Friday, 30 January 2015

Panel 11: The Cartoon Museum

Panel 11: The Cartoon Museum

My Cartoon & Comic Book Tour of London would be incomplete with mentioning The Cartoon Museum. Firstly, here's how to find the Cartoon Museum…

There it is, tucked away in plain view, struggling to be noticed in the presence of that upstaging old ham The British Museum.

Just to clarify: the good people at the Cartoon Museum are not describing the BM as an "upstaging old ham". That's all my own work, folks.

Indeed when Anita O'Brien, the curator at the Cartoon Museum got in touch with The Daily Constitutional recently, one of the first things she did was direct us to the British Museum as a great resource for London-themed cartoons. The example she sent was a George Cruikshank cartoon from the 1820s commenting on the spread of our metropolis - CLICK HERE to see the cartoon on the British Museum website.

Anita was writing in response to our request for a London-themed cartoon recommendation and she sent us not one, but two, in the shape of this pair of marvellous Heath Robinsons

"There will be Heath Robinson stuff in the WWII exhibition, "Anita added, referencing the upcoming Heckling Hitler exhibition…

 … of World War Two cartoons which opens on 25th March. Thanks Anita!


The Cartoon Museum
35 Little Russell Street

Still to come on our Cartoon & Comic Book Tour of London… From HellThe League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, DC Thomson, and a wonderful indy comic book as recommended by Orbital comics, Metroland (my new favourite comic book).

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Panel 10: The Wicked + The Divine

First blogged on The Daily Constitutional , these posts take us on a virtual Cartoon & Comic Book Tour of London – 20 stops on a metropolis-wide search for all things illustrated. 

I'll be taking in everything from Gillray and Hogarth, to Scooby Doo and on to Deadpool and beyond! In addition I'll guide you to the best in London comic book stores as well as galleries that showcase the best in the cartoonist's art. 

Panel 10: The Wicked + The Divine

Last time I added Orbital Comics, the comic book store in Great Newport Street to my Cartoon & Comic Book Tour of London.

This time, Orbital Comics are joining my tour with a great recommendation for a London-set comic book – The Wicked + The Divine by Keiron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie.

In terms of location I am delighted to say that we're heading London transpontine – I am that most derided of Londoners: a South Londoner trapped in a North Londoner's body. One day they'll make documentaries, maybe even a comic book, about my kind.

The Wicked + The Divine kicks off in Brockley, SE4, an area of London that was part of Kent until the 1880s…

The Brockley Jack Theatre can be found there, housed in a Victorian Pub. Spike Milligan lived in Brockley when he first arrived in this country from India. The entertainers Marie Lloyd and Lily Langtry both lived in the area. And it is currently home to one of London's most informative blogs Brockley Central – – the liveliness of the blog being very much a reflection of the vibrancy of the area.

This vibrancy aside, Brockley remains a contrastingly prosaic launch pad for such a fantastical tale.

The Wicked + The Divine is a fantasy in which the gods return to earth every 90 years. In the 21st Century their special abilities see them treated as both super heroes and as celebrities. What ensues is a great mix of chaos and smart commentary on 21st century fame and power.

There seems to be something in the ether at the moment with comic books and gods. It's a natural fit, of course: didn't Prometheus steal fire from the Gods to help mankind at great personal risk to himself? What's that if not classic superhero behaviour?

And on the same comic book racks of 2015 where we pick up The Wicked + The Divine, we can also find God Is Dead (there's ol' Nietzsche again, 'e popped up earlier in another Kieron Gillen work featured in this tour, Über, read that post HERE). God is Dead (Avatar Press) is a spectacularly bloody look at what might happen if the gods of all creeds and cultures and eras all came back at once to claim the earth for their own. Much less bloody is The Life After, in which Ernest Hemmingway leads us on a tour of an "alternative heaven", an after life for suicides (as I blog, issue no.6 of The Life After is out this week v. exciting, another trip to Orbital is in the offing.)

I'm tempted to speculate that the modern comic book writer seems compelled to help the 21st Century reader fill the belief-shaped space vacated by organised religion…

It's certainly the case that god is on our minds – as I keep pointing out in reference to the timing of this blog, we live in a world where people who draw pictures get killed in His name.

The crime writer Ian Rankin once observed that prize-winning literary fiction often tends to be set in the past, while crime writers address the issues of contemporary society. The same could be said of the modern comic book (no coincidence that Rankin himself turned to authoring illustrated fiction in his post-Inspector Rebus years). If historians 100 years hence want to know how we lived – and what we feared – at the start of the 21st Century they would do well to look at our comic books.

