A Tribute by Steve Marchant
Just heard that my old friend and one-time tutor Donald Rooum passed away last Saturday. He was 91.
A lifelong anarchist, Donald’s cartoons have appeared in Peace News since 1962. He produced the “Wildcat” comic strip for Freedom magazine since 1980 – a coloured book collection came out in 2016, published by PM Press – and , and “Sprite” in The Skeptic since 1987.
I met Donald when I enrolled on his Friday night ‘Humour’ class at the old London Cartoon Centre in 1987, and he was always supportive of my early work. And we became good chums, usually going for a coffee after the class where he’d tell me stories from his amazing life as an anarchist and as a cartoonist (he was a friend of Leo Baxendale!).
There are several websites outlining Donald’s anarchist antics and accomplishments, but they’re told best by the man himself, in his Introduction to Wildcat Anarchist Comics.
Certainly from him, I gained an understanding that ‘anarchy’ is a gentle philosophy and not about throwing a brick through a fast-food joint’s window (the popular view). I also learned a lot toward how to teach comic art from him – he actually showed people how to draw things, rather than merely critiquing their work. And that he kept working right up toward the end of his life will remain an inspiration.
When, in a bizarre cosmic turn of events, I ended up running the London Cartoon Centre in 1991, Donald was still teaching so we saw each other often (he once turned up with a broken denture that I had to superglue together for him before he started teaching!) And when I wound up here at the Cartoon Museum, he was a frequent visitor to the old Little Russell Street building.
I last saw him here in Wells Street, at our launch night, where he looked very frail. So today’s news was not unexpected, but no less sad. I’m glad I knew him.
Donald Rooum, born 20 April 1928, died 31st August 2019
• The Final Straw Radio Podcast – Donald Rooum Part One
Recorded in 2018
In this episode, Donald talks about his early political trajectory and development from childhood involvement during World War Two in a Communist Party front group into anarchism via the speakers corner in Hyde Park. Donald talks about the Malatesta Anarchist Club, his artistic development and love of cartooning and engagement with activism to stop corporal punishment in schools in the UK and ideas about social change and anarchist intervention.
• The Final Straw Radio Podcast – Donald Rooum Part Two
Recorded in 2018
Hear about Donald Rooum’s “15 minutes of fame” in which he was nicked on his way to a demonstration against a visit to London by King Paul of Greece and Queen Frederika in 1963 and charged by Detective Sergeant Harold “Tanky” Challenor for carrying a brick to the demonstration.
The problem for Donald is that the brick was placed in his pocket by Challenor while he was in police custody. The problem for Challenor is that Donald was smart enough to realize this, collect the proof of the framing attempt and successfully defend himself in court against the charges. In what became known as the “Challenor Affair”, Donald’s self-defense shook the public trust in policing in the U.K. and lead to the Detective Sergeant’s downfall for corruption.
IN HIS OWN WORDS…
Freedom contributor Donald Rooum has seen more “radical” governments than today’s offerings come and go, and has a little reminder for people who get too excited by Statist “democracy.”
Steve Marchant, author of two books – The Cartoonist’s Workshop (still available on Amazon), and The Computer Cartoon Kit (also available, but horrifically out of date) – is one of the UK’s foremost tutors in comic-strip and cartoon skills. He has taught students of all ages for the last 25 years at London’s City University, Birkbeck (University of London), the Hayward Gallery, Tate Britain, the Arvon Foundation, the Black Cultural Archive, the London Cartoon Centre, and the Cartoon Museum – where he is also the curator of its HLF-funded ‘Comics Creators’ gallery.
He regularly teaches at schools and libraries across the UK and has taught in Hungary and Latvia for the British Council. His personal comic-strips appear sporadically in the award-winning online comic Aces Weekly – and you can find him online at stevemarchantblog.wordpress.com