Friday 23 January 2015

Panel 9: Sir David Low

First blogged on The Daily Constitutional , these posts take us on a virtual Cartoon & Comic Book Tour of London – 20 stops on a metropolis-wide search for all things illustrated. 

I'll be taking in everything from Gillray and Hogarth, to Scooby Doo and on to Deadpool and beyond! In addition I'll guide you to the best in London comic book stores as well as galleries that showcase the best in cartoon art. 

For a post on how the Cartoon & Comic Book London blog came about, click HERE.

Panel 9: Sir David Low

As I near the halfway point of this series, I pause once again to reflect on the timing of my Cartoon & Comic Book Tour of London

My tour began on the 1st January 2015 with Hogarth & Gin Lane. I then called in on George du Maurier in Hampstead and was all set to bring the series into the 21st Century with a look at the bloodthirsty alternate history comic book Über* on the 7th January when the news came through from Paris of the murders at Charlie Hebdo.

I could not have chosen a more serious time to continue blogging about being funny with a pen and paper. 

But then the business of drawing a picture has often been a serious one indeed

Cartoonist David Low (born in Dunedin in 1891) was described in his Guardian obituary as, "The dominant cartoonist of the western world." He was knighted in 1962.

His cartooning career began in his native New Zealand, and continued in Australia – where he was once called a "bastard" to his face by the Prime Minister. But then that particular high office has often been held by bluff, straight talking men. Or boors as they are sometimes known. Such men hate to be mocked.

After World War Two, Low's name was found to be in the so-called black book of personas non grata, public enemies to be arrested after the Nazi invasion of Britain.

Even in this country Low was viewed in some quarters as a warmonger for his gloves-off depictions of the despots of 1930's Europe…

Low's take on the Molotov/Ribbentrop, or Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact of 1939

Low arrived in London in 1919 and worked as a cartoonist on The Star and The Herald (both now defunct) as well as The Guardian, but it is his 13-year stint at the London Evening Standard (1927 to 1950) for which he is best remembered.

In 1937 Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels complained to Lord Halifax (then Foreign Secretary) that Low's work was damaging diplomatic relations between Germany and Britain. Herr Hitler, it seemed, could become rather cross when Low got to work.

Strange that men such as Geobbels and Hitler, with such strong stomachs for genocide, would be so upset at a couple of strokes from a pen.

David Low was seldom far from my thoughts in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo murders.

Martin Rowson, whose work appears in The Guardian, brought it all into focus for me – as he so often does, usually with his wonderful cartoons. His words, it turns out, are every bit as eloquent and economical and angry and humane as his drawings. On the 7th January, under the sub-heading "Mockery is hated by the powerful and despotic – which is why it must continue", he wrote…

Laughter, it needs to be shouted, is one of the things humans do best, mostly because it makes us feel better. I’ve been convinced for years that laughter is a hardwired evolutionary survival mechanism that helps humans navigate our way through life without going mad with existentialist terror. That’s why we laugh at all those terrifying things like death, sex, other people and the disgusting stuff that pours out of our bodies on a daily basis.

Moreover, we’re very, very good at laughing at those who place themselves above us, either as our leaders or intending to impose their beliefs to make everyone else exactly like them. That’s the basis of the craft I shared with my murdered colleagues in Paris. This universal capacity to use mockery as a form of social control is one of the main things that makes us human. Crucially, it’s also in defiance of the primary need of the powerful to be taken seriously, often against all the external evidence of their innate absurdity.

(Read the full article here:

Or, as Low himself once put it:

"I have learned from experience that, in the bluff and counterbluff of world politics, to draw a hostile war lord as a horrible monster is to play his game. What he doesn't like is being shown as a silly ass."

Low is remembered with two plaques in London, one in Hampstead (as mentioned in an earlier post in this series, click HERE to read) and one in Kensington where he lived. Here's the plaque…

… and here's how to find it…

* I added Über to my tour on the 16th of January. On the 7th January I paid tribute to Private Eye, the UK's long-standing, much-loved (and equally hated!) satirical magazine.  

Coming soon in my Cartoon & Comic Book Tour of London… From Hell, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and D.C Thomson…

PLUS I've got great recommendations from both the Cartoon Museum and the comic book store Orbital Comics.

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