Posts Tagged ‘Steve Bell’

Israel Based Journo Shows How Censorship of Steve Bell Cartoon Plays into Hands of Real Anti-Semites

June 11, 2018

Last week the editor of the Groaniad, Kath Viner, spiked a cartoon by the paper’s Steve Bell for supposed anti-Semitism. The cartoon commented on the complete indifference to the murder of 21 year old Palestinian medic, Razan al-Najjar by the IDF shown by Netanyahu and Tweezer. Bell depicted the two having a cosy chat by the fire, in which al-Najjar was burning. This was too much for Viner, who immediately did what the Israel lobby always does whenever the country is criticised for its brutal treatment of the Palestinians: she immediately accused the critic of anti-Semitism. The cartoon was anti-Semitic, apparently, because al-Najjar’s place in the fire was supposedly a reference to the Holocaust and the murder of the Jews in the Nazi gas ovens. Despite the fact that Bell denied that there was any such intention in his work, or indeed, any overt references to the Holocaust at all.

Bell was naturally outraged, and issued a strong denial. I’ve blogged about this issue, as has Mike, and Bell’s denial was also covered by that notorious pro-Putin propaganda channel, RT. And an Israel-based journalist, Jonathan Cook, has also come down solidly on Bell’s side and against censorship.

Mike posted a piece reporting and commenting on Mr Cook’s view and analysis of the case on Saturday. Cook is a former Guardian journalist, who now lives in Nazareth, the capital of Israel’s Palestinian minority. Cook praised Bell’s cartoon because of the way it held power to account, and indicted the powerful and their calculations at the expense of the powerless. He stated

In other words, it represents all that is best about political cartoons, or what might be termed graphic journalism. It holds power – and us – to account.

He then went on to describe how, by siding with Israel over the cartoon, the Guardian was siding with the powerful against the powerless; with a nuclear-armed state against its stateless minority. He then goes on to make the point that when criticism of Israel is silenced, the country benefits from a kind of reverse anti-Semitism, or philo-Semitism, which turns Israel into a special case. He writes

When a standard caricature of Netanyahu – far less crude than the caricatures of British and American leaders like Blair and Trump – is denounced as anti-Semitic, we are likely to infer that Israeli leaders expect and receive preferential treatment. When showing Netanyahu steeped in blood – as so many other world leaders have been – is savaged as a blood libel, we are likely to conclude that Israeli war crimes are uniquely sanctioned. When Netanyahu cannot be shown holding a missile, we may assume that Israel has dispensation to bombard Gaza, whatever the toll on civilians.

And when we see the furore created over a cartoon like Bell’s, we can only surmise that other, less established cartoonists will draw the appropriate conclusion: keep away from criticising Israel because it will harm your personal and professional reputation.

He then makes the point that doing so plays into the hands of real anti-Semites, and generates more:

When we fail to hold Israel to account; when we concede to Israel, a nuclear-armed garrison state, the sensitivities of a Holocaust victim; when we so mistake moral priorities that we elevate the rights of a state over the rights of the Palestinians it victimises, we not only fuel the prejudices of the anti-Semite but we make his arguments appealing to others. We do not help to stamp out anti-Semitism, we encourage it to spread. That is why Viner and the Guardian have transgressed not just against Bell, and against the art of political cartoons, and against justice for the Palestinians, but also against Jews and their long-term safety.

Mike goes on to make the point that we need to be more critical about the raving paranoiacs, who see anti-Semitism in Steve Bell’s cartoon, and also in Gerald Scarfe’s depiction of Netanyahu building his anti-Palestinian wall using the blood and bodies of the Palestinians themselves. This was attacked by Mark Regev, the Israeli ambassador, as ‘anti-Semitic’, who claimed that it was a reference to the Blood Libel. It wasn’t, but the I apologised anyway. Mike goes on to say that there is no such thing as an unintentional anti-Semite, but authorial intentions are routinely ignored in these cases.

He then goes to state very clearly that as the authorial intentions of these cartoons weren’t anti-Semitic, Viner was wrong about Bell’s cartoon. Just as the Sunset Times, as Private Eye dubbed the rag, was wrong about Scarfe and Mike himself, as was the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism. And so are the people, who’ve accused Ken Livingstone, Jackie Walker, Tony Greenstein and so many others of anti-Semitism. And in the meantime, Netanyahu gets away with mass murder.

Mike concludes

But Mr Cook is right – these attitudes only fuel real anti-Semitism among those who draw the only logical conclusion about what’s going on in the media, which is that the Establishment is protecting the Israeli government against censure for its crimes.

It suggests to me that all those involved in this charade have been creating problems that will come back to harm all of us in the future.

https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2018/06/09/israel-based-journo-shows-how-guardian-editor-helped-anti-semites-by-censoring-steve-bell/

Now part of the problem here could be certain developments in anti-racism and postmodernist literary theory. For example, some anti-racist activists have argued that there is such a thing as unconscious racism, and have used it to accuse people and material they have seen as spreading or legitimising racism, but without any conscious intent to do so.

