The final scratch of the surgeon’s knife

What is the function of the political cartoon?

It occupies prime position on the editorial page. It frequently diverges from, even collides with the editorial stance.

I have several collections here from past masters. I’d suggest the present batch are more than holding their own by comparison.

I have to admit Gerald Scarfe, who was once the cutting-edge, isn’t doing it for me anymore: today’s in the Sunday Times, the limping dove-of-peace against the background of what looks like napalm, could have been recycled (and possibly is) from Vietnam or wherever.

Take, for comparison, four other views on the Gaza horror.

Chris Riddell, in today’s Observer, goes international for a change of scene, and comes up with:

Chris Riddell-Israel-Gaza-war

Look twice and you see not just the present, but  — in the second row — an anticipation of a continuing future.

If this (and it’s already up on the web-site) is tomorrow’s Independent, it’s a considerable improvement on Scarfe’s cliché:


Martin Rowson, for Saturday’s Guardian, and Dave Brown for the same day’s Independent, both conflate 1914 and 2014:

martin rowson cartoon 1.8.14


That second one derives from John Singer Sargent:


Sargent was commissioned by the British Ministry of Information: it was for a Hall of Remembrance. It derived from Sargent’s visit to the Western Front in July 1918, but was completed only in 1919. Before the Armistice, such a depiction would have been as welcome as rats in the Commons’ dining rooms. Now it hangs (2.3m by 6.1m — that’s twenty imperial feet long) in the Imperial War Museum.

Virginia Woolf mused on this one, which she seems to have seen at the Royal Academy:

A large picture by Mr Sargent called ‘Gassed’ at last pricked some nerve of protest, or perhaps of humanity. In order to emphasise his point that the soldiers wearing bandages round their eyes cannot see, and therefore claim our compassion, he makes one of them raise his leg to the level of his elbow in order to mount a step and inch or two above the ground. This little piece of over-emphasis was the final scratch of the surgeon’s knife which is said to hurt more than the whole operation.

The final scratch of the surgeon’s knife: that’ll do for me: it defines remarkably the point and purpose of the editorial cartoon.


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Filed under Dave Brown, Guardian, Independent, Literature, MArtin Rowson, Sunday Times

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