Packing a new Punch with the gentle touch

Cartoon revival: Relaunched showcase magazine replaces 'grungy' satire with visual jokes
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The Independent Culture
The new editor of the new Punch is chuckling over a cartoon, which is just what an editor of Punch should be doing, writes David Lister.

It is not always easy to recall memorable Punch articles in an instant; but the cartoons from Britain's best-known humour magazine are another matter. Punch has been the showcase and often the career launching pad for some of the best cartoonists the country has produced.

All of Bateman's cartoons appeared in the magazine. Larry and Bill Tidy, stalwarts for years, will be in the relaunched Punch next month.

But under the new editor, Peter McKay, previously of the London Evening Standard, the Punch cartoon will be undergoing a subtle change.

His chuckles when I met him were caused by his favourite cartoon from the new issue. It is by Mike Williams, and is a picture of a lifeboat coming into port. On it are the animals, in pairs, with blankets over their shoulders. The Ark has gone down. There is no caption.

A gentle humour, an immediate visual joke and the lack of a satirical caption underlie the McKay philosophy to cartoons, and if Punch has the influence it once had, could anticipate a change in the cartoonist's art.

"In the last 10 to 15 years," says McKay, "cartoons have become very grungy, not very well drawn. Young cartoonists have tended to sneer, to try to make some deep sociological point. It's been a bad age for cartoons recently. Newspapers have encouraged cartoonists to make clever satirical points. But I'm bored to death with satire. It's sour and heavy and boring. It's not done with lightness and elegance."

Instead, McKay will be encouraging illustrators to do cartoons for the magazine with the Punch Table (the editorial committee) coming up with the captions, as happened in the magazine's great days. There will be full-page colour cartoons, and an end to the clusters of cartoons on a single subject that typified Punch in recent years. "It's the rotten apple principle," says McKay. "I always felt that one bad cartoon in a page of six killed all of them."

The new Punch's dedication to fine illustration with the joke being dreamt up in-house can be seen in one forthcoming example. The artist Edwina Sams sent in a striking painting of a couple sitting naked in the bath playing cards. McKay decided to run that as a large colour cartoon, supplying the poker game caption "I'll see you".

If Punch does succeed in fostering a new age for the non-satirical cartoon, its return to tradition will be accompanied by cartoonists who can remember several ages of the art. Among the cartoonists in the new issues will be 83-year-old Jos Armitage, who as Ionicus had his first cartoon in Punch in 1944.