Steve Bell (cartoonist)
At Dundee University in 2007
26 February 1951 |
Walthamstow, London, England
|Occupation||Political cartoonist, artist|
Born in Walthamstow, London, and raised in Slough, Bell moved to North Yorkshire with his family in 1968, where he trained as an artist at the Teesside College of Art. He graduated in film-making and art at the University of Leeds in 1974 and trained as an art teacher at St Luke's College, Exeter (nowadays University of Exeter - St. Luke's Campus) in 1975. He taught art for one year in Birmingham before becoming a freelance cartoonist in 1977. His comic strip Maggie's Farm appeared in the London listings magazine Time Out from 1979 and later in City Limits, and Lord God Almighty appeared in The Leveller in the 1970s. In 1980, he contributed a cartoon interpretation of the lyrics to Ivan Meets G.I. Joe to the inner lyric bag of the Clash's triple album Sandinista!.
Steve Bell is probably best known for the daily strip called If..., which has appeared in The Guardian newspaper since 1981, and since the mid-1990s he has also been that newspaper's principal editorial cartoonist. One of Bell's most famous caricatures is of John Major as a dire superhero wearing his Y-fronts on the outside of his clothes, in a parody of Superman. Bell also claims to be the first cartoonist to have spotted Margaret Thatcher's mad left eye, as well as the fact that Tony Blair shares this unusual feature.
Steve Bell has won many awards for his work, including both the political and strip cartoon categories at the Cartoon Arts Trust awards at least eight times since 1997. Many collections of his cartoons have been published, and he has also illustrated original books in collaboration with several authors. He has made short animated films with Bob Godfrey, including a short series of animated cartoons for Channel 4 television in 1999 to mark the 20th anniversary of Margaret Thatcher's rise to power, entitled Margaret Thatcher - Where Am I Now?. He has appeared in a radio programme about the life of 18th century caricaturist James Gillray. Earlier in his career he wrote and drew the Gremlins comic strip for the British comic Jackpot.
In 2003, he was listed in The Observer as one of the 50 funniest acts in British comedy. When he received the UK Press Gazette award in 2004 for Best Cartoonist, in his speech he thanked "George Bush - for looking like a monkey, walking like a monkey and talking like a monkey".
Bell is fond of parodying celebrated paintings. Examples include his parody of Goya's The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters (in an editorial cartoon about the UK Independence Party); William Hogarth's The Gate of Calais about the ban on UK meat exports following outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease and bovine BSE; and - before the 2005 General Election when it briefly seemed as if the Liberal Democrats might seriously threaten Labour - J. M. W. Turner's The Fighting Temeraire, in which a chirpy Charles Kennedy as tug-boat towed a grotesque and dilapidated Tony Blair to be broken up. Following the death of Margaret Thatcher, for his cartoon the next day, 8 April 2013, Bell adapted an illustration by Gustave Doré of Farinata in Dante's Inferno, giving Thatcher the speech bubble "Why is this pit still open??" with reference to the closure of coal mines after the miners' strike of 1984–85.
Bell's cartoons often feature grotesque characters, and have sometimes caused controversy. During the November 2012 Israel/Gaza conflict The Guardian published Bell's cartoon showing the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, as a puppeteer controlling William Hague and Tony Blair. It was asserted by Dave Rich blogging for the Community Security Trust that the illustration was comparable to those featured in Nazi and other antisemitic publications. While Bell defended his cartoon, the newspaper's readers' editor Chris Elliott concluded in an article on 25 November: "While journalists and cartoonists should be free to express an opinion that Netanyahu is opportunistic and manipulative, in my view they should not use the language – including the visual language – of antisemitic stereotypes.". As Bell himself pointed out to Elliott, this was all very well, but the cartoon lacked the crucial trope of actually being antisemitic. The imagery employed was much more reminiscent of Harry Corbett and Sooty rather than the viciously racist depictions of Der Sturmer. The UK's Press Complaints Commission PCC received 22 complaints, but ruled on 19 December that it was unable to take the matter further.
Awards, books and exhibitions
- British Press Awards "Cartoonist of the Year" 2003.
- What the Papers Say Awards "Cartoonist of the Year" 1994
- Political Cartoon Society "Cartoon of the Year" (2001, 2008) and "Cartoonist of the Year" (2005, 2007)
- Honorary degrees from the Universities of Teesside, Sussex, Loughborough, Leeds and Brighton.
- Bibliography: Steve Bell has had 29 books published since 1981. A full list is available on his website.
- Steve Bell on Margaret Thatcher's death – cartoon : Comment is free : guardian.co.uk, British artists remember Margaret Thatcher: Morrissey, Billy Elliot, Ding Dong the Witch is Dead - chicagotribune.com
- "Steve Bell on Tony Blair and William Hague's role in Israel-Gaza clash – cartoon", The Guardian (website), 15 November 2012
- Dave Rich "Jews, puppets and the Guardian", Community Security Trust *(blog), 16 November 2012,
- Jennifer Lipman "Steve Bell defends Guardian cartoon", The Jewish Chronicle, 22 November 2012
- Chris Elliott "Open door: The readers' editor on… accusations of antisemitism against a political cartoon", The Guardian, 25 November 2012
- Jennifer Lipman "PCC rules no breach over Steve Bell Gaza cartoon", The Jewish Chronicle, 19 December 2012
- Press Gazette, Roll of Honour, accessed 24 July 2011
- The Independent, 19 February 1994, Reporter nurtures a scoop
- Steve Bell, Biography
- Bellworks - Bell's archive of his cartoons
- Belltoons.co.uk/books - a full list of Bell's published books
- Guardian cartoons by Steve Bell
- The Art of Comedy, an interview with Steve Bell, from suchsmallportions.com
- Interview alongside Martin Rowson
- Interviewing Robert Crumb, 2005
- Biography article at British Cartoon Archive, University of Kent
- Interviewed at ICA by George Melly, 1987