In postmodernist literary theory, the author’s intent is irrelevant. In the words of one French postmodernist literary theorist, ‘all that exists is the text’. And one person’s interpretation of the text is as good as another’s.

Hence, those arguing that the above cartoons are anti-Semitic, could do so citing these ideas above.

Now there clearly is something to unconscious racism. If you look back at some of the discussions and depictions of racial issues in 1970s popular culture, they are often horrendously racist by today’s standards. But they weren’t seen as such then, and I dare say many of those responsible for some of them genuinely didn’t believe they were being racist, nor intended to do so. And unconscious racism is irrelevant in this case too. The accusers have not argued that these cartoons are unconsciously racist. They’ve simply declared that they are, without any kind of qualification. Which implies that their authors must be deliberately anti-Semitic, which is a gross slur.

As for postmodernist literary theory, the accusers haven’t cited that either. And if they did, it could also easily be turned against them. If there are no privileged readings of a particular text, then the view of someone, who thought Bell’s cartoon was anti-Semitic, is no more valid than the person, who didn’t. Which cuts the ground out from such accusations. That argument doesn’t stand up either, though here again, the people making the accusations of anti-Semitism haven’t used it.

Nevertheless, their arguments about the anti-Semitic content of these cartoons and the strained parallels they find with the Holocaust, or anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, are very reminiscent of the postmodernist texts the American mathematician Sokal, and the Belgian philosopher Bricmont, used to demolish the intellectual pretensions of postmodernism in their 1990s book, Intellectual Impostures. One of the texts they cited was by a French feminist arguing that women were being prevented from taking up careers in science. It’s a fair point, albeit still controversial amongst some people on the right. However, part of her evidence for this didn’t come from studies showing that girls start off with a strong interest in science like boys, only to have it crushed out of them later in their schooling. No! This strange individual based part of her argument on the medieval coat of arms for Brussels, which shows frogs in a marsh. Which somehow represents the feminine. Or at least, it did to her. For most of us, the depiction of frogs in a marsh in the coat of arms for Brussels is a depiction of precisely that: frogs in a marsh. Because, I have no doubt, the land Brussels was founded on was marshy.

But Cook and Mike are right about these accusations, and the favouritism shown to Israel, playing into the hands of anti-Semites.

The storm troopers of the right are very fond of a quote from Voltaire: ‘If you want to know who rules over you, ask who it is you can’t criticise’. Or words to that effect. Depending on whether the person using the quote is an anti-Semite or an Islamophobe, the answer they’ll give will be ‘the Jews’ or ‘the Muslims’.

Of course, their choice of the French Enlightenment philosopher is more than somewhat hypocritical. Voltaire hated intolerance, and in the early stages before it became aggressively anti-religious, the French Revolution stood for religious toleration. A set of playing cards made to celebrate it showed on one card the Bible with the Talmud, the Jewish holy book containing extra-Biblical lore and guidance, and the Qu’ran.

But by ruling that criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic, the Israel lobby very much appears to show – entirely falsely – that the anti-Semites are right, and that the Jews really are in control of the rest of us. It gives an utterly false, specious confirmation of the very conspiracy theories they claim to have found in the works of the people they denounce. The same conspiracy theories they claim to oppose, and which have been responsible for the horrific suffering of millions of innocent Jews.

It’s high time this was stopped, and accusations of anti-Semitism treated with the same impartial judgement as other claims of bias or racism. And false accusations should be firmly rejected as a slur, and apologies and restitution demanded from the libellers.

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RT Report on Steve Bell’s Cartoon Spiked because of ‘Anti-Semitism’

June 9, 2018

This is a very brief report by RT on Steve Bell’s strenuous denial that his cartoon of Netanyahu and Tweezer enjoying a cosy chat by the fire, in which the murdered Palestinian medic Razan al-Najjar is burning, is anti-Semitic. The report states that Netanyahu met Tweezer to discuss ‘Iran and Iran’. It was spiked by the Guardian’s editor, Kath Viner, Bell is quoted as saying

it should have been published as it stands, but if you are still obdurate that it should remain unpublished, then I feel a duty to my subject to try and salvage something from this fiasco.

The cartoon which replaced it shows Brexit secretary David Davis riding around parliament on a unicorn. It’s by Bell, but not signed.

This piece begins with an email from a Jonathan Cook, giving this as an example of the growing ‘mystification’ of anti-Semitism, and warning ‘What cartoonist is not going to reach the conclusion that it’s safer to avoid all cartoons critical of Israel.’

Cook’s right. This has absolutely nothing to do with real anti-Semitism. It’s just another smear to silence criticism of Israel, just like Mark Regev did to Gerald Scarfe in the I, and the German apparatchik Klein did last week to a German cartoonist for his caricature of Netanyahu. And which the CAA and its assorted allies, including the Jewish Labour Movement, have been doing to decent, anti-racist people for daring to criticise Israel and its brutal treatment and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians.

