Friday, 20 March 2015

Panel 20: #Willie Rushton

Panel 20: Two Willies

Willie No.1

I started my Cartoon & Comic Book Tour of London at St George's Church in Bloomsbury in the company of William Hogarth. 

It's only appropriate, therefore, that we bid farewell (for now) to this series by visiting Hogarth's grave in Chiswick

Willie No.2 is rather more up-to-date. Willie Rushton.

Long, long ago, before airheads, boors and one-man-blands dominated our television screens, the broadcasters used to let people like Willie Rushton into our homes.

He wasn't much to look at, I'll be frank. But whenever he came on screen, there was a palpable sense that life was just about to become that little bit better.

Willie Rushton (1937 - 1996) was the complete all-rounder. Writer, comedian, cricket fan, actor, satirist and cartoonist.

He was a fixture of the legendary satirical TV programme That Was The Week That Was in the 60s. He drew cartoons for The Daily Telegraph and many other publications. He was a cornerstone of BBC Radio 4's most august programme, I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue from 1974 - 1996. He was one of the founders of Private Eye. He stood for parliament in 1963, running under the slogan "Death To the Tories" and polled a mighty 45 votes.

An early 70's L.P sleeve featuring Rushton's cartoon's

I first became aware of Mr Rushton on a 1970's TV show called Quick on the Draw in which cartoonists such as Rushton and the great Bill Tidy would come up with cartoons on the spot. I'd pay double the license fee to see Steve Bell and Martin Rowson on such a show today.

Many of us would rather that Rushton was still ineligible for a blue plaque. Alas he qualified for one in 1996 by dying at the age of 59. He is much missed.

His plaque can be found at Mornington Crescent underground station, commemorating the daft gameshow Mornington Crescent, such a beloved featured of the aforementioned radio show I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue.

That he made us laugh is an achievement great enough.

That he was a founder of Private Eye, the last remaining satirical magazine in this country, makes him every bit as important a figure as Hogarth. I get the feeling that he would have hated the pomposity of that statement, but I believe it to be true.

He is at least worthy of having a gyratory system in his honour, an honour already bestowed upon Willie No.1…

My own personal tribute is to hashtag him (see blog post title). I wonder if we can get him trending?

Willie Rushton's ashes, legend has it, are interred on the boundary line at the Oval cricket ground in South London.

Folks, that's it… for now. I do hope you've enjoyed this series. I've had a lot of fun compiling it and for that reason, as well as the glaring omissions (Where's Punch? Sydney Paget? The Simpsons?) I hope to add extra stops to this tour gradually over the coming months.

Thanks for reading!


London, March 2015

Monday, 9 March 2015

Panel 19: From Hell

Panel No.19: From Hell

Alan Moore & Eddie Campbell (1989 - 1996)

The business of telling the Jack the Ripper tale on a nightly basis is no straightforward task. Other London tales sit still, remain constant. Jack is fluid.

Much of the "new" information that comes in on this case with such regularity can be discarded pretty quickly. But when Alan Moore, one of the great storytellers of our age weighs-in, it's time to sit up and take notice.

The problem in giving a critical assessment of this comic book is essentially the same problem as that which Moore himself faced back in 1988 when he first conceived the project: what can be said about this subject that hasn't been said before?

Moore found a new angle on the famous Whitechapel murders by taking an holistic rather than forensic approach – looking at Victorian society from top-to-bottom to better assess the causes of such a barbaric episode in British history.

His greatest achievement is that it's difficult to imagine, in 2015, approaching the case in any other way. From Hell is often held up as the graphic novel that changed the world of illustrated fiction forever. But it is also the analysis that changed the face of this notorious case for all time.

So how to recommend this comic without recourse to those dread words "iconic" and "game-changing"?

The rightly garlanded Mr Moore gives me the perfect opportunity with his annotations to Chapter 4 for From Hell, in which he writes…

"I should take this opportunity to point out that From Hell has, if anything, been more thoroughly researched visually than it has in terms of content."

Chapter Four of From Hell is simply one of the most thrilling things I have ever read on London.

With the case set up, the characters, the social background all in the mix, Moore has Sir William Gull – Physician-in-Ordinary to Queen Victoria – take us on a tour of London – quite literally a guided tour.

