“I loved him very, very much, but he died anyway” – The Human Nature of Rosen and Blake

I had a speedy half day of illustration museums. First, to The Cartoon Museum, an expertly curated small space that struts from Hogarth to Steadman via Heath Robinson and Donald McGill on this occasion, the exhibits change with reasonable frequency. The main draw on this visit was an exhibition of art from and inspired by the first world war. It was a father and son trip.
It started with the famous image of Kitchener wanting me. I was learning already, I had not known that this image was not official recruiting propaganda, but taken from the cover of a magazine. Next to this hung Ralph Steadman’s reinterpretation of this icon.
There were many postcards of the time, persuading men to be butchered if they wanted to have a girlfriend.

As one rosy cheeked cartoon girl declared,

“I can’t love a feller what hasn’t died for his country”.

Even briefer,

“no gun, no girl”.

In another frame of six postcards wooing men to the front with promises of a kiss in a haystack, a peculiar image of a bruised and bandaged wife telling her husband to think of her when he gave the Hun hell. Was the message of this really, “wife beaters, why not use your powers for good and punch the enemy instead”?

There were two originals of Pat Mills’ Charley’s War, from Battle comic (or was it Battle Action by then?). I am uncertain if I remember this strip from my youth, but it didn’t skimp on brutality for the under 8s – men punished by being tied to wheels, the wounded staked into the soil by the enemy, hand to hand butchery and desperation.

Heath Robinson had used his ingenuity to imagine war machines for victory, and Donald Mcgill’s war images avoided some of the more Freudian phallic imagery he would later be known for, there was no little stick of Ypres rock pointing skywards.
As usual with the Cartoon Museum, I left with an enhanced view of cartoon, and a reminder of its sometimes devious beauty.

I met the curator, too, and possibly appeared to be a madman. She approached me and asked if I might be interested in helping out with an event.
“sure”, I said and gave my email, then I started blathering about the my recent trip to Laugharne and the work of Martin Rowson currently adorned in the windows of a house there. I think it was my description of the window frames that seem to show David Icke, naked, lizardy and on all fours that led to her excusing herself.
Bloody Martin Rowson, he brings out the worst in all of us.

My dad and I then strolled through Bloomsbury and up to The House of Illustration.
It is not a big museum yet. You might expect more as you walk by the posters and placards from St Pancras, but the two rooms of illustrations, plus one with short films of Quentin Blake indian inking Clown and The Twits, are worth a visit. The work of Quentin Blake is like Laurel and Hardy, if you don’t like it I think you might be an early model clockwork replicant.

“It is enjoyable to draw dirty and disgusting people because they have so many features”.

The Dahl work is represented by Danny Champion of the World and The Twits, as well as some Walliams work, The Story of the Dancing Frog, Blake’s Candide, and The Seven Washerwoman.

“I discovered that a drawing can fulfill its purpose and still be scratchy and instinctive and badly behaved”

The other room is given over to the beautiful and moving Michael Rosen’s Sad Book, a short work dealing with the loss of his son.

“What makes me most sad is when I think about my son Eddie. He died. I loved him very, very much, but he died anyway”.

For this room alone, to see this work laid out, and the original illustrations of Blake on the wall, the House of Illustration is worth visiting. It is stingingly poignant. Seemingly so simple, a reminder of why both Blake and Rosen are so intoxicating, the humanity and love of it, that is splashed and inked and scribbled and scrawled all over and through their work.


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2 Responses to “I loved him very, very much, but he died anyway” – The Human Nature of Rosen and Blake

  1. Scurra says:

    The House of Illustration is one of those places that you don’t want to tell people about, in case it becomes “popular” but you want it to be popular enough not to close down…
    And yes, the Sad Book is worth a trip by itself. The other rooms feel like an amazing bonus – especially the opening room (“What Does An Illustrator Do?”) with the vast illustration on the wall, which it may be rather too easy to walk through without noticing properly.

  2. Ant says:

    Happy memories of Quentin Blake drawing his way through Jackanory

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