Jamie McKelvie's artwork (the colourist is Matthew Wilson) for The Wicked + The Divine is seductive. His style always makes me think of the music of Erik Satie: like Satie's piano pieces, McKelvie's lines at first appear calm, almost obedient. Yet within that calmness lurks the potential for theatrical shock and drama. The clean lines lure the reader into a false sense of security and when the narrative takes its regular hyper-real turns, the drama is heightened as the hitherto peaceful drawings burst into life.

The crisp naturalism of the drawings is the perfect companion to the wild narrative flights of Gillen, a writer (as we have already scene with Über) of great imaginative gifts. For older readers such as I, Gillen is impressive in that he is a writer totally at home in his milieu, comfortable in his own writerly skin. Not at any point does he have to big-up the medium, to explain that comic books are capable of carrying a meaningful tale. Both writer and artist also work for the mighty Marvel comics. And Marvel is lucky to have them.

Brockley is the starting point for the narrative but we range all over London, from Homerton to The Strand. The old tube station on The Strand is one of my favourite pages in The Wicked + The Divine so far…

I love the lettering (by Clayton Cowles) descending the page as the characters break in to the disused tube station.

The Wicked + The Divine is an ongoing series and the first five issues are collected in The Wicked + The Divine: The Faust Act, on sale now…

… writer Kieron Gillen is appearing at Orbital Comics for a signing on 7th February 2015. Full details HERE.

 Visit The Wicked + The Divine website at

We'll bring you more recommendations from Orbital Comics soon, as well as D.C Thomson in Fleet Street, From Hell and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen as our Cartoon & Comic Book Tour of London continues…

Friday, 23 January 2015

Panel 9: Sir David Low

First blogged on The Daily Constitutional , these posts take us on a virtual Cartoon & Comic Book Tour of London – 20 stops on a metropolis-wide search for all things illustrated. 

I'll be taking in everything from Gillray and Hogarth, to Scooby Doo and on to Deadpool and beyond! In addition I'll guide you to the best in London comic book stores as well as galleries that showcase the best in cartoon art. 

For a post on how the Cartoon & Comic Book London blog came about, click HERE.

Panel 9: Sir David Low

As I near the halfway point of this series, I pause once again to reflect on the timing of my Cartoon & Comic Book Tour of London

My tour began on the 1st January 2015 with Hogarth & Gin Lane. I then called in on George du Maurier in Hampstead and was all set to bring the series into the 21st Century with a look at the bloodthirsty alternate history comic book Über* on the 7th January when the news came through from Paris of the murders at Charlie Hebdo.

I could not have chosen a more serious time to continue blogging about being funny with a pen and paper. 

But then the business of drawing a picture has often been a serious one indeed

Cartoonist David Low (born in Dunedin in 1891) was described in his Guardian obituary as, "The dominant cartoonist of the western world." He was knighted in 1962.

His cartooning career began in his native New Zealand, and continued in Australia – where he was once called a "bastard" to his face by the Prime Minister. But then that particular high office has often been held by bluff, straight talking men. Or boors as they are sometimes known. Such men hate to be mocked.

After World War Two, Low's name was found to be in the so-called black book of personas non grata, public enemies to be arrested after the Nazi invasion of Britain.

Even in this country Low was viewed in some quarters as a warmonger for his gloves-off depictions of the despots of 1930's Europe…

Low's take on the Molotov/Ribbentrop, or Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact of 1939

Low arrived in London in 1919 and worked as a cartoonist on The Star and The Herald (both now defunct) as well as The Guardian, but it is his 13-year stint at the London Evening Standard (1927 to 1950) for which he is best remembered.

In 1937 Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels complained to Lord Halifax (then Foreign Secretary) that Low's work was damaging diplomatic relations between Germany and Britain. Herr Hitler, it seemed, could become rather cross when Low got to work.

Strange that men such as Geobbels and Hitler, with such strong stomachs for genocide, would be so upset at a couple of strokes from a pen.

David Low was seldom far from my thoughts in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo murders.

Martin Rowson, whose work appears in The Guardian, brought it all into focus for me – as he so often does, usually with his wonderful cartoons. His words, it turns out, are every bit as eloquent and economical and angry and humane as his drawings. On the 7th January, under the sub-heading "Mockery is hated by the powerful and despotic – which is why it must continue", he wrote…

Laughter, it needs to be shouted, is one of the things humans do best, mostly because it makes us feel better. I’ve been convinced for years that laughter is a hardwired evolutionary survival mechanism that helps humans navigate our way through life without going mad with existentialist terror. That’s why we laugh at all those terrifying things like death, sex, other people and the disgusting stuff that pours out of our bodies on a daily basis.

