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World War II in Cartoons.

WorldWar II in Cartoons Mark Bryant Grub Street 160pp 14.99 [pounds sterling] ISBN 1 904943 06 3

CARTOONS ARE often slapped into anthologies too sloppily, as though such ephemera do not need much bothering with. Mark Bryant's anthology, on the contrary, is a model of the care that cartoons deserve; a tribute to the fact that an apparently frivolous medium can have serious consequences. His book is thoroughly researched, broad in range and attractively presented.

The three hundred cartoons are presented chronologically, with commentary on each and an introductory chapter. The author's expertize is immediately apparent. He wrote a doctorate about Leslie Illingworth as a Daily Mail wartime cartoonist, and his experience as a publisher's editor makes him a crisp and economical stylist. In a few pages his introduction sets out the origins and development of newspaper cartoons, their possible influence over politicians and readers, and some of the general issues about cartoons in the Second World War. The comments on particular cartoons are succinct and authoritative.

The range of material is the book's greatest strength. In addition to the British national press, Bryant's sources extend to (and beyond) the United States, the Soviet Union, Australia, and publications of the French, Dutch and Scandinavian resistance. He shows us Japanese propaganda leaflets, posters from Vichy France and drawings from the SS paper in occupied Holland, in addition to hate-filled images from the more familiar German publication, Der Sturmer.

The illustrations include much more than newspaper cartoons. As well as posters and leaflets, there are greetings cards, strip cartoons, comics, magazine covers, children's books and work unpublished at the time--notably Ronald Searle's drawings in Changi gaol. Just like that of his readers, the cartoonist's was indeed a total war. The point is brought home rather chillingly in Philip Zec's Wimpy the Wellington (a children's book), whose anthropomorphic airplane cheerily bombs the enemy to smithereens and gets a medal from President Roosevelt.

Cartoonists on either side in the war used much the same tabs of identity to designate the principal personalities: Hitler's moustache and forelock, Churchill's cigar and moonface, Stalin's thick hair and moustache, Roosevelt's big grin. Germans often put a whisky bottle in Churchill's hand, but what chiefly differed between drawings by friend and foe were the leaders' body language and the things cartoonists made happen to them. There was much grisly drawing and much hate.

Not all cartoonists, however, feel they do their best work as full-blooded propagandists. 'Malice clouds the judgement' was David Low's view. His preference--and that of many others--was to kill by ridicule. Ridicule, in the sense also of cocking a snook, is well exemplified here by cartoons about the Home Front. Punch, Lilliput and Osbert Lancaster's Daily Express pocket cartoons came into their own. The attitude was that of the boy sticking out his tongue at a bully.

This book succeeds at every level. It is a good browse, an informative read, and a stimulating collection of source material.

Colin Seymour-Ure is the author of Prime Ministers and the Media (Blackwell, 2003).

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Author:Seymour-Ure, Colin
Publication:History Today
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 2005
Words:506
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