Steve Bell Cartoon in Guardian Spiked for Supposed ‘Anti-Semitism’

June 8, 2018

More fake accusations of anti-Semitism by the Israel lobby to censor criticism of their barbarous treatment of the Palestinians. Yesterday Mike put up a piece reporting that Guardian editor Kath Viner had spiked a Cartoon by Steve Bell commenting on the shooting of the Palestinian medic Razan al-Najjar. This showed May and Netanyahu having a cosy chat around the fireplace, in which al-Najjar is burning. The cartoon was intended to show the complete indifference to al-Najjar’s murder by the IDF. But Kath Viner decided it was anti-Semitic, because she thought it compared the actions of modern Jews to those of the Nazis in the Holocaust. Bell himself strongly rejects any such comparison, and wrote to her in an email, saying

“I cannot for the life of me begin to understand criticism of the cartoon that begins by dragging in ‘wood-burning stoves’, ‘ovens’, ‘holocaust’, or any other nazi-related nonsense.

“That was the last thing on my mind when I drew it, I had no intention of conflating the issues of the mass murder of European Jews and Gaza.

“It’s a fireplace, in front of which VIP visitors to Downing Street are always pictured… and the figure of Razan al-Najjar is burning in the grate. It’s a widely known photograph of her, becoming iconic across the Arab world and the burning is of course symbolic. She’s dead, she was shot and killed by the IDF while doing her job as a medic.”

He said he suspected “the reason that you did not get in touch was because you did not really have an argument. The cartoon is sensitive, not tasteless, not disrespectful, and certainly contains no anti-Semitic tropes.”

Mike makes the point here that the people making the accusation of anti-Semitism see what they want to see. They expect to see anti-Semitism, and so they see anti-Semitism. And so they ignore issues of authorial intent, context and commonsense.

Mike makes the point that it is not anti-Semitic to point out that an unarmed medic was murdered by an Israeli soldier, nor anti-Semitic to point out that Britain’s own response to the murder has been lukewarm. He goes on to say it is not anti-Semitic to question whether this lack of an appropriately strong response is due to the immense amount of trade Britain does with Israel, or whether the arms we sold them were used in her killing. He goes on to conclude that if the author’s intent is ignored in the interpretation of the image, then it’s the wrong interpretation.

https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2018/06/07/guardian-cartoonist-steve-bell-accused-of-anti-semitism-over-razan-al-najjar-image/

I’m not surprised that Bell has been censored because of this cartoon. The Israel lobby regularly responds to criticism of the barbarism it metes out the Palestinians with accusations of anti-Semitism, including cartoons. A few years ago, Mark Regev, the noxious, lying Israeli ambassador, sent an angry letter to the I attacking a cartoon by Gerald Scarfe about the construction of the anti-Palestinian wall as ‘anti-Semitic’. Why? The cartoon showed Netanyahu building the wall using the blood of murdered Palestinians as mortar. He decided that this was anti-Semitic because it referred to the ‘Blood Libel’, the vile anti-Semitic myth that Jews murder Christians and use their blood to make the matzo bread eaten at Passover. The cartoon did nothing of the sort, but nevertheless, the I caved and issued an apology.

And last week a German cartoonist was accused of anti-Semitism and sacked for the alleged anti-Semitism of his caricature of Netanyahu. Klein, the minister or civil servant responsible for rooting out anti-Semitism, decided that this was anti-Semitic because it exaggerated Netanyahu’s nose and lips, just like the caricatures of the Jews produced by the Nazis and other anti-Semites. It’s a highly debatable point. caricaturists work by exaggerating features, including, and often particularly, the nose and lips. Germany has been very pro-Israel since the end of the Second World War, partly out of guilt for the Holocaust, and Jews are actually treated very well there. So much so that it’s a favoured destination for young Israelis to go on holiday. a few weeks ago I found an article published in Counterpunch by a radical, anti-racist German journo, which followed the Israeli embassy in Germany in equating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. Which is what the real issue is here: suppressing criticism of Israel.

As for Bell’s cartoon, he is certainly not alone in depicting political figures holding their talks around the fireside. in the 1980s, the games comic Diceman ran one game story in which the reader played Ronald Reagan, desperate to save the world from nuclear war. One scene showed him and Gorbachev holding talks around a blazing fire. As Reagan droned on, Gorby dozed, and the artist, Hunt Emerson, had great fun drawing all kinds of figures in the fire. At one point the flames made little KKK figures, who joined hands and danced. I’m afraid I can’t put my hands on the issue at the moment, otherwise I’d put up the image, but it’s around here somewhere. There is nothing as strong as that in Bell’s cartoon.

And the Guardian has always, like other newspapers, been under pressure to spike any reports of Israeli atrocities. Alan Rusbridger, the former editor of the Guardian, described in the Channel 4 Despatches documentary on the power of the Israel lobby, how after accurately reporting them, he would be visited by someone from the Israel lobby or the Board of Deputies of British Jews, complete with their pet lawyer, who would rant and rave about how such reports were anti-Semitic. After his reporting of the Gaza bombardment, the two visitors claimed that the newspaper’s accounts were anti-Semitic, because they would encourage people to attack Jews in the street. Which didn’t happen.