Moreover, we’re very, very good at laughing at those who place themselves above us, either as our leaders or intending to impose their beliefs to make everyone else exactly like them. That’s the basis of the craft I shared with my murdered colleagues in Paris. This universal capacity to use mockery as a form of social control is one of the main things that makes us human. Crucially, it’s also in defiance of the primary need of the powerful to be taken seriously, often against all the external evidence of their innate absurdity.

(Read the full article here:

Or, as Low himself once put it:

"I have learned from experience that, in the bluff and counterbluff of world politics, to draw a hostile war lord as a horrible monster is to play his game. What he doesn't like is being shown as a silly ass."

Low is remembered with two plaques in London, one in Hampstead (as mentioned in an earlier post in this series, click HERE to read) and one in Kensington where he lived. Here's the plaque…

… and here's how to find it…

* I added Über to my tour on the 16th of January. On the 7th January I paid tribute to Private Eye, the UK's long-standing, much-loved (and equally hated!) satirical magazine.  

Coming soon in my Cartoon & Comic Book Tour of London… From Hell, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and D.C Thomson…

PLUS I've got great recommendations from both the Cartoon Museum and the comic book store Orbital Comics.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Panel 8: Disney

First blogged on The Daily Constitutional , these posts take us on a virtual Cartoon & Comic Book Tour of London – 20 stops on a metropolis-wide search for all things illustrated. 

I'll be taking in everything from Gillray and Hogarth, to Scooby Doo and on to Deadpool and beyond! In addition I'll guide you to the best in London comic book stores as well as galleries that showcase the best in the cartoonist's art. 

Panel 8: Disney

Disney has long loved London. Here's a still from Basil the Great Mouse Detective

(You can buy Basil the Great Mouse Detective from Disney here:

(We were in Baker Street earlier, click HERE to catch up with that post.)

… and from the opening credits of 101 Dalmatians

101 Dalmatians is available to buy here:

… and from Peter Pan

Peter Pan at the Disney Store online:

In Peter Pan (the 14th Disney animated feature, 1953) the Darling family live in Bloomsbury and the London skyline provides the perfect backdrop for the magical flying scenes. In Basil The Great Mouse Detective, Big Ben and Buckingham Palace take centre stage. This was the 26th Disney animated feature (1986) and the very first to use computer animation techniques.

101 Dalmatians was the 17th Disney animated feature (1961) and was the movie that saved Disney as we know it. Following the disappointing box office performance of Sleeping Beauty (1959) it is said that Disney was ready to abandon animated features altogether. 101 Dalmatians went on to be the 10th highest grossing picture of 1961 in North America.  

The most memorable London scene In 101 Dalmatians features The Twilight Bark

In the wake of human failure to locate the missing puppies, Pongo and Perdita take matters into their own paws and send a message out throughout London. Did you think that dogs bark at nightfall for no reason at all? They are, of course, communicating with one another. 

Pongo barks from what appears to be Primrose Hill

… the message reaches Danny the Great Dane in Hampstead (a more imposing specimen of cartoon Great Dane than Scooby Doo, see our earlier post)…

As the message spreads through town, we pan out across the London skyline. It has been pointed out that the neon lights of the West End seem to have been relocated to South London, but no matter: it allows the artists to give us a lovely view of St Paul's dominating the city skyline – as it would have done 54 years (!) ago when the film was released. The anniversary occurs on the 25th January.

Here's how to get to Primrose Hill (and nearby Regent's Park where Pongo and Perdita meet for the very first time)… 

(Still to come on the Cartoon & Comic Book Tour of London… Gillray, Sir David Low, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Gosh! comic book store and Deadpool does Tower Bridge!)

Friday, 16 January 2015

Panel 7: Über by Kieron Gillen & Caanan White

First blogged on The Daily Constitutional , these posts take us on a virtual Cartoon & Comic Book Tour of London – 20 stops on a metropolis-wide search for all things illustrated. 

I'll be taking in everything from Gillray and Hogarth, to Scooby Doo and on to Deadpool and beyond! In addition I'll guide you to the best in London comic book stores as well as galleries that showcase the best in cartoon art. 

For a post on how the Cartoon & Comic Book London blog came about, click HERE.

