Dylan Jones: If you ask me

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The Independent Online

If you ask me, the political cartoon is the calendar by which we remember it all. The feuds. The back-stabbings. The hubris. As well as the foibles, the previously unnoticed facial tics and the crudely drawn ears, noses and five o'clock shadows. Who will ever be able to forget John Major's underpants ("Super Useless Man" as drawn by the irrepressible Steve Bell) or Mad Maggie's nose (a beak that could pierce tins of Carnation Milk, as imagined by the one and only Trog)?

That such simple techniques as crude caricature and the juxtaposition of two unrelated news items should still be so powerful in the 21st century underscores the fact that cartoonists have never been more important to the livelihood or the good health of their newspapers. As electronic news delivery becomes ever more popular, and ever more diverse, so the iconic scribblings of a few bug-eyed obsessives continue to give their papers the warmth and personality (and indeed the astringency) you don't get on a TV screen or a website. Or a telephone, in fact.

And they tell the story as accurately as anyone. When Blair became Prime Minister he was given an original cartoon by one of the greatest 20th- century cartoonists, the left-wing Australian Will Dyson – a gift from William Mellor, the son of one of the previous editors of the Daily Herald. The cartoon, originally published on 3 December 1913, was called "A Fantasy (Labour leaders at their devotions)", and it criticised the then Labour leadership for the then unforgivable sin of toadying up to capitalism.

Having unwrapped his gift – one of hundreds he received in his first days in office – Blair squinted at it for a few seconds and then quickly put it on the "don't accept" pile."No, I don't think we want that!" he said.

Nor did he want a referendum on the EU constitution, and in 2003, as the fourth series of Big Brother hit our screens, The Independent's Tim drew an elderly couple slumped in front of their TV about to watch Channel 4's flagship show. "At least we get to vote on this," said the husband.

Now, who is going to be the first cartoonist to illustrate the uncanny 2D similarity between Roy Hattersley and Boris Johnson?

A nation awaits.

Dylan Jones is the editor of 'GQ'

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