Ronald Searle fans can follow the progress of my forthcoming book 'Searle's America' on the Facebook page here. I post updates and rare examples of American themed Searle work. Pre-order the book here.
Searle relaxes off-set with Sandra Alfred during the filming of 'The Belles of St. Trinian's' (1954)
Searle and his first wife Kaye Webb on the set of 'The Belles of St. Trinian's' (1954) with actress Joyce Grenfell.
Ronald sketches British starlet Sabrina on the set of 'Blue Murder at St. Trinians'. 'If you look at the CREDITS, you'd think Sabrina was the star : in the opening credits she was billed as "Guest Artiste" and in the end credits, she billed just after Alistair Sim. However, in spite of the film's publicity stills showing her in uniform, she never got out of bed (in in this case, gentlemen, that is not a good thing.) And she never said a word. Featuring as the school swot, she lounges with a good book as a JEWEL THIEF and several policemen revolve around her. It's unfortunate that the plot did not do the same.' - Nylon.net
The UK National Archives online database has some early Searle cartoons here. The drawings are credited as having been published in the 'Mirror & Echo' and 'Blick in die Welt'. They are particularly interesting for their relevance to Searle's wartime experience and the culture he returned to after surviving incarceration as a POW of the Japanese.
The 'General Collapse' series would most certainly have been based on Searle's wartime experience. His POW 'gag' sketchbooks contain many sketches poking at the officer class and the clueless privates.
'Not having the tourist mind' is a light-hearted, series of tableau on a theme that Searle explored on other occasions throughout his career- the hapless tourist - most notably the 'Mrs. Dyson' series for Punch magazine in the late 1950s.
'German soldier and French couple in farmyard.'
Without his signature I struggle to authenticate this as Searle although it does bear some similarities to the style he employed for illustrations made for the Radio Times in the late forties.
'Do you hate the people you draw '
An early self caricature reflecting on the savagery of his cartooning.
This appears to be another self-caricature and, I would say, a representation of Searle's first wife Kaye Webb. Out of context it seems to depict domestic tension of some kind but it's hard to say without the accompanying article. To continue the self referential symbolism are the slanted eyes of the male figure a racist remark? Is it the smoking? Are those unpaid bills on the table?
Two pictures follow of certain dubious racial stereotypes and again it's hard to decipher the 'oriental man' leaving the house without his trousers!
The March 15th, 1963 edition of Marseille Magazine carried an intriguing profile of Searle accompanied by a couple of photos and a drawing I'd not seen elsewhere. The article states he was in the city on assignment for Life magazine to cover the trial of the 'pétanque gang' but missed the appointment due to being bedridden with flu since arriving in France. He made do with the testimony of lawyers, judges and press photographs.
' . . . pour assister, à Marseille, au procès du 'gang de la pétanque', il a traverse l'Atlantique, comme envoyé special du magazine 'Life'. Mais il a dû réaliser son reportage-dessiné à travers les témoignages des avocats, des juges, des journalistes at à l'aide de documents photographiques, une grippe l'ayant cloué au lit dès son arrivée en France.'
I don't think the drawings were ever published in Life but I believe these are the drawings Searle made. The pétanque players are in the collection of the Wilhelm Busch – Deutsches Museum für Karikatur und Zeichenkunst, Hanover.
This stunning panorama of the Marseille palais de justice is held at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum at OSU, Columbus, Ohio. It's a large format drawing and Searle took great care with the likenesses of all the accused and the defender and prosecutor, noting their names along the bottom edge of the picture.
Signed and dated lower right. Caricatures identified by the artist: Voiron, Bonacorsi, Maitre Paoli (defense), A. Ceccaldi, Maitre Tramoni (defense), Donnat, Ricci, Quaranta, Bernasconi, Hugues, Bontempi, David, E. Ceccaldi, Alardon, Agaccio, Maitre Grisoli (defense)
The Billy Ireland Library also has this depiction of the judges presiding over the case: Gaudaire, Vincentelli (President), Lucciardi
The article is somewhat obsessed with the artist's financial rewards since becoming 'le dessinateur le plus féroce du monde' stating that his drawings for French, American, English, Italian and German magazines reap at least 1,500 francs and that Life offered 10,000 francs for a drawing of Winston Churchill's last speech in Parliament (a drawing of staggering detail that deserved the price).
The article estimates that in the past decade the Searle produced 3000 drawings which I can only conclude is no exaggeration after seeing so many in collections around the world.
Revealingly the last sentence drops this bombshell: 'his last humorous story was devoted to the US Department of Foreign Affairs. President Kennedy phoned him to ask him for three drawings : one for Nixon, one for (Secretary of State) Dean Rusk and one for himself.'