Panel 7: Über by Kieron Gillen

Kieron Gillen's Über is an ongoing comic book series set at the fag end of World War Two. It offers a chillingly imaginative and thoroughly gruesome alternate denouement to the Second World War.

When Über first hit comic book stores back in April 2013, writer Kieron Gillen penned the following lines…

"I didn't want to write a book about superhumans. I wanted to write a book about humans and their relationship with power. I hope you find it fascinating and compelling. I hope you don't enjoy it."

At time of writing I've just laid aside issue #20. I'll be back for more in issue #21, so it's a double tick on fascinating and compelling.

The seed of the book can be found in the much mythologized Wunderwaffe, the super weapons touted by the Nazi propaganda machine, of which only the V1 and V2 bombs (said to have been developed out of the same programme) ever came to full, murderous fruition.

Gillen takes things a step further, pulling the Übermensch (super men) out of the bag. When the Nazis develop a superhuman soldier, the British reply with their own Tank Men, the arms race escalates and the war runs on to grim stalemate.

Issue #11 is going centre stage in my Cartoon & Comic Book Tour of London, but I'm treading carefully – there's a monumental spoiler to avoid in this issue, the revelation of which would be to ruin the impact of the entire series.

All we can say is that there's a clue in the word "monumental" and that Über takes two legendary symbols of Britishness and besmirches one with the other in a violent and truly shocking way. Enter artist Cannan White and his propensity for gory detail. His work, vivid and dynamic, is horribly haunting. Which brings us, perhaps, to why Mr. Gillen hopes that we don't necessarily enjoy this book.

Is it too gory? Not in the context. I for one am quite comfortable with the horrors of war being presented seriously without the bang-bang-you're-dead antics of the Commando comics of my childhood.

The scene I've chosen here sees Battleship-Class Übermensch Sieglinde attacking Whitehall – the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and on to the Treasury building in Westminster – with the now famous Cabinet War Rooms beneath.

In terms of fiction, the scenes of destruction in London are affecting, and the obliteration of Haussmann's Paris even more so. But this being an alternative history, Gillen brings real characters into his narrative, too – Churchill, Hitler, Albert Speer and Alan Turing among them. His delight in weaving historical detail into the narrative is palpable.

The story chimes with Wagnerian references that could clang in a lesser writer's hands. Nietzsche is in the mix, too. Gillen draws on the Übermensch concept from Thus Spake Zarathustra – which, when viewed through the twisted prism of Nazism, resulted in the biological master race philosophy and the barbarous work of the death camps. Gillen seldom lets us stray from the evil that men do, on all sides of the conflict.

The context of the superhuman in the story's period setting is also worth noting. As we went to war, the superhero was very much in his infancy. Superman was on the scene and already popular. And the time was ripe for such characters as tools of morale boosting propaganda. Captain America was created in the early years of the war when the US pursued a policy of isolation. The cover of his first story shows Cap socking Adolf Hitler squarely in the jaw.

You may, of course, be of the opinion that comic books were the least of the art inspired by WWII and that Shostakovich's Symphony No.7, say, is of more import. I'm happy to appreciate the merits of both. But if I was called upon to defend comic books as vehicles for serious and thought-provoking storytelling, my task is made that little bit easier by the sophistication and nuance in Mr. Gillen's work.

You can buy Über by following the "Store" link at Avatar (the publisher's) website

Alternatively you can pop in to Orbital Comics in Great Newport Street – find Orbital in our earlier post HERE.

You can find the location depicted by Caanan White above (the building in the frame is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, next door to the modern day Churchill War Rooms beneath The Treasury), here…

P.S. January 2016: Über features again in my "tour" – click here to catch up with that post.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Panel 6: Orbital Comics

Panel 6: Orbital Comics

Wednesday is new comic book day and before my Rock'n'Roll London Pub walk on a Wednesday evening, I pay a visit to Orbital Comics on Great Newport Street.

In terms of 20th century culture, Great Newport Street, for all its brevity, has its fair share of cultural landmarks.

Ken Colyer's jazz club once stood at No.11-12 – as I blog it is under scaffolding but there is a green plaque marking the spot. The club – Studio 51 – had connections not only with the world of trad jazz, but also with the Rolling Stones. For postwar Brits in thrall to Americana, Studio 51 was a little bit of New Orleans in London.

The Arts Theatre in Great Newport Street was where Samuel Beckett's Waiting For Godot enjoyed its English language premiere in 1955. In the 40s and 50s it was a club theatre where more radical themes could be explored outwith the jurisdiction of the censor, the Lord Chamberlain.

