Tag Archives: satire

Curiouser & curiouser: Alice in Wonderland exhibition

15 Jul
Bryan Talbot's Jabberwock, from Alice in Sunderland

Bryan Talbot’s Jabberwock, from Alice in Sunderland

Come down the rabbit-hole with me, to the Cartoon Museum’s Alice in Wonderland exhibition. It opens today in celebration of the book’s 150th anniversary, and the press launch was last night.

The most striking part of the show is what a gift Lewis Carroll’s creation has been to political satirists. Not all are wildly original: there are five books in a glass case all weakly punning on the title – Adolf in Blunderland, Malice in Kulturland, Wilson in Wonderland, Alice in Wonderground and Alice in Plunderland! They might have added Russell Brand’s TV show Ponderland, and the current kids’ TV fantasy spin on that, Yonderland.

They are in good company, however. There are two Punch cartoons by the definitive Alice illustrator, John Tenniel, parodying his own work: Alice in Blunderland (1880) derides the erection of the Temple Bar Memorial, and Alice in Bumbleland (1898) attacks the bill to divide the County of London into 28 metropolitan boroughs. I guess you had to have been there.

And there are a few really clever ones. My favourite might be the Vietnam War-era cartoon by Robert O. Bastian, with Lyndon B. Johnson as the Duchess and Chairman Mao as the Cheshire Cat. It’s captioned: “Speak roughly to your little boy, and beat him when he sneezes/ He only does it to Hanoi because he knows it teases”!

An honourable mention, too, to Victor Weisz of the Evening Standard in 1961, when strike action by teachers led to school closures: “That’s why they are called lessons,” he quotes from the Gryphon, “because they lessen every day.”

The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party is, of course, a gift to political illustrators, but the best use of Humpty Dumpty must be Les Gibbard’s in 1988. It portrays the ovate Mr. Dumpty toppling at the feet of Edwina Currie as Alice, after Currie’s comments about salmonella had wrought havoc in the British egg industry.

The ad industry co-opted Alice, too, particularly Guinness, who have a series of poorly pastiched poems on posters around the Cartoon Museum, of which one good line stands out: ‘Off with its head!’ cried the Queen. ‘Nonsense!’ replied Alice. ‘Guinness keeps its head.’”

The rest you’ll have to find out for yourselves. Look out for Ralph Steadman’s striking Patty Hearst trial illustration, and the great comic writer/artist Bryan Talbot tackling Tenniel head-on in his wonderful graphic novel Alice in Sunderland.

Kudos, by the way, to the magician in a Mad Hatter’s hat who performed close-up tricks. I was also rewarded with a story for gallantly giving up my seat to a lovely lady who turned out to work for the Museum. The seat in question was a toilet seat, for which I had been first in line, at which she directed me to the upstairs loo: “It’s said to be haunted, so most of the staff refuse to use it.”

Intriguing. Clearly JK Rowling was on to something with Moaning Myrtle.

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Charlie Brooker on why he hates writing, warp factors, Twitter and Transformers

11 Nov
Charlie Brooker (photo from London Screenwriters' Festival, by Chris Floyd)

Charlie Brooker (photo from London Screenwriters’ Festival, by Chris Floyd)

My sixth despatch from the recent London Screenwriters’ Festival is the fearlessly acerbic critic-turned-creative Charlie Brooker. You don’t need any commentary from me – just sit back and enjoy the rant.

On why he “f***ing hates” writing: If I appear to write a lot, that’s interesting. I have a terrible fear I’m not doing enough. I f***ing hate writing. I love the ideas side, and I love having written, but I hate the process of writing. There’s occasionally a eureka moment, but my life is a constant struggle to enter that and avoid the myriad distractions, like an acorn rolling by. I love my job, but it’s also like a fucking curse. The biggest high of it is “thank God I’ve finished that”. It’s just like the feeling of having done a massive poo.

On Touch of Cloth: I was going to say it’s like Airplane for cop shows, but I realise that’s Police Squad! So it’s The Naked Gun, but for Britain. It’s a collaboration – we run a writers’ room for it. We bought a script by the man who made Messiah, which was very bleak, and then used that as a basis for drawing knobs on, basically, because we were aping those dark Sunday night dramas that everyone seems to love but that I think are pornographic and weird, and dull.

We also got a compilation made of scenes from crime dramas, like morgue scenes, and when you watch nothing but these similar scenes, you spot the same tropes and clichés and become inherently funny. It was vital that in our world, none of the characters could acknowledge that what was going on was at all weird. Like in Naked Gun, where Leslie Nielsen takes it all seriously. The director would shout before every scene, “Don’t forget, you’re doing a serious drama – this is a real body, it’s the body of a child.”

On Black Mirror: The kind of sci-fi I like is allegorical, like The Twilight Zone. Not people with croissant-shaped foreheads talking about warp factors. Rod Serling did The Twilight Zone because he wanted to do plays about racism and McCarthyism, and couldn’t get them on air. That was my focus for the show.

Technology is never the villain in Black Mirror. It’s always, here’s a powerful tool – I don’t mean the character! – here’s a powerful technological tool, and we let the character pick it up and hit themselves repeatedly on the head with it.

We’ve just been shooting a Christmas special, with three episodes, like a Twilight Zone anthology. Jon Hamm’s starring in that because he’s a big fan of the show. It’s about what if you could block someone in real life like you do on Twitter, so they just become an anonymous blob – they can’t hear you or talk to you; and you play out the consequences of that. What I like is TV shows where you get to the end and you feel f***ing devastated. Now they’re all about easily entertaining people. How dare they!

On Nathan Barley: Oh god, writing with Chris Morris was terrifying. I was terrified he’d show up like his Day Today persona, and tell me to f***ing shut up, but he was jolly and friendly and very collaborative. But he’ll interrogate every aspect. He takes ages. We had a meeting before 9/11 and it actually went on air in 2005. We had meeting after meeting to discuss how to do it.

On Twitter: There’s this babble of voices, everyone feeling they have to chip in their two pence worth on how awful it is that Ed Milliband’s just done a poo on the High Street. And I do the same – why? Then everyone feels they have to outdo each other and exaggerate, and it all piles on top of each other, and before you know it everyone is performing, badly, and you’re struck by the existential pointlessness of it… So I wrote a column about it, going “here’s what I think about this! Look at this!”

On why it can be more creative to work on a low budget: The last 20 minutes of every big-budget movie is like you’re staring into a washing machine full of cars and robots and things all smashing together.