For Kipper Williams, cartoonist, whichever side you happen to be on in the EU debate, it’s a universal truth that straight banana directives have considerable comedy potential – particularly if you happen to be a cartoonist.
So my book ‘In or Out? Europe in Cartoons‘ shamelessly draws on topics like this, even though it’s never been my intention to use cartoons as a vehicle for bashing the European Commission. My cartoon strip ‘Eurocats’ which ran in the Guardian in the early-1990s similarly exploited fundamentally fictional Brussels ‘scare stories’ as raw material (thanks Boris), simply because they were so absurd.
My current book could also be seen as a sort of antidote to serious debate, partly because many of the ‘facts’ are often either unknown, non-existent, confusing or meaningless. One cartoon shows a couple in front of the TV crying out for the facts – only to be presented with a barrage of sleep-inducing statistics.
There’s also a lot of cartoon material in the way the debate has taken over so much of our lives as well as causing a lot of confusion. In one drawing, a middle-aged couple wonder what they’ll talk about after 23 June, and in another they’re shown turning up at the Glastonbury Festival, simply to avoid having to decide how to vote. As a cartoonist, you seize the jokes where you can find them, so I hope I’ve avoided coming down on one side or the other, even though there’s always the possibility that individual cartoons could be interpreted that way.
Both camps have accused each other of exaggeration so I’ve reflected that in a number of the cartoons (exaggeration being my ‘modus operandi’ of course ). One cartoon shows a bricked up Dover, with barbed wire running along the top and a seagull reminiscing about how it all used to be white cliffs. I suppose this could be taken both ways – it could appeal to the Brexit camp as a yearning to hang on to Britishness and the Remain camp could view it as a warning about what could happen if Britain becomes too insular.
But as a cartoonist I do often pick on something that I think will make a good drawing or be enjoyable to draw. Boris Johnson is a gift to cartoonists, even when half his face is swamped with red tape as it is on the cover of the book. And it does make a change to shift the scenery from a person at an office desk to two Martians peering through a telescope at the ‘little grey men’ in the European Commission building.
The book also features what might be called ‘background’ material that is relevant to the current debate. I’ve included a number of previously published cartoons dealing with topics such as Germany’s debt negotiations with Greece. A strong country insisting on more austerity measures from a much weaker one does cast an interesting light on how we might look at the great European ‘family’. One cartoon shows Angela Merkel as a Mr Bumble figure, shocked that Tsipras should have the temerity to ask for ‘more’.
There has been a lot of old-fashioned Punch and Judy politics surrounding the run-up to 23 June, and however you feel about this, there’s no denying it’s been a gift to cartoonists. With the strong characters and the shouting matches it’s almost been worthy of pantomime. In fact I expect theatres are auditioning now for Christmas, so get ready to hiss at the villain of your choice ( I’ll illustrate the programme).
Kipper Williams is a cartoonist whose work has appeared in The Guardian, the Sunday Times, the Spectator and Private Eye, amongst many others. The images are reproduced here with the permission of the artist.
Note: The views expressed in this post are those of the author, and not of the UCL European Institute, nor of UCL.