Sunday, May 18, 2008

PROPAGANDA Reviews - The Work Of Carl Giles.

A while back I posted about the St Trinian’s film and it’s problematic relationship with Ronald Searle’s original St Trinian’s cartoons. Which is perhaps merely a complicated way of saying I loved Searle’s cartoons and hate what I’ve seen of this new film.

But it got me thinking about how we first receive an introduction to comics and how these timid first steps can often be prompted by some unusual sources.
In many ways this relates to the fascinating Crikey, It’s Saturday posts by the guys from the excellent Crikey magazine here on the FPI blog every Saturday. I’m guessing that a great many of us older folks reading this blog will have received our introductions to comics not through our local comic shop and the full colour adventures of some American superhero or other. I’m betting that most of us started out reading the sorts of comics that are being talked about in Crikey, or the sort of comics I remember from my Dad’s study……

Although I read comics as a young child they were mostly the occasional Beano or Dandy or Whizzer and Chips. A visit to the library would be made extra special by finding a Tintin or Asterix volume in the oversized children’s section. But superheroes? Not until much later.

But one unlikely and important source of comics in our house was my father’s study. The aforementioned St Trinian’s book, a Charles Addams collection, some Fred Bassett books , a pile of MAD magazines and the ever present, once a year delight that was the Giles Cartoon annual at Christmas. Every Christmas afternoon for at least a decade and a half I can remember the comforting feel of a full stomach and a Giles book to read through. (I got it after Dad had finished with it obviously!)

(Giles Cartoons Volume 1 - contains cartoons from 1943 to 1945.)

Every so often I’d nip into his room and borrow a couple of the books to re-read. Of course, knowing what I know now I’d probably have taken greater care of the first few volumes than I did, but these well thumbed, rather tatty volumes still sit proudly on my dad’s bookcase even now.

Inside I discovered the entire Giles family in all of their glorious strangeness. But it’s a strangeness of a time gone by rather than a deliberate strangeness. These characters are perfect caricatures of working Britain from half a century ago. Each single page cartoon is a snapshot of a time past, captured better than any history book could ever have hoped to do for a young boy leafing through the pages.

(The Giles family tree. Wonderful characters all. Click to be taken to original at full size.)

And of course, beyond this perfect history lesson the cartoons of Carl Giles were very, very funny. A cursory glance at the few examples below should The original cartoon volumes are very difficult to get, but there are countless reprint volumes available. It’s well worth a look at them, a cartoon monument to a distant time and a wonderful, hilarious look at British life through the 20th Century. And every so often, when I’m back visiting, I’ll pick them up and lose myself in the genius of Giles once more.

A good starting point for any further investigation of his work would be the excellent website; A Celebration Of Giles from which I borrowed the following examples of Giles’ work:

(”She’ll be lucky. Because of the grave international monetary crisis
I took the precaution of removing the contents of me piggy bank this time”.

December 1958.)

(”We’ll finish this shop steward gentleman another day -
don’t want to be fined by the Union for working extra time”
Oct 1950. Giles painted a delightful picture of working life,
but wasn’t shy of pointing out the troubles of the times either.)

(”Mum! Cyril’s wrote a wicked word.”
November 1950. Giles also had a wonderful knack of
reducing complicated political times to a brilliantly simple illustration.)

Carl Giles 1916 - 1995. A truly great cartoonist and certainly one of the many factors that introduced me to comics. All thanks to my dear old Dad.

Originally posted on the FPI blog here.

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