get raised against him. This week’s settlement seems to bear that out.

New Statesman hits back: the cover the week after Major settled the case (16 July)

New Statesman hits back: the cover the week after Major settled the case (16 July)

But the magazine survived. Major left the leadership after losing the the 1997 election to Tony Blair (an article by the then shadow home secretary, ‘Why crime is a socialist issue’, was one of the cover lines alongside ‘The curious case’), but stayed on as an MP until 2001. Then, in 2002, former Tory minister Edwina Currie ‘shopped’ Major, revealing she had an extra-marital affair with Major in her memoir Diaries (1987–92). The book told of a four-year affair when they were party whips from 1984, a time when they were both married; Major to Norma, and Currie to her first husband, Ray Currie.

The news led the magazine to threaten legal action to get its costs back, saying Major’s libel action appeared to be based on a false premise.

In 1994, Currie had written a novel, A Parliamentary Affair. An Observer Magazine profile summed up the plot:

[A] cabinet member has an affair with a rent boy and a junior minister makes love to a breast-jiggling journalist on Westminster Bridge. Meanwhile, Elaine, a backbencher not to be confused with her creator, has rear-entry sex in a Commons office.

So it’s no wonder that the Guardian said of Currie’s Dairies revelation:

The nation was shocked by Edwina Currie’s revelation that she had an affair with John Major, not so much because of any moral concern over fidelity, but because the idea of them at it took us to places we never, ever, wanted to go.

Let’s give the final word to Richard Camps who did the pre-computer photomontage for ‘The curious case’ cover:

I remember watching footage on the news of rabid Tories angrily waving this illustration in parliament. A proud moment. John Major has since proved himself to be a man of unquestionable integrity and fidelity who would never get involved in anything as sordid as an extramarital affair.

Life at Punch in 1962

March 25, 2015
Punch magazine cover from 1879 (November 22). This cover shows the Dickie Bird cover that was used into the 1950s

Punch magazine cover from 1879 (November 22). This shows the Dickie Bird cover that was used into the 1950s

The weekly humour magazine Punch is long dead – despite an attempt to revive it in the 1990s – and only a cartoon archive selling reproductions exists today. Yet, in its day, Punch one of the world’s most influential magazines, not only in encouraging the development of other magazines (Judy, Owl and Lika Joka among them) but also bringing new word usages into the English language – ‘cartoon’, the ‘curate’s egg’ – developing the cartoon itself, and politically – angering Churchill, for example, in the way it portrayed him as an old man in the 1950s (probably losing editor Malcom Muggeridge his job in the process).

By this time, Punch was in decline in the face of competition from television for readers and advertising, and about to face Private Eye at the harder end of topical satire in print. Private Eye even ran a special issue having a go at what it saw as a Punch that had lost its edge (though criticising Punch had been a topic since at least 1916).

But it’s rare to be able to put a face to a famous name in the magazine world, so this British Pathe film from 1962 was a bit of a find.

Punch table in 1962 from British Pathe film

Punch table in 1962 from British Pathe film

It starts with Bernard Hollowood, the editor, and cartoonists in debate around the Punch table and art editor Bill Hewison carves his initials on the table. His letters are shown as well as others by contributors James Thurber, William Makepeace Thackeray and John Leach and a rare guest, Prince Philip. There is a description of the table on the Punch website.

Two Victorian illustrations are shown, ’19th century forecast of television’ and ‘air-to-air refuelling’, before the film moves on to summarise the editorial, production and publishing processes at Punch, with Russell Brockbank, contemporary illustrations, subscription orders and magazine binding.

Around the Punch table are: Peter Agnew, Kenneth Bird, J. B. Boothroyd, H. F. Ellis, W. Hewison, C. Hollis, B. Hollowood, D. Langdon, R. Mallett, Norman Mansbridge (who did Her, a brilliant spoof of 1950s women’s magazines), F. L. Marsh, R. G. G. Price, B. A. Young and P. Dickinson.