In terms of narrative, this is where the plate-spinning job becomes a superhuman effort with Masonic lore, ancient myth, legend, literature and political comment all entering the fray. It's breathless stuff, essentially a monologue from Gull, all hurtling along like a Russell Brand prose poem.

It is as we criss-cross the metropolis that artist Eddie Campbell really comes into his own. His dark, often scratchy style has to this point been employed to perfectly fashion the unspeakable hell of Victorian Whitechapel. 

But when Campbell lifts our gaze to the obelisks, columns, spires and domes of the city (particularly in the Nicholas Hawksmoor churches), from Earl's Court to the Isle of Dogs, he combines the eye of a master draughtsman with the showmanship of some operatic ringmaster.

It is the way that Moore and Campbell work together that makes From Hell the landmark work that it is. Both men are riveting storytellers in their fields, with a seemingly innate ability to know when the drama needs reining, and when to use the whip.

(A map to Christ Church Spitalfields)

Last word to Moore who adds in his annotations, with characteristic self-deprecation, the following:

"Suffice to say that any adequate appendix listing Eddie's sources in the way that I am listing mine would be twice as long as this current monstrosity, which in itself looks set to end up twice as long as the work to which it refers."

From Hell is published by Knockabout Comics and you can buy a copy direct from their website here:

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Panel 18: Metroland

Panel 18: Metroland & Velvet

A few weeks ago I blogged about Orbital Comics on this Cartoon & Comic Book Tour of London. Oribital is my regular Wednesday haunt and the guys have kindly added a couple of recommendations to our tour. Their first was The Wicked + the Divine (catch up with that post HERE), and here are two more beginning with the glorious Metroland.

Camilla at Orbital made this a personal recommendation – an indie comic set in London, Metroland is described by the publisher as "a soap opera of music and time travel". A perfect description, this: what great band story isn't a soap opera? And in a field such as pop, which is constantly drawing on its own past, time travel is not only a perfect metaphor for the modern music business, but also a fun device to create a world where Kurt Cobain and John Lennon are still among us. Smart and fun – everybody strives to be that. Metroland gets there without breaking a sweat.

Created by Ricky Miller (words) and Julia Scheele (art), the series is currently on issue 2 and is peppered with great London locations, not least the view from Greenwich (with a lovely literary allusion in the speech bubble, Du Maurier fans!)…

(The line is an echo of the famous opener of Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca – "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again…" We discussed Daphne Du Maurier's grandfather,George Du Maurier, and his contribution to the world of cartoons in an earlier post HERE.)

The indie band in our tale – Electric Dreams – live in a small castle in Greenwich…

The "small castle" in question is in fact Vanbrugh Castle, designed by architect and dramatist John Vanbrugh (1664 – 1726). I can almost feel the moment when inspiration struck Ms Scheele (or, indeed, Mr Miller), beholding the almost-Gothic, mediaeval-inspired pile at Maze Hill and thinking, "THAT would make a fine hideout in a comic book!"

Westminster is also featured, alongside City and Docklands locations, but my personal favourite panel of all is in Issue 2 wherein Kathy loses her job and trudges across London Bridge…

… travelling the "wrong" way, i.e. away from conformity, away from the 9 to 5. We can see the crowds thronged in the background, part of the more-than-quarter-million-strong workforce of the City, all heading north. Crossing southward over London Bridge is one of my favourite London journeys and it is captured beautifully here. 

Metroland is my new favourite comic.

Metroland is Published by Avery Hill and you can buy the first two issues from the Avery Hill website

Julia Scheele's website, featuring originals for sale and details of how to commission her work, is here:

Here's how to find Vanbrugh Castle…

A London bridge also features in issue no.1 of Orbital's third and final recommendation, Velvet by Brubaker & Epting…

… a cold-war thriller bursting with 60's-inspired gadgets, guns and gear. 

(Is that Battersea Bridge? Looks like it – if you can correct me, drop me a line.)

The guys at Orbital say: "Focusing on the British intelligence agency in the 1960s, Velvet is the story of the quiet secretary whose mysterious past as top field agent comes to light as she is framed by her superiors and is forced to go on the run."

Velvet is published by Image Comics

Thanks to all at Orbital for the recommendations! It's Tuesday as I blog this so tomorrow is new comics day – go and see the guys at Orbital!