Professors of cross-patching

A SENSE OF PERMANENCE? Essays on the Art of the Cartoon ed Robert Edwards, University of Kent at Canterbury pounds 9.99, ISBN 1-898094-20-9

Just how serious - depressing, even - a business humour is becomes clear as you read this book, published by the Centre for the Study of Cartoons and Caricature at the University of Kent at Canterbury to celebrate its 21st birthday. In this thin volume, a handful of cartoonists bemoan their lot, complain of their impotence and despair of the future for their profession. Among these jeremiads, a couple of writers about cartoons boldly declare the richness of contemporary British cartooning and look forward to a rosy future. Which happy dichotomy neatly explains British cartooning, British cartoonists and, indeed, the existence of this book in the first place.

In America, they fill stadia with Cartoonists' Conventions addressed by Schultz or Oliphant, while in France almost every other week there is another Cartoon Festival, boasting endless workshops and seminars earnestly discussing the nose as trope and signifier in European caricature. But what of Britain? To the despair of British cartoonists, there is bugger all. True, the Centre at Canterbury offers us some academic kudos by dragging old cartoons under the various umbrellas of Cultural Studies and the Politics and History departments, but as for packing the Wembley Arena, screaming fans ogling cartoonists as the greatest and sharpest artists and commentators of this or any other age, you can forget it. Little wonder, then, that British cartoonists tend to be rather grumpy (an old cartoon editor on Punch coined the collective noun for cartoonists as "a whinge").

And thus, in this book, John Jensen complains that the gag cartoon is all but dead, along with satire, killed off by telly, the Internet, the fact "that we all now take the piss out of everything ... We do not have to be able to draw to do it: we only need to be world-weary and cynical"; Ralph Steadman, in typical manic faux naif vein, opines "what is the cartoon's purpose? If it is not a corrective of some sort, it plays the politician's game and wallows in the realms of light entertainment", and enjoins his colleagues to stop drawing politicians altogether; Steve Bell gets all deconstructionist, and Nicholas Garland sniffs, reflecting on the work of Bernard Partridge and Ernest Shepherd for Punch between

the wars, "None of us is as good nowadays, I think."

Apart from dismissing out of hand cartoonists of the calibre of Steve Bell, Chris Ridden, Matt, Michael Heath and a dozen others, this gloomy reverence for the past might go some way to explain why Garland (inexplicably) draws exactly like Vicky on a slow news day, only without the gags. (Another explanation is that this is the only physical proof we have for the transmigration of souls, and that after Vicky topped himself his tormented soul wafted o'er the earth till it popped into the young Garland's ear, but, as Vicky's soul is not at rest, it means he can't draw funny any more.)

That said, what this book tells us more clearly than anything else is that cartoonists, by their own testimony, are undervalued by their culture and their editors, ultimately ineffectual as satirists and, like Punch and the England cricket team, not as good as they used to be. But don't let that worry you the next time you smile wryly, cringe, guffaw or pass on, puzzled, from a cartoon that's delayed you for probably all of 20 seconds. It's only wanting to be respectable and get invited to smart parties that makes cartoonists go on so. If Britain honoured its cartoonists in the way they think they deserve, with Pulitzer Prizes and Emeritus Chairs in Cross-hatching, they'd only moan about that as well.

Rest assured, books like this one are very few and far between - and, it is hoped, will remain so. After all, when you're finally laid out on the slab, you don't want the bloody undertaker droning on about how embalming fluid isn't what it used to be, do you now?

Arts and Entertainment
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Arts and Entertainment
U2's Songs of Innocence album sleeve

tvU2’s latest record has been accused of promoting sex between men

Arts and Entertainment
Alison Steadman in Inside No.9
tvReview: Alison Steadman stars in Inside No.9's brilliant series finale Spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk