Political cartoonists really do love their subjects, reveals artist Martin Rowson
Ahead of his Radio 4 documentary series, the cartoonist says satirists tend to "fall in love with their victims"
For more than seven years I drew George Osborne as a smug and sneering teenage schoolboy bully, often with a growth sloth (reflecting Osborne’s economic triumphs) hanging from his arm, and on several occasions with his severed face lying on the floor after he lost Britain’s Triple A credit rating.
In most other walks of life, previous like that would have guaranteed I’d never get within a million miles of the man. Yet, on a hot day in late July, there I was in his office at the London Evening Standard, armed with pens, ink and the other tools of my trade.
Osborne is now a newspaper editor, but for a long time he was a politician and he’d recognised the truth that politicians need cartoonists as much as we need them, and always have.
Although cartoonists’ relationship to politicians has been described as that of a dog to a lamp post, the reality is more complicated. As the cartoonist David Low observed, “Politicians are merely waxworks: it’s the cartoonists who bring them to life”.
And in the 300 years that visual satire has been part of the British political conversation, its victims have also been its biggest fans and most lucrative market. I’ve had politicians ring me up early in the morning after I’ve depicted them in cartoons (on one occasion as a rabid sheep), wanting the original and demanding I put them in lots more cartoons.
There’s almost a wilful self-delusion about the whole mutually abusive, if mutually dependent, relationship that I describe as mind over matter – the politicians pretend they don’t mind; the cartoonists pretend we matter.
One of our occupational hazards is a weird variation on Stockholm Syndrome, whereby kidnap victims fall in love with their captors. We, instead, fall in love with our victims, whom, however much we deplore them or their policies, we come to love drawing.
In my case that was certainly true of Osborne, whom I enjoyed visually traducing more than anyone since Tony Blair. In fact, the simple joy I got from painting his twisted sneer or bending his head, apparently bereft of any bones, into ever madder shapes became almost pervy.
For a professional sceptic like me to be caught fraternising with the “enemy” might be seen as a betrayal of all I’m meant to stand for. Except, to coin a phrase, Osborne and I are in this together: every time I drew him as a monster, he noticeably failed to resign. Every time he thought he was a political titan, I helped everyone laugh him to scorn.
Both roles can be fulfilled with a certain level of politeness. After all, it’s what we have instead of bloody revolutions – for a while anyway.
By Martin Rowson
Martin Rowson’s series Life Drawing runs from Monday to Friday at 1.45pm on Radio 4 (Monday and Friday on FM only) — and his first subject is George Osborne…