Since then, the newspaper has been the conduit for the Israel lobby’s propaganda. For example, they once ran an article by Steve Pollard of the libel organisation the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, which claimed that the far-right, anti-immigrant president of Poland couldn’t be anti-Semitic, because ‘he was a good friend of Israel’. Well, the Israelis have all kinds of ‘good friends’ who are Fascists and anti-Semites. They’ve welcomed Alt-Right leader Steve Bannon to one of their military jamborees, and had Richard Spencer, the founder of the Alt-Right, on their television. Why? Spencer describes himself as a ‘White Zionist’, who admires Israel as the kind of racially pure ethnostate he’d like America to become, but for Whites only. Tony Greenstein was so angered by the Groan’s switch from objective reporting to servile pro-Israel commentary, that he wrote Viner or her subordinates a letter of complaint.

This isn’t about real anti-Semitism in the press. This is about censoring criticism of Israel, using the horrific suffering of Jews in the Holocaust as a pretext. It’s a disgusting desecration of their memory as well as a gross libel on the cartoonists. Viner, Klein and Regev should be ashamed.

Vox Political On Steve Bell’s Cartoon against BBC anti-Corbyn Bias

January 13, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political has posted a piece commenting on Steve Bell’s cartoon in the Groaniad lampooning the Beeb for its bias against Jeremy Corbyn. Naturally, Mike reproduces the cartoon in question, in which a very true blue Tory interviewer accuses the terrorist, Jez Bi Wan Conorbyn of being a slave of the ‘Evil Newt Conspiracy’. Mike observes that it’s good that someone in the mainstream national press has noticed the Beeb’s bias against Corbyn, but doubts that it’ll make any difference to the Beeb. See Mike’s piece athttp://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/01/13/tory-cheerleaders-at-bbc-news-get-roasted-by-cartoonist-steve-bell/.

Indeed it won’t. But a few other reporters and journalists have also commented on the way Corbyn has suffered a barrage of hostile reporting and criticism far in access of what he deserves. Mike believes that in the case of the BBC, they’re trying to suck up to the Tories, who want to privatise or at least massively reduce the Corporation. All for the benefit of such pillars of public service broadcasting like Rupert Murdoch, of course.

And if you want to know how much Murdoch actually believes or values impartial reportage, as Fox News’ slogan of ‘fair and balanced reporting suggests’, The Young Turks quoted a media analysis which concluded that only about a third of what the pundits on Murdoch’s network said was actually correct. There’s a reason it’s called ‘Faux News’.

Part of the problem is the incestuous nature of the media bubble. Journalists largely come from the same class as the politicians they interview, they live in the same areas and communities, attend the same schools, or type of schools, and mix with the same type of people. So they essentially see the world through the same set of social prejudices and assumptions which right-wing politicians do. Hence the various instances where BBC journalists and news department managers have left the Corporation to get jobs as spin doctors for the Tories.

But I think it’s probably more than that. The news department at the BBC is shrinking, has been subject to vicious cuts for much of the past decade. The corporation in particular has been laying off scores of their staff, who actually report the news and put it all together. This seems to have been in line with the way the rest of the BBC has been by changed by its management. The people, who actually produce programmes have been progressively sacked, while management has inflated, with the upper management enjoying commensurately bloated salaries. Of course, the BBC isn’t alone in this. It’s part of what’s been happening in industry generally, as industry has shed jobs on the factory floor, while management have rewarded themselves with vast pay rises and bonuses. The BBC’s management shares the same attitudes of management generally, which is decidedly pro-Tory, and so definitely doesn’t want to see anyone even as remotely left-wing as Corbyn enter Ten Downing Street.

And I also think there’s more than a touch of class bias towards their listeners as well. Audiences for some of the Beeb’s news programmes have shrunk. Private Eye has been wondering for months, if not years now, how long Newsnight can stagger on without Paxman. You can tell that Beeb’s news department has been affected by the odd pieces that appear in the Radio Times, complaining about how fragmented audiences are due to the internet. People, they say, are taking their news now from different sources, largely those which confirm their existing political views. As a result, they warn, society is also fragmenting and overarching consensus views, held by the mass of the population, are being shattered.

It’s hard not to see this as simply sour grapes, at least in part. Yes, people are getting more information from a wider variety of sources, including the Net. Yes, this has challenged the power of the mainstream news to form a consensus of opinion. And this is clearly worrying old style print and broadcasting journalists. There’s clearly resentment in these types of editorials, one of which appeared in the Radio Times a few months ago, about the way the BBC and its broadcasters can no longer wield the massive ideological or social clout they once had. People are turning off, not least because of an increasing awareness of bias in the Beeb’s reporting.

My guess is that the Beeb has tried to consolidate its influence by deliberately targeting its news reportage to cater for the part of the population it considers to be movers, shakers and opinion makers. That is, the middle and upper classes. It’s trying to retain its cachet and some remaining social support by appealing to them. Who by and large, are Tory through-and-through.

