Farewell to the father of the Grim Reaper cartoon

The Swedish film director Ingmar Bergman passed away this week. He's recognised as a genius of cinema but I thought we should also recognise him as the father of that staple of cartoonists: the Grim Reaper gag.

Yes, I know he didn't invent the image of the Grim Reaper, it's been around for centuries, but by showing Ol' Hoodie playing chess in The Seventh Seal, above, he put him in the mundane world of us mortals. And countless cartoonists picked up this idea and ran with it. Well, that's my theory, and I like it.

I've done plenty of Grim Reaper cartoons myself. Here are two, from The Oldie and The Spectator respectively. The original of the latter sold to a newspaper obituaries editor who collects Grim Reaper cartoons.


Prospect magazine music cartoon is silenced

This HMV dog cartoon is in the new issue of Prospect magazine, accompanying the lead feature by Robert Sandall on the rise and fall of the record industry. (It's fascinating reading for anyone interested in music. Read it here.)

The fact that it does accompany the feature is just luck though, really. I sent the cartoon in as part of my usual batch, with no idea they were planning such a piece. The cartoon had already been declined by a few magazines. Originally it looked like this.

It stems from my annoyance at the fact that we're all supposed to jump unquestioningly on to the latest technological bandwagon. And anyone who chooses to use older technology is treated with contempt. Yes, that's right ... I'm the dog on the left. I'm no Luddite though. I did have an iPod but it packed up. My record player, on the other hand, has been going strong for 15 years. I listened to a 7-inch single of Jonathan Richman's Roadrunner on it the other day. Very loud. Wow, it sounded good. All MP3s in the immediate vicinity were quaking in their tinny boots.

Anyway, Prospect asked to run it without the caption. I wasn't too sure at first but once I'd closed the dogs mouth and made our elegant chum on the left a tad more contented looking, I felt the meaning was still clear. It's more an illustration than a cartoon really, there's no belly laugh there, but that's effectively how they used it anyway.


Homer Simpson: King of the hill

I think, generally speaking, you have to do quite a lot to upset pagans. But the people behind the Simpsons movie seem to have managed it with this. I suppose that as far as concerns about the Americanisation of British culture goes, this just about takes the doughnut, sorry, donut. Still, apparently it's drawn with paint that doesn't harm the environment and will wash off with the next significant rainfall. So, judging by the summer we're having I'll give it five minutes.


Spectator magazine cartoon: All change

When this cartoon was first sent out the caption was "Bloody Health and Safety". The cartoon was rejected and when I sent it out again I thought that maybe it didn't need the swearing, even though it's not exactly offensive, so I changed it to "Curse those Health and Safety guys". The cartoon is in The Spectator this week, and clearly the cartoon editor did think it needed swearing as he changed "curse" to "damn"! Of course, I don't mind if such changes are made (the cartoon editor also changed "and" to an ampersand and added an exclamation mark) as long as the meaning of the joke isn't changed.

Some years ago though, a magazine did make a change that I felt was not needed. It was a cartoon with a leopard on a psychiatrist's couch. The psychiatrist was saying, "You have got to want to change." When it appeared in the magazine it had been changed to: "You have got to want to change your spots." I felt that this was really spelling the joke out, and denying the reader that "penny drops" moment. A couple of years later a re-drawn version of the cartoon appeared in the Metro, the now-defunct listings mag that came with the Saturday Times, with the caption in its intended form.


Cycling cartoon: Les Anglais adore Le Tour

A stage of the Tour de France went through the villages and towns of Kent at the weekend, ending in Canterbury. It was a good story for the local paper, of course, but not such good news for me as I hate having to draw bicycles!