To see almost 500 magazine covers and pages, look out my book, A History of British Magazine Design, from the Victoria & Albert Museum, the world’s leading museum of art and design

Leete, Kitchener and the pointing man

February 6, 2015

Alfred Leete’s Kitchener poster was the subject of great debate last year with James Taylor’s book suggesting it might never have existed, but The Amazing Story of the Kitchener Poster proved that thesis wrong by uncovering pictures of the poster on display during the Great War (a book I wrote with Martyn Thatcher).

We also discovered an image that Leete might have seen of a pointing man used in advertising. Now, I’ve unearthed two more pointing figures, one that Leete very possibly saw, and one that he undoubtedly did see.

The first is this one, a pointing man in an advert for The Power Within from Pearson’s magazine (June 1907). I don’t know if Leete was a contributor to Pearson’s at this time, but it was a big illustrated monthly and he would probably have had an eye on it – he certainly did covers for Herbert Jenkins’ Mrs Bindle series in the magazine in 1921. So this advert has to be considered a possible inspiration for Alfred Leete’s Kitchener image. Note the way the word ‘you’ is picked out just below the man’s hand.

A pointing man in an advert from Pearson's magazine (June 1907)

A pointing man in an advert from Pearson’s magazine (June 1907)

The second image that he probably did see is this one:

The pointing man from an advert in London Opinion magazine, 17 September  1910

The pointing man – from an advert in London Opinion magazine, 17 September 1910

Why am I so sure Leete will have seen these? Because Leete was an established illustrator on magazines by 1910, regularly doing covers as well as drawings inside for London Opinion. The latter advert is from London Opinion, of a veterinarian from Kalamazoo in the US, Derk P. Yonkerman, who sold a supposed cure for consumption. Also, there is the illustration below in that very same issue of London Opinion as Yonkerman’s advert – note Leete’s signature to the bottom right. When the war came along, he was in the right place to dash off the ‘Your Country Needs You’ image for the magazine cover.

Drawing by Alfred Leete in the same issue of London Opinion

Drawing by Alfred Leete in the same issue of London Opinion

Charlie Hebdo: will you buy it?

January 13, 2015
Defiant pencil from the Charlie Hebdo homepage

Defiant pencil from the Charlie Hebdo homepage

Charlie Hebdo has raised its print run tomorrow to a massive 3 million copies – probably 60 times its normal run – with copies being distributed far beyond their normal scope. And it has a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed on the cover.

Will you buy a copy?

I will, because the past week has been a historic one in the history of journalism and magazines. However, without such a professional impetus, the answer is not straightforward. While I have bought copies of Charlie Hebdo in the past, it has always seemed to me that it is an extreme magazine with editorial values that I could not share. It has been censored by the likes of Apple iTunes. And last week it came up against an even more extreme entity, in the form of extremist Islamists.

Do you agree with the statement today from the cartoonist who drew tomorrow’s cover: ‘There is no “but” when it comes to freedom of speech’? Even though another staff member has pointed out that: ‘We are not obsessed by Mohammed more than the Pope or [former French president] Nicolas Sarkozy.’

Charlie Hebdo exists to bait its targets by word and image, and to push the boundaries of what is allowed in print. But most newspapers and magazines would not go there. This can become an unequal battle being waged by highly literate – and after the revenue comes in tomorrow, well-resourced – journalists. What form of response is there for many of their targets? Muslim groups have tried to stop the magazine’s attacks by using the law, but from what I have read, have failed. However, the magazine was banned when it attacked Charles de Gaulle after his death. This does raise the issue of whether all people are equal before the law.

If you hold up a sign saying ‘Je Suis Charlie’, what are you supporting? Free speech? The right of Charlie Hebdo to carry on baiting Muslimists and its other targets? The 17 victims of the gunmen last week? If you buy a copy tomorrow, what will you be supporting then?