So never mind the kind of news the proles might actually want or be interested in, the toffs and industrialists they want to impress want solidly anti-Corbyn, pro-neoliberal propaganda to keep the plebs in line and the bonuses and tax cuts rolling in. The anti-Corbyn bias in the Beeb is a mixture of Tory sycophancy, bog-standard class bias, and deliberate corporate targeting of a desirable market demographic. And it’s one in which the rest of us proles don’t count, whatever the Beeb may splutter about maintaining its high standards of objectivity.

Je Suis Charlie: Cartoonists Tributes, and the Racist Backlash

January 9, 2015

Mike over at Vox Political has a further piece on the aftermath of the shocking massacre of the staff of the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo. In his article Charlie Hebdo update: French mosque attacked, Mike reports that three blank grenade were thrown at a Paris mosque, and shots were fired at nearby kebab stand. He says of this apparent reprisal against innocents, who had nothing to do with the attack, that

This is, of course, exactly what the terrorists wanted. Terrorists always want to set people against each other, for the wrong reasons. The vast majority of Muslims are likely to have been as horrified at the terror attack as everyone else – but what are they supposed to think, now that innocent Muslims are being attacked by idiots?

Here’s the real voice of Islam, in the words of Vox Political commenter ‘Nightentity’ yesterday: “Those that believe these so-called Imams are ignorant of their faith and will believe anything they hear that makes them seem intelligent and all knowing to the other ignorant [people].

“Terrorism is not Islamic, you don’t cause suffering to the aged, the weak and the innocent, you don’t hide behind masks and scarves, you stand like a man and fight a man’s battle. These terrorists are cowards and weaklings for they hide behind a faith that does not condone what they do.

“These terrorists are only out for power and control, they are not true Muslims in any sense of the word.” [Bolding mine]

This is entirely correct. One of the aims of terrorist organisations, from the Russian revolutionaries through to the IRA, is to provoke further reprisals and attacks against the people they claim to be defending by the authorities, in order to create further disaffection and radicalisation. I don’t believe for it was an accident that the savage attacks on Charlie Hebdo were carried out when they were. Germany this week has been torn by demonstration and counterdemonstration by and against Pegida, an anti-Islamic organisation. Pegida’s name is an acronym for ‘Patriotische Europaer Gegen der Islamisierung des Abendlands’, or ‘Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West’. And last week, in France itself, a Right-wing television host, Zammour, was finally sacked. Zammour seems to have been an extreme Right-wing bigot of the same stripe as Glen Beck, the American nutter, who declared that the young victims of Breivik’s massacre in Norway all deserved it because they were anti-Semitic Nazis. No, really, he did. Zammour was thrown out because he declared that France’s five million Muslims should all be deported. This ran chills down the spines of genuinely patriotic French people, as it recalled the deportation of the Jews to their extermination in the Nazi death camps under the Occupation.

The attacks on Charlie Hebdo were timed to coincide with this period of stress and potential conflict over Islam in Europe. I don’t think it is any other than an attempt to provoke further violence and civil war between Muslim and Non-Muslim.

Much of the anti-Western Islamic polemic is against Western racism, portraying White Europeans and Westerners as viciously racist, and contrasting this with the supposedly non-racist nature of Islam. It’s clearly aimed at disenfranchised non-White Muslims, who may themselves have been victims of racism. I reject its view of the West and western society. The attack on Charlie Hebdo, and the further threats of attacks and atrocities in the West by al-Qaeda and Isis, are designed to make White westerners behave according to the Islamist stereotype of them as racist bigots. That way, the Islamists can spuriously claim to have shown the true, racist nature of Western society and gather further support.

It’s obvious from this that, whatever we do, we should not let them. Non-Muslim and Muslim should stand together now to prevent further hatred and violence.

Mike’s article also has some of the visual tributes from fellow cartoonists to the murdered staff of Charlie Hebdo. Uderzo, who with Goscinny is the writer and creator of the world’s favourite ancient Gaul, shows Asterix and Obelix bowing in dignified respect. The two other cartoons, by Steve Bell and Lew Stringer, are a direct comment on the stupidity and cowardice of the attackers themselves.

Mike’s article is at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2015/01/08/charlie-hebdo-update-french-mosque-attacked/. It needs to be read.

