In praise of Steve Bell
Steve Bell is a political cartoonist whose work appears daily in the Guardian, a left-wing newspaper. His cartoon, "If..." has been going since the early 1980s.
Bell is a rough cartoonist, both in style and content. In today's cartoon, for instance, we find Charles Kennedy, leader of the Liberal Democrat party, urinating on a British soldier.
I'm puzzled by this one, since Bell is anti-war you might expect him to favour Kennedy, the only party leader to come out against the Iraq War. But Bell, typically, cannot resist an opportunity to stick the boot in.
Here he is showing Foreign Secretary Jack Straw coming off a military plane as a corpse is loaded on the back:
Not exactly hilarious, but Bell often isn't trying to be funny. He's a commentator.
But you get humour as well:
Bell has developed a particular love of George Bush, who he portrays as a trumpet-mouthed chimpanzee.
One of Bell's specialties is caricature. His Thatcher was monstrous and insane, while his John Major wore his underpants outside his trousers, a grey-faced weedy superhero. John Prescott, former left-wing firebrand and now Tony Blair's Deputy Prime Minister, is a cuddly, docile lapdog. With perhaps excessive cruelty, Bell calls the dog "Market".
Chubby Home Secretary Charles Clarke gets called an "elephant's testicle", complete with trunk for a nose.
Tony Blair, as many other cartoonists have found, resists easy caricaturing, so Bell resorts the default position of mockery.
The Guardian also published Garry Trudeau's "Doonesbury", a sophisticated strip which in its own way is as radical and subversive as Bell's work. But Trudeau, in contrast, goes for subtle lampooning. I love both styles, though I imagine that Trudeau in person to be an educated, self-deprecating sophisticated, while Bell must surely be a scruffy Trotskyite.*
Steve Bell has published countless books, some of which are available at amazon.
*legal note: this is what I imagine he's like, but I'm sure he's actually wonderful to meet in the flesh, and not a member of any far left organisations at all