Jun 10, 2011

Good Political Cartoons: Giles

And yet England went on to win that world cup...
I know, I know. Surely political cartoons are those stupid things with big nosed versions of politicians and really stupid labels on everything so even the dumbest idiot can get the joke. They suck donkey's nuts right?

Well, they don't have to. Political cartooning, or perhaps more accurately, cartooning as social commentary, doesn't have to suck. In fact, social commentary is where cartooning and comics have their origin! It's magazines like Punch over in the UK that gave rise to the entire artform.

Which brings us to Giles.

I love the way he frames the speakers in just a hint of unshaded white.

Giles was an artist from the UK reknowned for his rich, detailed political cartoons. Each cartoon was a vast scene populated with familiar characters, talking about the world around them. They were drawn wonderfully, and there was a wealth of detail to enjoy, to study. They weren't a simple throw-away gag meant to make you chuckle and say, "that's so true," before you turn to the sports section. You were meant to read the things, not just the words, but the visuals.

Giles himself seems to have had a left wing bent, though he worked almost his entire career (from 1943 to 1989) for the conservative newspapers Daily Express and Sunday Express.

Hahaha. Drunk children. Is there anything funnier?

Even though he was rejected from the army because he was blind in one eye and deaf in one ear, he worked as a 'war corespondant cartoonist' during World War II. Travelling with the troops he sent cartoons back home, in a position we would call 'imbedded journalism' today.

Giles' cartoons were immensely popular, not just with adults but with children too. His books became Christmas tradition in Britain -- right alongside the Beano and Dandy books stuffed in children's stockings. The examples of his work I've added to the article here are all from the only Giles Annuals I own, book 16 (with introduction by Adam Faith) and book 20 (with introduction by Sean Connery!).

(Just for the record, Adam Faith's introduction is about 20 times better than Connery's half-arsed effort.)

In England back then, it just meant "idiot", I believe.
Reading Giles' work nowadays a lot of the jokes seem lost in the mists of time. I don't personally get the exact context a lot of the time, and not being British doesn't help there either. There's also the fact that a lot of the jokes represent what is now a very old-fashioned political position. There are jokes about the annoyance of blood alchohol limits or seatbelts for drivers, and jokes that rely on racial uhh... well... check this one out:

Somehow the 'racial profiling' aspect seems... apt even today.

Still, there's a richness to his comics which is hard to ignore.

Take a look at all the characters in the backgrounds, they're always doing things. Look at newspapers, blackboards, actual objects which provide contextual information to explain the joke. Things aren't grossly labelled, you actually have to examine the art to appreciate the cartoons -- it makes you feel like you're not being talked down to.

No labels on the characters saying, "not tense", you can just tell from, y'know, the art.

I never grew up on Giles cartoons like so many lucky British people did, and I can't help but envy them that glimpse into the dark, cynical world he created week after week.

--Andrew S.
(For the record, his actual name was Carl Giles, but dammit, everyone just knows him as 'Giles'.)

Read about the 1966 Fifa World Cup quarter finals that inspired Giles' Batman-themed strip here

Read about Giles himself on wikipedia as well.

Finally you can check out way more Giles strips on this tribute website (http://www.gilescartoons.co.uk/).

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