Steve Bell (cartoonist)

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Steve Bell
Steve Bell, 2016 Labour Party Conference 2.jpg
Bell working at the 2016 Labour Party Conference
Steven William Maclean Bell

(1951-02-26) 26 February 1951 (age 71)
Walthamstow, Essex, England
OccupationPolitical cartoonist, artist

Steven William Maclean Bell (born 26 February 1951)[1] is an English political cartoonist, whose work appears in The Guardian and other publications. He is known for his left-wing views.

Early life[edit]

Born in Walthamstow 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 from the University of Leeds in 1974 and trained as an art teacher at St Luke's College, Exeter (now St Luke's Campus at the University of Exeter), in 1975.

He taught art for one year in Birmingham before resigning to become a freelance cartoonist in 1977.[2]


While still teaching, Bell did unpaid work providing the magazine Birmingham Broadside with illustrations including a comic strip featuring Maxwell the Mutant who changed into someone different every time he drank a pint of mild.[2][3]

He had been a friend at university with another student, Kipper Williams, who had become a freelance cartoonist. Bell followed his lead, and some contacts, and despite rejections including being turned down for The Beano he persevered and obtained paid work for part of 1978 with the comic strip Dick Doobie the Back to Front Man for Whoopee!. He made repeated attempts to get work in the London listings magazine Time Out. When the premiership of Margaret Thatcher began in May 1979, its news editor Duncan Campbell invited Bell to meet the need for a comic strip on the new government. Maggie's Farm, with animal characters,[2] appeared in Time Out from 1979 to May 1981, then from October 1981 in City Limits. Bell produced another comic strip, Lord God Almighty, for The Leveller during 1980 and 1981. 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!.

He is probably best known for the daily strip called If..., which appeared in The Guardian newspaper from 1981 until 2021, and since the mid-1990s he has also been that newspaper's principal editorial cartoonist.

Collections of his cartoons have been published, and he has also illustrated original books in collaboration with 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.

Bell's parodies include Goya's The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters (in an editorial cartoon about the UK Independence Party[4]); 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 LabourJ. 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.[5] Following the death of Margaret Thatcher, for his cartoon the next day, 9 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.[6]

Bell's cartoons regularly feature grotesque caricatures, and have sometimes caused controversy as well as receiving critical acclaim. During the November 2012 Israel/Gaza conflict The Guardian published a cartoon by Bell showing the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, as a puppeteer controlling William Hague and Tony Blair.[7] Dave Rich, blogging for the Community Security Trust, said that the illustration was comparable to those featured in Nazi and other antisemitic publications.[8] While Bell defended his cartoon,[9] 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."[10] The UK's Press Complaints Commission received 22 complaints, but ruled on 19 December that it was unable to take the matter further.[11]

In the run-up to the 2015 United Kingdom general election, there was outrage on Twitter over an If... cartoon strip depicting Scottish National Party (SNP) leader Nicola Sturgeon as refusing to compromise on their "core demand" for "incest and Scottish folk dancing". Numerous tweets branded Bell as racist, while others said that it was no more outrageous than his cartoons mocking other politicians.[12] There were over 300 complaints made to The Guardian and nearly 1,000 comments under the online cartoon, mostly negative. The wording referred to a quotation attributed to Sir Arnold Bax, who said a Scottish friend had told him "You should make a point of trying every experience once, excepting incest and folk dancing".[13] During the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, Bell's cartoon strip depicted Sturgeon's "Yes" campaigning as promising "No Noness ... and Yes Yesness; Nationalism, Socialism: together they go so well!!"[14]

In July 2019, Bell sent an angry email to The Guardian after his 'If...' cartoon strip was pulled. The cartoon portrayed Deputy Leader of the Labour Party Tom Watson as the "antisemite finder general" for being critical of antisemitism in the Labour Party.[15]

In June 2020, Home Secretary Priti Patel while listing her experiences of racism in the House of Commons, mentioned a cartoon of Bell's published in The Guardian of being portrayed as “a fat cow with a ring through its nose, something that was not only racist but offensive, both culturally and religiously”.[16]

On 15 July 2020 The Guardian announced planning to cut jobs due to expected losses caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The Media Group said "We will discuss all our proposals, including redundancy terms, during collective consultation with our employee and trade union representatives."[17] Online social media including Twitter spread a rumour that Bell's annual contract (due to expire in 2021) would not be renewed, without confirmation from The Guardian or from Bell himself. The UK Press Gazette was told by Bell that his annual freelance contract has always been a process of negotiation. For some time he had been in talks with editor-in-chief Katharine Viner about reducing his workload, and "Sadly this probably spells the end for the ‘If…’ strip after 39 and a half years, which I enjoy doing immensely, but is a hell of a lot of work for an old codger like me, particularly in full colour. I do hope to continue after next April doing large editorial cartoons."[18]