Resisting the Tories War on the Poor: Bring Back the Underground and Alternative Comics

December 24, 2013

As I’ve written in previous blog, one of the problems facing Left-wing opponents of the Coalition and its vile policies is how to get the message across, when the media are nearly all biased towards the Conservatives. One possibility may be to use comics and graphic novels, following the examples of the great underground and alternative comics that first appeared in the 1960s and ’70s, before expanding and changing, along with the rest of the comics world in the ’80s and ’90s. Two of the most famous examples of comics creators using the medium to make extremely serious political points were Brought to Light and Aargh in the 1980s. These were a response to atrocities committed by CIA-backed Contra rebels in Nicaragua and the Thatcher government’s attempt to pass the now notorious Clause 28 respectively. This last piece of legislation was intended to prevent schools promoting homosexuality. Gays and libertarians were outraged by what they saw as the official promotion of homophobia, and feared that it would be followed by even more punitive legislation directed at gays themselves. Since Mrs Thatcher’s death, there has been some attempt to rehabilitate her regarding her attitude towards homosexuality. It’s been rightly observed that she did not personally hate gays, and that an attraction to one’s own sex was no obstacle to serving in her cabinet. Thatcher’s economic model was, however, Chile under the Fascist dictator General Pinochet, who was a personal friend of hers. At a time when homosexuality was far less tolerated than at present, there was a real fear that Thatcher would not only import Pinochet’s monetarism, but also follow him in destroying personal and political freedoms over here. Under the Right-wing totalitarianism Thatcher seemed ready to establish, gays would also be brutalised and persecuted, as well as other social and political groups the government deemed offensive or a threat. This was the background to the Fascist dystopia depicted in Moore’s and Lloyd’s comic strip and graphic novel, V for Vendetta.

Moore also contributed to Brought to Light, writing the strip ‘Shadowplay’, illustrated by the American comics artist Bill Sienkiewicz. ‘Shadowplay’ is a bitterly funny history of the way the CIA had backed Right-wing dictators and conspired to overthrow left-wing regimes, as well as engage in other, illegal and extremely unethical tactics across the world, as told in a sleazy bar by a cynical American eagle. It’s an example of the way comics, in the hands of good writers and artists, can be used to make deadly serious political points based on fact in a manner that it is entertaining as well as informative.

Shadowplay art

Art from ‘Shadowplay’ from Brought to Light, written by Alan Moore with art by Bill Sienkiewicz, showing the caricature-based artistic style used to make their point about the CIA infamous legacy of atrocity and human rights abuses.

Moore also contributed to Aargh!. This was a collection of strips, whose title was an acronym supposedly standing for ‘Artists Against Rampant Government Homophobia’. Although it was a British response to Thatcher’s Clause 28, it followed a line of American underground gay comics from the 1970s, such as Harold Hedd, Barefootz and the lesbian comic, Dynamite Damsels, culminating in the anthology, Gay Comix, published by Kitchen Sink.

Aargh1

Page from Aargh!

The underground comics were largely a product of the 1960s Hippy counterculture, and much of their contents were based around drugs and sex. This is shown very much in the work of the best known of the underground comics creators, Robert Crumb, and Gilbert Shelton’s Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, a comic about the weird adventures of a group of hippy drug freaks. In the 1970s a number of explicitly political underground comics appeared, including Slow Death Funnies, Edu-Comics and Anarchy Comics. Slow Death produced a number of issues, each devoted to a particular topic, such as the medical-industrial complex, nuclear power, the campaign against the Vietnam War and Greenpeace. As well as satirical strips, they also included facts and figures. Edu-Comics also produced a number of individual comics devoted to particular issues, such as All-Atomic Comics (1976) and Energy Comics (1980), which attacked the nuclear power industry.

Atomic Comics

Pages from All-Atomic Comics showing the mixture of satirical strip and factual contents.

Britain also had a number of political underground comics, such as the Optimist and Committed Comics. The Optimist appeared in 1976, and featured strips that discussed squatting, the dole, abortion and hypothermia amongst British pensioners.

Optimist

Cover from The Optimist.

Committed Comix, for its part, had strips discussing Northern Ireland, gay rights and the rise of the National Front.

Back to the Thirties

Back to the Thirties strip from Committed Comix, warning of the rise of the extreme Right-wing National Front.

These underground comics helped create a tradition of highly political comics that continued well into the 1990s, with titles such as Downside. This was a soap opera set in Thatcher’s Britain, which strongly criticised her government and its policies, and which ironically used quotes from her for each issue’s titles.

Downside Thatcher

Other comics in the 1980s devoted to particular contemporary issues include Strip AIDS, El Salvador: A House Divided and Palestine. Alan Moore also produced another political comic in consultation with an American conscientious objectors’ group, Real War Stories. This was intended to promote its anti-War message through presenting the reality of armed conflict, based on the experiences of real soldiers.

Apart from these Underground and alternative comics, mainstream comics also became far more adult with an increasing demand from their readers for them to include more mature themes and issues. One issue of Daredevil attempted to show the horrific effects of drugs on American schoolchildren, while another superhero comic, The Vigilante, dealt with child abuse. In Britain a range of comics were produced by Fleetway, aimed at readers over the age of 16. These included Crisis, and its strip, ‘Third World War’. This was about a pair of teenagers drafted in to serve the multinational food corporations as they exploited the Developing World.

Crisis Cover

Cover of Crisis.