The memorial to crime writer Agatha Christie is situated at the eastern end of Great Newport Street.

Number 8, where you can find Orbital Comics today, was once the home of The Photographer's Gallery, the world's first gallery dedicated entirely to photography. The street has long been associated with art and artists – Sir Joshua Reynolds and the portrait painter George Romney among them.

Add up the elements and, both historically and thematically, it's the perfect location for a comic book store; it has a long association with artists; it's been a place of pilgrimage for those of us who love American popular culture; a much-loved writer, whose low standing among literary critics is at odds with her popularity, is commemorated here; Great Newport Street has been home to creatives who wish to push the boundaries of their art but have often struggled to work under censorship.

All of these things ring true in the world of comic books and their creators.

So Great Newport Street is where you'll find me of a Wednesday – new comic book day.

It's a lot easier for comic book fans to get their fix these days. Back in the 50s new, gloriously lurid American comic books arrived in this country as ballast on ships.

The staff at Orbital are both friendly and knowledgeable. Don't hesitate to ask for help – I've had a number of great pointers and recommendations from the folks at Orbital, many of which have become favourite reads. They also select their faves of the week for the Orbital email newsletter. And they have a gallery space, showcasing the best in comic book art with an ever-changing programme of exhibitions. 

Their podcast – The Orbiting Pod – is a cracker, too. Visit their website to hear, among other things, a fascinating talk on the history of the infamous comics code regulation of 60 years ago, brought in by comic books in the face of a so-called moral panic regarding "unsavoury" and gruesome illustrations. Listen here:

Find Orbital Comics at 8 Great Newport Street WC2…

For earlier posts in our series in their original home on The Daily Constitutional, click the following links:

Panel 1: Hogarth 

Panel 3: Private Eye 

Monday, 12 January 2015

Panel 5: Baker Street

First blogged on The Daily Constitutional , these posts take us on a virtual Cartoon & Comic Book Tour of London – 20 stops on a metropolis-wide search for all things illustrated. 

I'll be taking in everything from Gillray and Hogarth, to Scooby Doo and on to Deadpool and beyond! In addition I'll guide you to the best in London comic book stores as well as galleries that showcase the best in the cartoonist's art. 

Panel No.5: Daffy Duck, Danger Mouse & Baker Street

So who's your favourite Sherlock Holmes of all time? I can tell you my answer without blinking.

It's Daffy Duck. No contest.

The words "contains mild and frequent comic violence" are among my favourite in the English language. Especially when they herald five pristine minutes spent watching a Looney Tune from the 40s or 50s. And Daffy Duck was always my favourite.

Daffy Duck is venal. He is vain. Calculating, pompous, self-centred, self-aggrandising, ruthless, cheap and a vile self-preservationist. He'd sell his granny's eyes for two bob.

In fact, when the cartoon work dries up for him, he'd excel in high public office.

What better actor than Daffy to scale and sledge the bipolar peaks and toughs of Holmes's alpine mood swings?

Deduce You Say (1956) sees Daffy star as Doorlock Homes with Porky the Pig in the role of his sidekick Watkins. 

The detective is on the trail of The Shropshire Slasher (go on: try saying it in a Daffy Duck voice) whom he pursues from his base at number 221 7/16 Beeker Street. The gags come thick and fast… but mostly thick, and that's just the way I love 'em.

Here's a still from the opening sequence…

And here's Daffy collecting a pint as evidence (Doorlock's own particular tipple of choice is Hot Buttered Gin)…

With so many classic Daffy Duck cartoons to choose from (according to the IMDB 1956's Deduce You Say was the 80th cartoon in which Daffy featured) how does one go about rating a Daffy Duck short? I've always found my own method to be failsafe. Simply watch the cartoon and wait for the moment when Daffy's beak falls off. If it stays attached to his face, take a note of the title and avoid it next time around. This duck's a dog.

If his beak slips, falls or is knocked/socked/blasted/blown off, then you are watching a stonewall classic.

Needless to say Deduce You Say, has a most memorable beak-losing moment.

As any cartoon connoisseur will tell you, it is possible to know within a few seconds of a Looney Tune or Tom & Jerry feature whether the cartoon will be a good one. The lines, the colours, the music of the 40s and early 50s Looney Tunes are an immediate hallmark of cartoon quality.

In the 70s and 80s growing up in the UK, the words Cosgrove Hall on a TV animation was a similar guarantee of a top notch show with plenty of good laughs.

