An Independent Line is a new book and exhibition at the Political Cartoon Gallery in London featuring cartoons by the Independent newspaper’s three editorial cartoonists – Dave Brown, Peter Schrank and Tim Sanders, whose work also graces this paper.
The exhibition covers the past 12 years and it’s striking how the earlier cartoons seem to come from a completely different era. Much of the humour concerns Bill Clinton’s sexual peccadillos, or former Tory leader William Hague’s bald head.
But 9/11 and the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq transform the tone of the exhibition. It also brings out the best in the cartoonists, as their outrage turns to focus on the lies, murder and torture doled out by George Bush and Tony Blair.
“The Iraq war is the overwhelming event of the century,” says Tim Sanders. “The world has become darker since then and cartoonists – who tend to be dark and twisted people – come into their own.
“Cartoons act as a wonderful historical record – you can look at them to see the world expressed in ink and bile on paper. It’s in black and white, a stark and violent expression appropriate to violent times.”
The theme of the war figures prominently. The cover of the book displays cartoons by all three artists of prominent figures in the “war on terror” such as Condoleezza Rice, Gordon Brown and Osama bin Laden – all with blood on their hands.
Part of the reason for this was the decision by the Independent to play a campaigning role against the Iraq war in 2003. Since then it has kept up its critical coverage of the “war on terror” with reports from journalists such as Patrick Cockburn and Robert Fisk.
“It was great working for the Independent in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq,” says Tim. “The rest of the press were by and large pro-war, albeit reluctantly. But it is obvious that huge number of people – probably the majority – took a very different view.
“The Independent took a very intelligent decision in opposing the war and reaching out to that huge audience.
“But it was also a brave thing to do. There is an establishment and it does apply pressure on its members to conform. The Independent did a lot of good to stand up to that pressure.”
I asked Tim about the art of producing an editorial “pocket” cartoon every day. How does he go about it? “It’s mostly a matter of pacing around the studio racking your brains,” he says.
“The closer I get to the deadline the more panic-stricken I become. The ‘gold’ is if you can link two stories together with one gag.”
The three Independent cartoonists worked closely with each other to put the book and exhibition together. Tim says they were happy with the way their styles complemented each other.
“Dave and Peter do strong, fantastically drawn images that are often serious – even if they have a gag, the drawing often overpowers it.
“Mine tend to be a bit sillier. I tend to blow raspberries or throw bricks at the establishment, whereas Dave and Peter have a grander style. I like that balance – they’re all legitimate ways at poking fun at power, of pointing out the emperor’s new clothes.
“Cartoonists are generally of a leftist tinge. If you’re being satirical and exposing the powers that be, the current order, then you tend to end up in some way on the other side to them – to be radical and critical.”
What about the relationship between cartoonists and the politicians they satirise? Is it one of mutual hostility, or can it get too cosy for comfort?
“Some cartoonists can end up getting quite close to the Westminster media circle, which can be a problem,” says Tim. “And some politicians like being parodied because they like the attention – but most of them are quite pompous and don’t like it at all.”
I ask Tim if he has ever met one of his targets. “Alastair Campbell [Blair’s former head spin doctor] bought a couple of my cartoons once. It’s weird to talk to people like that – they almost seem like human beings when you do.
“Jokes nearly always diminish their target, so the job of a left wing cartoonist is to belittle as much as they can the efforts of the ‘great and the good’, the royals, business leaders – and especially politicians.
“The powerful are often silly idiots, the same as the rest of us, and pointing that out is a great leveller. It’s a paradox – the rich and powerful are a serious menace to all of us and to the planet, but if we can take them less seriously it weakens their hold over us.”
Socialist Worker readers can get An Independent Line for £17.99 rather than the usual price of £19.99. Go to the gallery or phone 020 7580 1114 before the end of July and say you read about it in Socialist Worker. The exhibition is on at the Political Cartoon Gallery, Store Street, London WC1, until 18 October
Tim’s website » www.timonline.info