Most of these new, adult strips didn’t last very long. The new emphasis on gritty realism and politics did not attract the younger readers, on whom the industry traditionally depended, and the comics industry in general suffered a massive collapse after the initial boom of the 1990s. Nevertheless, despite this decline, 2000 AD has survived. Many of its strips, including Judge Dredd, were sharply satirical. As the millennium approached, for example, the comic decided to celebrate the approaching year of its title with a satirical strip harking back to Mach 1, one of the very strips in the new comic. Mach 1 was based very much on the Six Million Dollar Man. Instead of bionics, however, Mach 1 owed his massively increased strength and speed to ‘compu-puncture hyperpower’. To help him control it, Mach 1 had a special computer implanted in his head which gave him advice. 2000 AD took this early strip, and reworked it into a strip satirising Tony Blair, the then current prime minister. He appeared as Blair 1, with his inbuilt computer advisor, Dr Spin. Two of the problems facing the fictional PM was how to support single mothers, as well as what should be done about the abandoned mines left through the closure of the mining industry by Major’s regime. Dr Spin’s advice is to solve these problems by combining them, so that the single mothers are then sent down the mines. A long line of them appear in characteristic miner’s gear, singing ‘Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to work we go! We work all day for rubbish pay, thank you, Tonio!’ Other politicians skewered by the strip also included Chris Patten and Anne Widdicombe.

The 1980s also saw the appearance of Diceman, a comic in which the individual strips were adventure games that could be played by the reader, and whose narrative and ending depended on the choice they made as they progressed through the game. It was the graphic successor not only to similar, text-based games like The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, but also to the various ‘Have Your Own … Adventure’ books aimed at younger readers, which used comic strips as the format for similar adventure games. Diceman was a spin-off from 2000 AD, and many of the games were based on its strips and characters, including Slaine and Nemesis the Warlock. It also shared the satirical slant of its parent, and several of its games attacked the leaders of the British and American governments. Thus, Diceman ran the strips Thatcher: A Dole-Playing Game, and one in which the reader played Ronald Reagan. This was illustrated by that veteran of underground comics and political subversion, Hunt Emerson. These were humorous in tone. One of the problems presented to the reader in the Reagan strip is that, as the present, your popularity is falling. The way to regain popularity is to launch an investigation into your own family tree, in the hope that a suitably popular and glamorous ancestral link can be found. The reader thus spun the dice to decide, who the investigation would say Reagan was related to. The highest numbers produced the most popular relatives, who duly boosted your score as Ronald Reagan. The most popular of these was the Queen, followed by ‘a lot of Irishmen’. The lowest score, however, made you related to Bonzo, Reagan’s chimpanzee fellow star from his film, Bedtime for Bonzo. The strip also made extremely serious and alarming factual points, such as when it discussed some of the occasions in which mistakes and malfunctions had left the world a millimetre away from nuclear war. One of these, for example, was when a technician accidentally dropped a spanner down the shaft of a nuclear silo.

A number of alternative comics have also appeared in Britain, which also include a strongly political element. These include Pete Loveday’s Russell: The Saga of a Peaceful Man, whose hero is a hippy going from one weird experience to another. Like the Underground comics before it, much of the humour in this centres around the alternative culture and the various festivals that had appeared by the ’90s, and drugs. It also showed and satirised the demoralising experience of job hunting, government cuts to unemployment benefit at the Job Centre, and the callous attitude of hospital administrators, eager to get people out of their hospital beds as quickly as possible in order to accommodate the next person in the queue.

Russel Job Hunting

The reality of looking for a job, as depicted in Russell: The Saga of a Peaceful Man.

Russel DofE

Russell finds that Unemployment Benefits are being replaced by payment in kind. From Russell: Part 2.

Russel Hospital Admin

Apart from the political comics themselves, many contemporary British comics artists and writers entered the field through the Underground comics, including Brian Bolland, Angus McKie, Dave Gibbons, Bryan Talbot, Hunt Emerson and Steve Bell, known for his political cartoons in the Guardian and the Indepedent, like Maggie’s Farm. There are also a large number of younger comics artists and writers out there in the wider fan culture, many of whom have got around problems of finding a commercial publisher by publishing their work themselves. Comics are also no longer confined to print and hardcopy. A few artists have taken to the web to publish their work. There is thus a large pool of talent available to create such comics, and the developments in comics publishing over the last couple of decades means that a political comic attacking the governments’ welfare policies could be published independently, or on-line and so get around the problem of finding a commercial publisher that way. Graphic novels have established comics as a medium in which serious issues can be discussed, and the growth of comics and their readership has meant that Waterstone’s now has a section devoted to comics and graphic novels. I also believe that Forbidden Planet would also be willing to stock such a comic. As well as conventional, mainstream comics like Batman, Superman, Spiderman and so on, Forbidden Planet has also stocked the independent, alternative and underground comics, including some of the very political work published by Knockabout. It might even be worth some of the comics companies republishing some of the old satirical strips. Margaret Thatcher has passed away, but her shadow still looms large over the British political landscape, with politicians on both the Right and the Left presenting themselves as her political heir and successor. It would thus be a timely reminder of how much suffering she caused in her day. And some of the issues discussed in the British undergrounds are still all too relevant. The references in The Optimist to pensioners suffering from hypothermia is, tragically, one of these. There was shock a few months ago when it was revealed just how many tens of thousands of senior citizens had died of the cold the previous winter.

