Friday, March 18, 2005

The Genius of Steve Bell

A wonderful cartoon by Steve Bell on Wednesday on the subject of Cardinal O'Connor raising abortion as an election issue. I won't infringe copyright by reproducing it here so use the link. I don't usually scrutinise the details of Bell's cartoons which are broad brush and in your face. But with this one I only gradually noticed that O'Connor was squeezing Blair's balls, that Blair's toes were curling up in pain and that Howard's headgear was actually a bat.

One of my other favourite Bell cartoons is from 2001 when Blair tried to remove Gwyneth Dunwoody from the Chair of the Select Committee on Transport. Here he took his inspiration from early movies with Blair as the villain strapping Dunwoody to a railway line. Bell combines incredible imagination and intelligence with extreme coarseness, so here Blair is calling Dunwoody a "train loving bitch."

The other Bell cartoon that will stay with me for the rest of my life appeared at the time of the Dunblane school massacre. (I can't link because I don't think it's on the Guardian website).
How can you do a cartoon about a tragedy like Dunblane? Well Steve Bell did. And for me and many others it was the only time during that dreadful tragedy that we actually shed tears. If I saw it now I would cry. If I pictured it in my mind I would cry. And I don't cry easily.
Briefly, it showed a row of young children sitting on a school stage. The curtain was falling and only their lower legs and feet were visible. Some of the poignancy came from the detail of the drawing of their socks and shoes. This was an event that television could report but not show. We saw smiling family portraits of some of the dead children but somehow Bell's drawing of their legs and feet dangling from standard wooden school chairs made them more real. It's ironic that what I regard as the masterpiece of someone who daily makes us laugh should have been a drawing that made so many people cry.

I mentioned recently that Ofsted had said the behaviour of school pupils had become more "challenging". This new euphemism, which is becoming as ubiquitous as all those fucking "issues", appeared again this week. Stephen Twigg, Schools Minister, said that some City Academies had produced "challenging exam results". So had these beacons of excellence on which the Government are spending £5 Billion produced results that challenged other schools to keep up with them? No, of course not. They were terrible results.
It might help the cause of education if politicians and indeed teachers started speaking plain English. Leave it to the kids to have their own private language where 'gay' means 'boring' and 'wicked' means 'good'.
And if I hear the phrase "hard working families" again I'll throw a brick at the television. This must be the first time that both main parties have adopted the same catch phrase.
Before I leave language issues about which I have issues, when I had a problem with my water supply a woman in a call centre said to me: "So are you saying that you have issues in your house?" I wanted to say "Yes, but I've put traps down" but experience has taught me that it's inadvisable to use humour or sarcasm on the poor benighted bastards who work in call centres.
The Archbishop's Blessing of Charles and Camilla is to be televised. I must order the Bollinger and some upmarket nibbles and decorate the living room with bunting.
So two people who for years were going at it like rabbits behind the backs of their respective partners will get the blessing of the Anglican Church. But any clergyman who blesses the union of a same sex couple when the new Civil Partnership ceremonies begin in December will be told to publicly repent like the Episcopal Church in America.


At 9:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As no-one else has commented on your recent, excellent piece, I thought I'd just add my two-penno'rth [sp?]. Couldn't agree more about Mr Bell and his cartoons. A Crumb-influenced graphic style, a resolutely sceptical political view, and plenty of arse gags. I'm the happy owner of a Bell original - one of his Maggie's Farm strip from Time Out in 1983. It hangs in prime position just outside the downstairs loo. I think he'd approve.

- Tony S -

At 4:54 PM, Blogger Willie Lupin said...

Lucky you. It's probably worth a few bob.
The Guardian once published a letter of mine praising his work which is the nearest I've got to thanking him personally. The great thing is that he doesn't censor himself and I don't think the Guardian ever censor his work.


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