Charlie Hebdo highlights US ‘moral fundamentalism’

January 12, 2015
the flag flown on US warships for the duration of the US 'war on terror'

This is no cartoon – it’s the flag flown on US warships for the duration of the US ‘war on terror’. Shame about the missing apostrophe

This image may look like a cartoon, but it is in fact the flag currently being flown on US warships. As Graham Bartram at Flags.net explains:

This historical naval jack has been re-introduced for the duration of the war against terrorism. It replaces the traditional US naval jack which is dark blue with 50 white stars, arranged as in the national flag.

The flag was adopted in 2002 on the anniversary of the terrorist attacks on New York. The secretary of the US navy ordered all warships to raise the Revolutionary War jack with its rattlesnake – a symbol of resistance to the British dating back to the late 1700s – and the motto ‘Don’t tread on me’ to mark the ‘war on terror’. September 2014 marked the 12th year the historic jack has been flown.

I was reminded of the image with all the Charlie Hebdo cartoons, many showing illustrations of ‘weaponised’ pens and pencils. And much of the commentary has been about war – or avoiding one – as so many people take sides after last week’s brutal killings. In all, 17 people lost their lives. Today, France has put 10,000 troops on to the streets to guard potential targets as well as an extra 5,000 police. Yesterday, 3.7m people across France took to the streets to show solidarity with the victims.

This week’s print run of Charlie Hebdo has been raised from its usual 50,000 or less by a factor of 20 – to a million. Truly an example of war-like mobilisation. French newspapers have chipped in with office space and computers and the cash comes from a €60m fund for digital publishing innovation set up by Google at the behest of the French government after demands from publishers that the US search engine company pay for displaying their news in its results.

There’s a certain irony here in a US company being dragged in to fund a French satirical graphic magazine because one of the biggest US companies has spent years censoring such titles to such an extent that the director of the Comics Art Museum in Brussels dubbed Apple ‘fundamentalists of globalised morality’. A blog at the gallery explains:

In the summer of 2013, Apple, one of the most modern companies in the western world, imposed a ban on the online sale of some 1,500 Franco-Belgian comic strip albums for reasons of ‘pornography’. Needless to say, the pornographic nature of these albums is entirely questionable and exists mainly in the eyes of the fundamentalists of globalised morality.

Roman graphic novel Murena by Jean Dufaux and Philippe Delaby

Roman graphic novel Murena by Jean Dufaux and Philippe Delaby

The publisher, Dargaud, was forced to censor its own artwork and produce an edition of Les épines by Jean Dufaux and Philippe Delaby for sale on Apple’s iTunes, alongside the usual edition for sale in Franco-Belgian bookshops.

J.C. de la Royère, the museum’s curator, said that as ‘a great defender of freedom of expression’, he was ‘more than happy to join the fray by exhibiting the complete version of Les épines by Jean Dufaux and Philippe Delaby’.

Such ‘bandes dessinées’ (drawn strips) have been popular since the 1960s in France and Belgium. I first came across them when I dodged into a bookshop on the Left Bank in Paris to avoid a riot in the street! My eyes were popping as I rifled through titles such as Metal Hurlant (Heavy Metal, editions of which have been published in English in the US for many years now). The strips portrayed sex and violence – beyond anything in underground magazines in Britain that I had seen – and it was in one of these that I first saw the work of Swiss illustrator HR Giger, who a few years later would burst on to the world stage with his designs for the creatures and spaceships in Ridley Scott’s Alien.

The irony has also not been lost on the web newspaper  The Daily Dot, which has commented on ‘The hypocrisy of Facebook and Apple supporting Charlie Hebdo.‘It points out:

Apple — the king of US technology giants — has a #JeSuisCharlie banner on its iTunes store. Not only does Apple regularly engage in censorship on its various platforms and stores — it used to be against the rules to even ridicule public figures on the iTunes store — it has actually specifically censored Charlie Hebdo in the past.

It seems that, although the US tech giants are flying the flag for Charlie Hebdo, in reality their attitude to censorship means: ‘Je ne suis pas Charlie’.