Rather than a comic, published in serial instalments, I think the best way of using the comic strip to satirise and attack the government would be a graphic novel, or anthology, dedicated to the issue of poverty and the Coalition’s war on the poor, the unemployed and the disabled, like Brought to Light, Aargh! and the others in the 1980s and 1990s. The harshness of the government’s policies and the immense suffering they have created, such as the very many disabled people, who have committed suicide after being found fit for work by ATOS, surely warrant a similar treatment to the issues graphic novels explored and publicised in those decades. I am not saying that such a graphic novel or comic would be sufficiently influential to persuade the public to vote Cameron, Clegg and the others out. Ian Hislop, the editor of Private Eye and one of the creators of British satirical puppet show, Spitting Image, was once asked on Radio 4 whether he thought satire could change anything. He answered, ‘No’, and pointing out that no matter how viciously Spitting Image caricatured and attacked Mrs Thatcher and her government, people still kept voting for her. Nevertheless, if told with wit and style, such a graphic novel or comic might still reach and affect some people, who would otherwise find politics boring and help change the minds of those, who would otherwise quietly accept the Right-wing media’s misleading reporting and views of these issues. If even some people change their mind as a result, or are encouraged to vote against the government or become politically active against their policies, then such a graphic novel or comic will have succeeded.

A political comic attacking the government and its welfare policies would doubtless be extremely controversial. This is nothing new. The underground comics were notoriously controversial, and in the 1970s were the subjects of a series of obscenity cases in America that decimated the underground scene. Their counterparts over this side of the pond were similarly attacked. I remember that back in the ’70s and ’80s Knockabout always seemed to be raided by the police. Martin Barker in his book, Comics: Ideology, Power & the Critics, has also pointed out how mainstream children’s comics have also been the frequent target of official disapproval. Many of these were on the grounds that they were cheap rubbish that kept children away from reading proper literature, or that they indoctrinated their younger readers with the wrong values, either from the subversive Left or capitalist right. Barker wrote the book while Mrs Thatcher was Prime Minister, and popular literature, particularly comics, was coming under increasing attack. In the postscript to the book Barker makes a passionate defence of comics in the face of growing demands for censorship. Although comics and graphic novels are now better accepted than they were in the 1980s, his comments are still relevant today.

‘In this book I have worked hard at being the analyst. Assessing and weighing, investigating and evaluating. Not above a bit of anger when I find bad theory and empirical misrepresentation, but basically cool. Perhaps every now and then a bit of laughter or passion when something I really love comes up before my eyes, but most of the time outside it all. This is, of course, not true at all. I live in this damned country at this damned time and comics are part of my and my children’s lives. And I now say passionately: let us have as many of the things as we possibly can. In the face of the capital-calculating machine called Thatcherism which used morality like murderers use shotguns, all the little things like comics matter. Little by little, the cohorts of the ‘competitive-minded’ seek to shut down, enclose, militarise our imaginations. Comics prise open the bars just a little. Dreaming, eh? Give that chap a ‘short, sharp shock’! I am quite willing to say passionately: all those in whom humanity remains prized about the ‘laws of the market’ have no business (you own none, you have none) helping to block the dreaming that people manage to do. Imagination, fantasy, call it what-you-will, is not some fixed drum which, filled with the wrong stuff, will then be unavailable for other purposes. For heaven’s sake, let us have dreamers; or we will have hell. My defence of the comics is, to me, in the end a defence of the right to imagine.’ (p. 301). He then proceeds to attack comics’ left-wing critics for their censorship, which they share with Thatcher.

Comics and graphic novels have a long tradition of highlighting social and political problems, and satirising and attacking repressive governments and exploitative organisations and corporations. This tradition provides a fertile ground for attacking the present, repressive, exploitative government, and I’m sure there are plenty of talented and enthusiastic young comics writers and artists willing to do this. Such a graphic novel may not be successful, but it would be worth trying, and might, just might, help change a few minds.

On the subject of the way comics in the 1980s began to tackle serious, adult issues, here is an edition of the 1980s documentary series, Signals from 1989, I found on youtube. Entitled ‘The Day Comics Grew Up’, it features interviews with Alan Moore, Archie Goodwin, John Byrne, Tom Veitch and Jim Baikie, amongst other writers and artists, talking about their work and the demand for comics to include such mature, serious subjects.

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Sources

Martin Barker, Comics: Ideology, Power & the Critics (Manchester: Manchester University Press 1989).

Pete Loveday, Russell: The Saga of a Peaceful Man (London: John Brown Publishing 1991).

Pete Loveday, Russell: The Saga of a Peaceful Man, Part 2 (London: John Brown Publishing 1993).

Roger Sabin, Comics, Comix & Graphic Novels: A History of Comic Art (London: Phaidon 1996).