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Phil Evans 1946-2014

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Phil Evans, who drew cartoons for Socialist Worker, died last week. Roger Huddle takes a look at his work and politics
Issue 2394
A cartoon by Phil Evans for Socialist Worker

A cartoon by Phil Evans for Socialist Worker

Phil evans, the brilliant socialist cartoonist, sadly passed away last week.

Phil knew that apart from a laugh doing you good, satire is a great weapon against the bosses and the absurdities of the capitalist system. 

I first joined the International Socialists (IS), the forerunner of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), a long time ago. That’s where I first met Phil.

The first person I told that I had joined said that the IS  was the group that laughed a lot, and so couldn’t be serious. 

Of course that was absurd. We did laugh a lot, that was true, but we were serious. 

Satire and laughter has a long tradition in English politics and certainly in our socialist tradition. 

Phil once told me that he loved the 18th century artist Hogarth and the German Dadaist George Grotz who worked in the 20th century.

It was an odd mixture, but both produced visual art that cut right through the hypocrisy of their age. 

Phil was the same age as me and we had worked together at the Socialist Worker printshop during the 1970s. 

He was without doubt the finest political cartoonist of the socialist left I have laughed at.

For years he drew a strip in the paper called Our Norman. 

Norman was every worker, someone ducking and diving though the trials of work in a factory. He got one over on the bosses, kept up his union dues and took great pride in outwitting the foreman. 

How Phil maintained the excellence of this series was his commitment to the workers’ struggle. 

Many times we sat in the cafe or the pub after work. 


His eyes would sparkle and in his low sharp tongue he would set us off on a surreal trip into the chaos of capitalism. He held back his own laughter so we would get the full force of his humour. 

Phil and Tony Cliff, the founder of the International Socialists, were quite alike. 

Both could translate complex ideas into one line, either spoken or drawn, and make clear what was at the heart of our politics. 

Phil would often repeat Cliff’s jokes over and chuckle.

Phil was a complex character. He was from a middle class background and had been in the Youth Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in Aberdeen in his teens.

In 1963 he went to Leeds College of Art to study graphic design. He became radicalised by the struggle against the war in Vietnam in the late 1960s and became determined to fight for change. 

At work he was best left alone when in front of paper, his fountain pen in his hand. 

Apart from Our Norman, he would produce weekly cartoons for the paper, for many rank and file papers, and really for anyone who needed a laugh. 

During these years he was incredibly prolific. 

Towards the end of the 1970s times changed and we entered what we called the downturn. We parted company with Phil for reasons I cannot remember. 

But I know many comrades both in and out of the SWP who found it difficult to re-orientate when Margaret Thatcher came to office. 

Phil continued for a time producing cartoons for the trade union movement, and although still funny they lost some of their edge. He then dropped out of sight. 

His collected drawings, published in the book Joke Works, were used over and over in thousands of union bulletins, leaflets and union magazines.

I haven’t seen him in years. However, the news of his death is very sad and I wish we could have spent just one more night over a pint crying with laughter.

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