As a youngster I loved to entertain the notion that Cosgrove Hall was some magical mansion where cartoonists lived and drew cartoons all day. I was disappointed (and remain so) when I found out that they were actually the names of animation team Brian Cosgrove and Mark Hall, creators of the immortal Danger Mouse.

Danger Mouse (mouse superhero voiced by David Jason) and his hapless hamster sidekick Penfold (Terry Scott) is Sherlock Holmes infused with James Bond. 161 episodes were made between 1981 and 1992.

Our crime-busting rodents live in a pillar box in Baker Street…

… and even make reference to the fact that Holmes and Watson are jealous of their skills and fame.

Daft gags abound in Danger Mouse – as do tales of budgetary restraints that would have destroyed a lesser team of animators. Ever wonder why so many Danger Mouse adventures were set at the North or South Pole? Legend has it that the white polar landscape was a popular cost-cutting exercise. A similar theory goes to explain why there were a great many "Hey! Who put the lights out?" scenes: again, no colours, only black with eyeballs blinking away. One could always recognise Danger Mouse even in a black out: he wore an eye patch so only one eye was blinking. Necessity is the mother of great comic invention.

The collage effect used just after the opening credits to set the scene in London…

… creates a pleasingly Terry Gilliam-ish effect and despite the tales of scrimping and saving, the overall feel of the cartoon was never anything less than gleeful. That the glee may, in large amount, spring from a knowing self-deprecation is something that delights me as an adult but troubled me not one iota as a child. Perfect family entertainment with something for everyone – not least the legendary comic voice talent.

As I blog there are rumours of a reboot for Danger Mouse*, featuring Alexander Armstrong and Stephen Fry. Such reboots can be very successful – see Scooby Doo Mystery Incorporated as mentioned earlier in this series – and I'm really very excited at the prospect. I only hope they don't throw too much money at it and make it all glossy. It would lose much of its quintessential Britishness that way.

Here's how to find Baker Street…

*Update January 2015 - since this was first posted the new Danger Mouse has exploded onto our screens and it's BRILLIANT – catch up with my review HERE.

You can buy Daffy Duck in Deduce You Say as part of the Looney Tunes Golden Collection Vol 1 from Amazon (click HERE). Danger Mouse is also available from iTunes (click HERE).

We'll be back in Baker Street later in the tour. You didn't think we'd forgotten Basil the Great Mouse Detective, did you?

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Panel 4: Scooby Doo In London

First blogged on The Daily Constitutional , these posts take us on a virtual Cartoon & Comic Book Tour of London – 20 stops on a metropolis-wide search for all things illustrated. 

I'll be taking in everything from Gillray and Hogarth, to Scooby Doo and on to Deadpool and beyond! In addition I'll guide you to the best in London comic book stores as well as galleries that showcase the best in the cartoonist's art. 

Panel No.4: Scooby Doo & Wimbledon

We are big fans of Scooby Doo in our house. By we, I mean my seven-year-old daughter and me.

Although it’s mostly me.

Our favourites are the original Scooby Doo Where Are You? Series from 1969 and 1970 and the recent reboot Mystery Incorporated. The first has the best stories, best gags, best drawings; the newer version is vividly drawn, explores the characters well, is quite scary in places and is packed with knowing jokes for hardcore Scooby Doo fans such as my daughter and me.

Although it’s mostly me.

The 1976-1978 version of the Hanna-Barbera animated series, The Scooby Doo Show, features a visit to Wimbledon… sort of.

The Warlock of Wimbledon (first broadcast in 1978) sees the gang head to the famous tennis tournament in SW19… albeit a very, er, stylised SW19.

The spooky landscape that should be Wimbledon Common, for example, resembles more a wild moor (all the better to showcase the Baskerville-inspired villain). And has someone shifted Stonehenge to Wimbledon? Now that IS a mystery…

The accents are all a bit Dick Van Dyke – which is all part of the fun. Shaggy gets to utter the line, “I say old chap!” The tennis players play in yellow and blue kit (they’d have heart failure at the All England Club!)…

And, perhaps most far-fetched of all, tennis player Jimmy Pelton (above) wins the mens’ singles. And he’s an Englishman!

The one touch of realism sees Fred use the common American mispronunciation of Wimbledon as WimpelTON. Nice touch.

Turns out that Warlock of Wimbledon was no warlock at all, but actually just one of the seemingly innocuous peripheral characters all along. And he would have gotten away with it, if it hadn’t been for those meddling kids.

Phew! Who saw THAT coming?

