It is difficult for those of us living in the 21st century to realise the impact of cartoon art 70 years ago. To a news-hungry public, anxious about world affairs facing possible invasion, the radio was a lifeline, but it was the topical cartoon with its immediacy and universal accessibility – even to the barely literate – that could speak the message mere words could never convey. The propagandists and media manipulators were swift to recognize this power.
Heckling Hitler , currently running at London’s Cartoon Museum, shows how World War Two unfolded through the eyes of British cartoonists. Throughout the war, cartoonists and comic artists played their part in helping to raise morale. On the home front, their cartoons showed Britain ‘how to make the best of things’ (Heath Robinson) and encouraged people to keep ‘smiling through’ (Joe Lee). Posters produced for the Ministry of Information reminded the public that ‘Careless Talk Costs Lives’ (Fougasse) and that ‘Doctor Carrot’ was the ‘children’s friend’.
Comic heroes like The Dandy‘s Desperate Dan and The Beano‘s Lord Snooty and his pals kept the children entertained with stories showing how British pluck and guile would put one over on the dictators.
The musuem’s exhibition of over 120 original drawings and printed ephemera concentrates mainly on newspaper and magazine cartoons from World War Two for the simple reason that these would have been the most widely available to the general public. Included are works by H. M. Bateman, Will Dyson, ‘Fougasse’, Carl Giles, Leslie Grimes, Leslie Illingworth, ‘Jon’, ‘Kem’, Joe Lee, David Low, Donald McGill, ‘Neb’, Eric Roberts, ‘Pont’, William Heath Robinson, Ronald Searle, E. H. Shepard, Sidney Strube, Bert Thomas, ‘Vicky’ and Dudley D. Watkins.
Sample material from books, aerial leaflets, artwork from The Dandy and The Beano, postcards and other publications produced as overseas propaganda have also been included, as well as some unpublished cartoons drawn in prisoner-of-war camps and by civilians on the home front on scrap paper from the Ministry of Food. There is even a rare pin cushion featuring Hitler and Mussolini.
Together they evoke a Britain battered but unbowed that, with the help of its cartoonists, could smile in the face of adversity and win through in the end.
The exhibition is supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the University of Lincoln.
• Heckling Hitler runs at the Cartoon Museum until 12th July 2015 at 35 Little Russell Street, London, WC1A 2HH, Tel: 0207 580 8155. Web: www.cartoonmuseum.org | Facebook | Follow the Cartoon Museum on Twitter @Cartoonmuseumuk