This was published in the December 1961 issue of Holiday magazine and one can only speculate as to which of those famous politicians chose which drawing . . . ?
Kind words from a man who knows about drawing, cartooning and Ronald Searle. Nick Galifianakis was in L.A. recently on tour with his (co-authored) book on the Art of Richard Thompson and spared a night to have dinner and talk art and travel and, of course, Ronald Searle. I gave him a sneak preview of the book and he seemed impressed and maybe a little excited even . . .
There’s is a code among some cartoonists. A secret handshake, a password that's exchanged. And once that transaction is completed there is an immediate understanding between the parties. Understanding of what…? Of the artist Ronald Searle.
Just such a transaction took place online a few years ago between Matt Jones and myself. Matt, at the time a story artist with Pixar, is the High Priest of the Ronald Searle Religion and the keeper of the best and most thorough blog on the late Searle.
Matt recently found time within his time-consuming regular work schedule to curate an exhibit of Searle's work at the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco and, because he’s been able to successfully clone himself, Matt is also completing an extraordinary book on Ronald Searle In America.
And I can say “extraordinary” with confidence because I was indeed privileged to preview the book over dinner with Matt while on The Art of RT book tour in LA. Peeking at this work in progress is the cartoonist's equivalent to witnessing the creation of the Ten Commandments.
A slight exaggeration.
It is a beautiful book, a loving homage to a most brilliant cartoonist - and I know a little something about beautiful books on brilliant cartoonists.
In fact, I'll bring them together with “my” brilliant artist’s own words on Searle. First, some background:
Many of the interviews in The Art of Richard Thompson were conducted by email, with the interviewers sending questions and Richard answering accordingly. Early in this process, however, Richard broke his hip, an obviously terrible development that slowed down both Richard and the book. So instead, Richard dictated his answers to me.
The good part about this approach was that I could draw upon decades of conversation with Richard, as there was a good chance I’d recall what he had said about this artist or that, and then, when appropriate, nudge him for more. The bad part was that, because of time constraints, this often meant overly taxing my pal during a time when he was quite beat up.
Of course, Richard got even with me because taking dictation from him usually meant, due to his diminished lung capacity, in order to hear him I had to bring my ear to within 2 inches of his mouth, resulting in the side of my face being covered in Cherry Coke spittle and whatever kind of cheeseburger he was eating that day.
Such was the dynamic when Richard was giving me answers to Peter de Seve’s questions about Richard’s influences. Pete was the last of the interviews and the deadline was looming, with a ton of graphics work left on the book, so after prattling on about a variety of artists that left an impression on him, Richard finally said “okay,” indicating that he was through. I looked at him incredulously.
“You’re not done,” I said through my ketchup-sprayed face.
So my exhausted pal gave me two sentences on Ronald Searle. That was it.
“Richard, you’re not stopping at two sentences on RONALD SEARLE!” I exclaimed while picking bits of french fries out of my bushy eyebrows.
Sigh. He dug into his reserves, and gave me a bit more, and stopped. I pushed. And pushed, back and forth…and then Richard unveiled the following thoughts:
“Searle was just such an eye opener. I was twenty, I guess, and I was aware of him, but I didn’t know his work in the fullest…then I got that book, the Searle book with the theater curtain on the front and the binding split because I’d leave it open for reference (meaning copying) more often than it could take…
“For one thing, he could do anything with ink, anything he wanted to, he could do splashy lines, dry brush lines, skippy lines, rapid and staccato lines, stitchy lines … you could feel the weight of history behind his lines, in that he was aware of where they’d been before he used them.
“And the seriousness of some of his ideas… his awareness of art history and such, and that a cartoonist could have that gravitas hand in hand with sublime silliness had not occurred to me.
“Mimicking him was idiotic, but learning from him was necessary. Pat Oliphant said that everyone has a Searle period they go through -- suddenly that’s the only way to draw a lamp or a building or a person or a pig -- you can’t get away from it… until you find your own way, hopefully. Searle was such a gravity well that you could not help but be somehow deformed by his presence.”
I stopped typing before he finished and just looked at my drained friend. Though I’m fully aware that Richard is as eloquent with words as he is deft with his draftsmanship, I am still awed.
The great Ronald Searle inspired the great Richard Thompson, then and now. Matt Jones’ upcoming book is a loving tribute to Searle doing just that, for so many of us.'
I am a story artist working in the animation industry. I retain all copyrights to original artwork & material posted on my blog.Copyright for the GARY & Ronald Searle blogs is held by the respective artists.