Scooby and Shaggy had been in London just the year before with Scooby’s All Star Laff-a-Lympics, an Olympic-themed cartoon also from Hanna-Barbera. Here's a most verdant Westminster as it appeared in that cartoon…

Laff A Lympics saw Scooby Doo’s team (the Scooby Doobies, ahem) take on a team captained by Yogi Bear and The Really Rottens, a team of villains led by Dick Dastardly in a series of madcap sporting events. The main event in the London-set episode was a Big Ben Tower Climb. Here's Shaggy dangling from the clock tower…

The real Wimbledon has often been rich subject matter for cartoonists. From John McEnroe's tantrums to Andy Murray's tears, newspaper cartoonists the world over have had much fun at the world's most famous tennis tournament.

Things were ever thus. Back in 1873 when the rules of Lawn Tennis were codified, there were those of the opinion that the new game was far from a masculine pursuit. This cartoon from Punch in 1874 concerns itself with exactly that subject…

Last summer our famous British comic The Beano appointed then reigning Wimbledon Champion Andy Murray as guest editor. The Scot featured in a scrape with Dennis the Menace.

We're big fans of The Beano in our house, my daughter and me…

Oh! Stop! Who am I trying to kid? 

My daughter is not in the slightest bit interested in The Beano. I, on the other hand…

I'll deal with The Beano another day when we go over to Fleet Street later in this series. But in the meantime, if you are down Wimbledon Way, the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum has a great collection of historic Wimbledon-themed cartoons and art on display.

Here's how to find Wimbledon…

And here's how to download the not-so-real (but great fun!) Wimbledon in Scooby Doo cartoon form on iTunes, The Scooby Doo Show HERE and Laff A Lympics HERE.

Coming soon on The Cartoon & Comic Book Tour of London… Sir David Low… The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen… and the acclaimed Über, an ongoing WWII alternate history comic book series from Kieron Gillen and Canaan White.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Panel 3: Private Eye


Following the horrific murders in Paris earlier today, I present a change to my scheduled post.

As part of my Cartoon & Comic Book Tour of London I had planned to discuss the ongoing World War Two comic book series Über – a post that I will now hold over until another day.

In its place I will continue my tour by paying tribute to a magazine that stands alone in its field, our last remaining satirical news magazine Private Eye.

My thoughts tonight are with the families and friends of those who lost their lives at the office of Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris.

Panel 3/20. Private Eye

Private Eye. Long may it reign. I love its every scabrous, satirical and sacrilegious dot and comma.

Trying to explain to my seven-year-old daughter tonight about the events today in Paris at the offices of Charlie Hebdo. Trying to explain what had happened, why it had happened. I used our own British satirical magazine Private Eye as my prime tool.

Private Eye, I explained, is a magazine with cartoons that pokes fun at people.

Daughter: "Like a comic?"

Me: Yes, very much so. But with lots of words, too. Very funny words.

"What people does it poke fun at?"

All people. Prime Ministers, policeman and priests. Celebrities. Journalists. Everyone and anyone.

"Do the people like it when it pokes fun at them?"

Do you know what? Yes they do…

As a journalist I once featured in Private Eye. And I remember the moment vividly.

It was lunchtime. I was sitting at my desk in South Quay over in the Docklands when my mobile phone started to buzz and ping, while a moment later the landline chirruped into life. I answered the landline.

The voice at the other end sang with excitement: "You're in Private Eye!"

I thumbed open a text message. Same words. Roughly. u r in Private Eye!

I had written a theatre review for The Independent the prose of which had erred on the florid side. On the fanciful side. Pretentious. It may have alluded to "millennial angst". Dearie me. 

And Private Eye was down on me like a ton o' bricks.

Fair play. I had it coming.

My friends were impressed. Which was not the point. A colleague slapped me on the back. Which was not the point. I was thrilledWhich was not the point. Which is exactly why Private Eye should never rest with the likes of egomaniac journalists and celebrities, Prime Ministers, policeman and priests on the loose. 

Daughter: "Who reads Private Eye?"

Me: Anyone in this country. You can buy it anywhere in the UK.

"So the whole country was laughing at you for writing silly things?"

Basically, yes.

"Didn't you feel sad?"

Well, sticks and stones may break my bones…

"But words will never hurt me."

No, nor drawings neither, darling, nor drawings neither.

Here's a the front cover of the current edition featuring the infant Jesus, the Blessed Virgin, St Joseph, sundry angels and eight daft balloons having a right good giggle at the birth of Christ…

Inside, the magazine is sprinkled with similarly daft cartoons featuring the three wise men, the archangel Gabriel and God.

