30
Mar 10

Ronald Searle

The Brown Wedge3 comments • 2,070 views

Ronald Searle turned 90 earlier this month, and to celebrate that, the Cartoon Museum here in London has an exhibition of his work.

He joined the army in 1939 and his first St Trinian’s cartoon was published in 1941. The following year he was taken prisoner by the Japanese, and remained in their hands for the next three and a half years, much of it working on the so-called Death Railway in Burma. His great period was the 1950s, when the bulk of his St Trinian’s and Molesworth (this with Geoffrey Willans) material was published.

It’s easy to forget that most of his work has not been cartoon school humour: as well as countless other cartoons, he published his war drawings, and did a lot of other reportage and general illustration for Punch, Life, the New Yorker, plus some work in animation, sculpting commemorative coins, film design and credits, and many other areas.

In fact the only people who might be at all disappointed in the excellent exhibition would be those who are only interested in the St Trinian’s and Molesworth material, as there are only a few early samples of those on show. Personally, I am very familiar with all of that, so I was happy to see such a range of other material – 140 works covering the gamut of his career.

My first reaction was being struck by just how fantastic a draughtsman he is – I suspect the blown-up images at the entrance will impress others who are most used to little cartoons in paperbacks the same way: the compositional sense, the ability to draw anything well, the judgement in use of line and occasionally tone or colour are all masterful. Every line seems to have its impact, and an image of a crowded, gaudy LA is almost overwhelming.

This isn’t to imply that most of the works are serious – some are, some even grim, but so many benefit from his gift of making almost anything look funny. There’s a particularly good pig with what I think is a conjuror, and a wonderful dog buying a balloon. The exhibition as a whole is a delight to view.

There are bonuses too – a section devoted to satirical cartooning through the ages, with the usual suspects from Hogarth on, and a bunch of Searle tribute pieces by Scarfe, Steadman, Bell and a particularly charming piece by Posy Simmonds. Upstairs is the usual British comic art collection, featuring examples of the greatest comic book cartoonists the country has produced – Leo Baxendale, Ken Reid, Davy Law, Dudley watkins – and much else, including a couple of really beautiful painted pages by veteran John M. Burns.

Comments

  1. 1
    Bec on 31 Mar 2010 #

    I visited the Cartoon Museum for the first time a few weeks ago and was really impressed by this exhibition. Really good and highly recommended!

  2. 2
    Katie G (but logged out) on 31 Mar 2010 #

    Jacky Fleming has an ace Searle tribute here: http://www.jackyfleming.co.uk/cartoon.php?gall=&p=39 :) I’ll have to try and get along to the Cartoon Museum in my lunch break!

  3. 3
    mike on 2 Apr 2010 #

    Saw this exhibition a few weeks ago – superb, eye-opening stuff. Interesting to discover that the first St Trinian’s cartoon was drawn while Searle was still a Japanese POW. It puts one of the exhibited St T’s drawings into an altogether darker context, as the comic scene (girls pulling lawn roller, lashed by mistress) directly echoes one of Searle’s harrowing POW sketches, secretly drawn while he was pretty much at death’s door.

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