Thursday, 12 September 2019

A Cartoon & Comic Book Tour Of London: Sir David Low

Over the month of September 2019 I'm re-posting parts of my Cartoon & Comic Book Tour Of London series.

If you'd like to explore the locations that feature in this series, drop me a line to enquire about tour availability – you can book a one-hour tour (ideal for kids) or a two-hour version of the tour. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy these reposts…

NB This post first appeared in early 2015…

Panel 9: Sir David Low

Cartoonist David Low (born in Dunedin in 1891) was described in his Guardian obituary as, "The dominant cartoonist of the western world." He was knighted in 1962.

His cartooning career began in his native New Zealand, and continued in Australia – where he was once called a "bastard" to his face by the Prime Minister. But then that particular high office has often been held by bluff, straight talking men. Or humourless boors as they are sometimes known. Such men hate to be mocked.

After World War Two, Low's name was found to be in the so-called black book of personas non grata, public enemies to be arrested after the Nazi invasion of Britain.

Even in this country Low was viewed in some quarters as a warmonger for his gloves-off depictions of the despots of 1930's Europe…

Low's take on the Molotov/Ribbentrop, or Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact of 1939

Low arrived in London in 1919 and worked as a cartoonist on The Star and The Herald (both now defunct) as well as The Guardian, but it is his stint at the London Evening Standard (1927 to 1950) for which he is best remembered.

In 1937 Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels complained to Lord Halifax (then Foreign Secretary) that Low's work was damaging diplomatic relations between Germany and Britain – and found a sympathetic ear. Herr Hitler, it seemed, could become rather cross when Low got to work.

Strange that men such as Geobbels and Hitler, with such strong stomachs for genocide, would be so upset at a couple of strokes from a pen.

David Low was seldom far from my thoughts in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo murders.

Martin Rowson, whose work appears in The Guardian, brought it all into focus in the aftermath of that attrocity. Rowson's words, it turns out, are every bit as eloquent and economical and angry and humane as his drawings. Under the sub-heading "Mockery is hated by the powerful and despotic – which is why it must continue", he wrote…

Laughter, it needs to be shouted, is one of the things humans do best, mostly because it makes us feel better. I’ve been convinced for years that laughter is a hardwired evolutionary survival mechanism that helps humans navigate our way through life without going mad with existentialist terror. That’s why we laugh at all those terrifying things like death, sex, other people and the disgusting stuff that pours out of our bodies on a daily basis.

Moreover, we’re very, very good at laughing at those who place themselves above us, either as our leaders or intending to impose their beliefs to make everyone else exactly like them. That’s the basis of the craft I shared with my murdered colleagues in Paris. This universal capacity to use mockery as a form of social control is one of the main things that makes us human. Crucially, it’s also in defiance of the primary need of the powerful to be taken seriously, often against all the external evidence of their innate absurdity.

(Read the full article here:

Or, as Low himself once put it:

"I have learned from experience that, in the bluff and counterbluff of world politics, to draw a hostile war lord as a horrible monster is to play his game. What he doesn't like is being shown as a silly ass."

Low is remembered with two plaques in London, one in Hampstead and one in Kensington where he lived. Here's the Kensington plaque…

… and here's how to find it…

Tomorrow… The Wicked + The Divine


If you'd like to explore cartoon and comic book locations in London, book me as your guide for a Cartoon & Comic Book Tour of Westminster  – available in both one and two hour versions. Click the email button at the foot of this post to enquire.

If you'd like to catch up with entire series of posts in this series (38 in number as of September 2019) then click here:

Keep In Touch…


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