The new issue goes on sale tomorrow. This journalist is thankful that he'll be around to buy it. And buy it I certainly will.

Richard Ingrams, Willie Rushton, Christopher Brooker and Paul Foot founded Private Eye in 1961. The comedian Peter Cook helped fund the magazine from the 1960s onwards.

It has long been home to the greatest of British cartoonists. Bill Tidy, Michael Heath and Nick Newman among them.

Its offices can be found in that iconoclasts' paradise, Soho. I've always loved that: based in Soho and not in Fleet Street. It's right and proper that Private Eye journos and cartoonists should not be seen with their snouts in the same trough as the hacks it so often satirised in the old Street of (Dr)ink. Don't get me wrong: I'm sure they have their snouts in other troughs with different reprobates elsewhere. Good for them. Good satire is thirsty work. 

Here's Private Eye editor Ian Hislop, quoted today:

"I am appalled and shocked by this horrific attack - a murderous attack on free speech in the heart of Europe.

I offer my condolences to the families and friends of those killed - the cartoonists, journalists and those who were trying to protect them.

They paid a very high price for exercising their comic liberty.

Very little seems funny today."

Monday, 5 January 2015

Panel 2: George Du Maurier & Hampstead

First blogged on The Daily Constitutional , these posts take us on a virtual Cartoon & Comic Book Tour of London – 20 stops on a metropolis-wide search for all things illustrated. 

I'll be taking in everything from Gillray and Hogarth, to Scooby Doo and on to Deadpool and beyond! In addition I'll guide you to the best in London comic book stores as well as galleries that showcase the best in the cartoonist's art. 

Panel 2/20. George du Maurier

Chatting the other evening with dedicated London Walker David Hall. He looms large in the London Walks legend, does David. 

David was reflecting that he has now reached an age that Franklin D Roosevelt never saw.

"I'm now older than FDR was when he died, and I've achieved considerably less. Even with the extra years," he laughed, "I'll still achieve considerably less!"

It made me think of George Du Maurier. Funny what makes the synapses connect and spin an unexpected platter on the great jukebox of the subconscious isn't it?

Whenever I am guiding the Hampstead Walk, I always try to look at Du Maurier's grave. 

Du Maurier wrote (among other things) Trilby, a novel set in fin de siècle Paris, peopled with lurid showbusiness types (the best kind of showbusiness types, o'course) among them a young singer named Trilby and an evil and manipulative showbiz manager named Svengali – from whence we get the metonym for evil and manipulative showbiz managers in general. Simon Cowell, I suppose, is the closest thing we have to such a thing today. Talk about the paucity of genuine characters in 21st Century life.

Du Maurier was more famously a cartoonist on the staff at Punch magazine. His most celebrated piece is True Humility (1895) an often-parodied and -referenced cartoon in which a bashful curate is taking breakfast with the bishop…

"I'm afraid you've got a bad egg, Mr. Jones," says the bishop.

The curate replies, "Oh, no, my Lord, I assure you that parts of it are excellent!"

And thus the phrase "Something of a curate's egg" (so beloved of arts critics) enters the language: a piece that is perceived by the critic as mainly bad with one or two perhaps questionable redeeming features.

If we look closely in among all of du Maurer’s hatching work, I'm sure we can see the lines of bad smell rising from the egg. A comic technique that prevails today and one that is used to vivid effect in the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham on their Thames Path walkway, a cheeky example of a cartoon sensibility enlivening everyday signage…


But back to David Hall. David's rumination on FDR and everything he achieved sent me off to du Maurier for the following reason. George du Maurier was a busy boy too, one of those Victorians who seemed to have cracked the secret of the 25 hour day – not content with success in one field (cartooning), he conquered a second (fiction) in later life.

He is buried at St John at Hampstead in North London (pictured above). In a pleasing chime the ashes of Peter Cook rest nearby. Cook funded our greatest repository of the cartoonist's art (in fact our only one left!) Private Eye magazine (more on that another day).

And while we're talking about the neighbours, look at the grave to the left of du Maurier's, marking the final resting place of the cartoonist's fellow perpetual Hampsteadite, Labour Party politician Hugh Gaitskell. Gaitskell’s likeness was captured many-a-time by legendary political cartoonist David Low in The Evening Standard. Low kept a studio in Hampstead just around the corner from St John's. He'll be back later in our series, too.

Here's how to find the churchyard of St John at Hampstead…

Next time, something a little more up-to-date: alternative history with Churchill, Alan Turing and London laid waste in the ongoing comic book series Über.