In October 2020 the Equalities and Human Rights Commission found the Labour Party guilty of having broken equalities laws regarding its handling of antisemitism.[19] Jeremy Corbyn said the problem had been "dramatically overstated" by political opponents, and his membership was immediately suspended.[20] Bell produced a cartoon, published in The Guardian, of Keir Starmer presenting Corbyn's head on a platter, based on Caravaggio’s portrayal of the Salome with the Head of Saint John the Baptist from the biblical story in the New Testament. The Guardian received 32 complaints of antisemitism.[21][22] Labour peer Lord Andrew Adonis described the cartoon as "repellent".[23]

Awards, books and exhibitions[edit]

  • British Press Awards "Cartoonist of the Year" 2003.[24]
  • What the Papers Say Awards "Cartoonist of the Year" 1994[25]
  • Political Cartoon Society "Cartoon of the Year" (2001, 2008) and "Cartoonist of the Year" (2005, 2007)[26]
  • Honorary degrees from the Universities of Teesside, Sussex, Loughborough, Leeds and Brighton.[26]
  • Bibliography: Steve Bell has had 29 books published since 1981. A full list is available on his website.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved 21 January 2022.
  2. ^ a b c "Steve Bell: 'You must discover the character behind the face'". The Guardian. 25 May 2011. Retrieved 18 July 2020.
  3. ^ "Birmingham Broadside – Coventry Music Archives's blog". Retrieved 18 July 2020.
  4. ^ "09.06.04: Robert Kilroy-Silk and the UKIP – Cartoons –".
  5. ^ "26.04.05: Tony Blair and Iraq – Cartoons –".
  6. ^ Bell, Steve. "Steve Bell on Margaret Thatcher's death – cartoon". The Guardian – via
  7. ^ "Steve Bell on Tony Blair and William Hague's role in Israel-Gaza clash – cartoon", The Guardian (website), 15 November 2012
  8. ^ Dave Rich "Jews, puppets and the Guardian" Archived 29 November 2012 at the Wayback Machine, Community Security Trust *(blog), 16 November 2012,
  9. ^ Jennifer Lipman "Steve Bell defends Guardian cartoon", The Jewish Chronicle, 22 November 2012
  10. ^ Chris Elliott "Open door: The readers' editor on… accusations of antisemitism against a political cartoon", The Guardian, 25 November 2012
  11. ^ Jennifer Lipman "PCC rules no breach over Steve Bell Gaza cartoon", The Jewish Chronicle, 19 December 2012
  12. ^ Jack Sommers "SNP Guardian Cartoon By Steve Bell Branded 'Racist' In Social Media Outrage", The Huffington Post, 11 March 2015
  13. ^ Elliott, Chris (15 March 2015). "I may not always agree with Steve Bell, but I defend his right to draw". The Guardian. Retrieved 30 September 2016.
  14. ^ Bell, Steve (13 November 2014). "Steve Bell's If ... on Nicola Sturgeon's new Scotland". The Guardian. Retrieved 30 September 2016.
  15. ^ "Guardian cartoonist Steve Bell rails against 'specious charge of antisemitism' - The Jewish Chronicle".
  16. ^ "Guardian will not remove 'racist' Priti Patel cartoon". The Telegraph. 9 June 2020.
  17. ^ Jim Waterson Media editor (15 July 2020). "Guardian announces plans to cut 180 jobs". The Guardian. Retrieved 2 August 2020. {{cite web}}: |author= has generic name (help)
  18. ^ Dominic Ponsford (24 July 2020). "Steve Bell 'stunned' at reports he has been 'sacked': 'The whole thing has been a bit disturbing'". Press Gazette. Retrieved 2 August 2020. Steve Bell told Press Gazette: 'My contract as it stands is coming to an end next year, but since I have always been on an annual freelance contract, and this has always been a process of negotiation. ... I don't know how the story that I'd been sacked got about, and nobody has bothered to approach me to confirm or deny it, but it highlights the problem with social media. I certainly didn't put it out.'
  19. ^ "Key findings of the EHRC inquiry into Labour antisemitism". 29 October 2020.
  20. ^ "Why was Jeremy Corbyn suspended from the Labour Party?". BBC News. 30 October 2020.
  21. ^ "Steve Bell cartoon of Starmer and Corbyn draws claims of 'antisemitism'".
  22. ^ "A cartoon that sparked reader complaints | Elisabeth Ribbans". 12 November 2020.
  23. ^ "Guardian cartoon of Starmer with Corbyn's head on platter labelled 'repellent'".
  24. ^ Press Gazette, Roll of Honour Archived 16 June 2011 at the Wayback Machine, accessed 24 July 2011
  25. ^ The Independent, 19 February 1994, Reporter nurtures a scoop
  26. ^ a b Steve Bell, Biography

External links[edit]