Drawing a line under the election…

I PICKED up a second-hand copy of a Rowel Friers compilation of political cartoons from the 1970s in Oxfam on Belfast’s Dublin Road a couple of weeks ago, and discovered that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Chris Thornton delved into the world of the cartoonist and found that you can go much further back and get the same result – one particularly prescient 1936 cartoon in Queen’s University’s PTQ pictured a sectarian riot entitled ‘The Battle of York Street, 1990″.Martyn Turner and Ian Knox (aka ‘Blotski’) are other personal favourites.

Knox let Will Scholes from the Irish News know the secret of what makes a good political cartoon the other day:

“If it says something that could not be said in words and makes a point, it is a good cartoon.

“There should be as little writing as possible in the cartoon and it should make some sort of statement.

“It should analyse what is going on and be topical.”

Referring to how another cartoonist, Cormac, has described a good cartoon and turning the old ‘a picture paints a thousand words’ cliche on its head, Mr Knox adds: “It takes 1,000 words to say what a good cartoon means.”

As part of a series of lectures being held at the Linen Hall Library in Belfast under the title ‘The Unkindest Cut – A Cartoon History of Ulster in the Twentieth Century’, Mr Knox will be speaking about ‘The Cartoon in the Media’ at 1pm on Tuesday, May 10.

Frank Kelly – Father Jack from Channel Four’s excellent ‘Father Ted’ comedy – will deliver another lunchtime lecture on May 11 at the Linen Hall, and cartoonist ‘Cormac’ will speak on May 17.

Kelly’s father was a cartoonist for Dublin Opinion magazine, and he wrote of it:

The Kelly family grew up in an extraordinarily privileged culture of satire, in a household where it was believed that humour and satire were necessary and not just signs of mere frivolity. As schoolchildren they could not understand why teachers regarded humorous reactions as being subversive. From an early age they were convinced it was impossible to make wise decisions without considering the humorous ramifications of plans gone awry.

I wrote earlier that the Irish people picture themselves as a nation able to laugh happily at its foibles but this belief is not always justified. Irish TV carries virtually no satirical material, the exception being the series ‘Hall’s Pictorial Weekly’ which ran for 12 years.

Kelly knew the power of a cartoon as opposed to a long-winded tract. During the war, when tea was as scarce as gold dust, Eamonn de Valera promised ½ an ounce to every household each week. So Kelly presented De Valera as a landlady, clutching a tiny pinch of tea, with the caption, ‘The Wizard of ½ Ounce.’

When Fianna Fail tried to abolish proportional representation Kelly published a cartoon in the style of an old Fry’s Cocoa advertisement, showing a schoolmaster with his pupils lined up beside him in descending order of height, right down to a tiny fellow. The caption ran ‘Under proportional representation each boy gets an apple. Under the straight vote the big boy gets the lot’. I believe this cartoon alone served to undermine Fianna Fail’s campaign. The following week the ‘Sunday Press’, then a Fianna Fail backed paper, produced a cartoon ‘after Kelly’, with a convoluted caption, running to several paragraphs, that failed utterly to rebut the original, simple message.

How did Charles Kelly and Tom Collins come through the Civil War and the Second World War unscathed, surviving one political drama after another, busily satirising every event in written word and cartoon? Well, Kelly was not entirely unaffected. Fianna Fail was a monolithic party, its leader, Eamonn De Valera, considered beyond reproach by his followers. To cartoon ‘The Chief’, as he was known by his worshippers, was definitely blasphemous and vengeance had to be exacted.