Sometimes the most powerful images are the ones that make us laugh. After we stop laughing, we then think. The irony behind the image sinks in deeper. The poignancy of the message becomes stronger. That is what makes satirical cartoons so potent. We laugh when we know we shouldn't be laughing. It makes us feel guilty that we are taking pleasure from something caused so much pain. But sometimes situations become so ridiculous there is nothing you can do but laugh. It is the only thing that gets you through hard times.
Never Again! is an exhibition at the Cartoon Museum, featuring cartoons and comics from World War One. It starts off with early propaganda art by Alfred Leete, Bruce Bairnsfather, William Heath Robinson, and Donald McGill, whose aim it was to bolster the war effort, ridiculing the enemy, and sustaining the nation through the four long years of conflict. Some of these were commissioned by the government, while others, such as Leete's London Opinion was an unofficial recruitment poster depicting Lord Kitchener and inspired numerous other designs. Old Bill by Bairnsfather was criticised by the government for being a 'vulgar caricatures of our heroes', but the heroes in question in fact loved it.
The exhibition brings together over three thousand cartoons from newspapers, magazines, comics, and postcards, covering themes such as life in the trenches, popular songs, food shortages, and air raids. There are also many pictures from French and German cartoonists, as well as more recent material such as Ralph Steadman's reworking of Leete's famous Kitchener design.
The exhibition runs until the 19th October, and admission is £7 adults, £5 concessions, £3 students, or free for under 18s. There will be special events held throughout the season, starting with Then and Now on the 5th August. You will look at work from the 1914 Day by Day Cartoons project and compare it to work of the time.