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Stars of Political Cartooning – David Low

Each day this month I will be profiling a notable political cartoonist. Since the choices are vast, I’ve decided to slim the numbers down a bit and eliminate living cartoonists. Perhaps I will do a current political cartoon stars in the future.

Here‘s an archive of the artists mentioned already.

Today we look at a fellow who at least one historian termed “the dominant cartoonist of the western world.”


David Low was born in New Zealand, and began working as a cartoonist there at the Canterbury Times in 1910 at the age of 19. He quickly moved to the bigger papers of Sydney, Australia.

He drew attention for his political cartoons there, most notably the following mocking of then-Prime Minister of Australia, William Hughes, in 1916.

He eventually had a book of cartoons made which drew the attention of folks in London, and beginning in 1919 until his death in 1963, Low worked in England, most notably for the Evening Standard from 1927-1950. The Evening Standard was a fairly conservative paper, but Low agreed to work there if he was not censored, and for the most part, he was not.

Although he had his moments…

Low worked for many decades as a political cartoonist, so he has a lot of great cartoons to show, so forgive the general look at his work you’ll see here.

Low was most famous for his attacks on Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, leading to his work being banned in both countries.

Low was aware of Hitler early on, satirizing the upstart as early as 1930…

The Nazis, in 1937, even cited British anti-Hitler cartoons (specifically Low’s) as a problem between the two countries, diplomatically.

Low came up with a gag strip called Hit and Muss…

but after official complaints, he changed it to “Muzzler.”

You could tell what Low felt about the state of the world in the late 30s, as seen with his depictions of French/British diplomacy as compared to German/Italian as well as how Japan reacted to the League of Nations…

Low’s likely most famous cartoon is a depiction of the relationship between Hitler and Stalin in 1939…

Pretty brilliant, eh?

Once the war looked likely (and especially when it began), Low began taking on a bit more of a patriotic feel to his cartoons – they’re still absolutely stunning pieces of work…

(this one is when the Germans drove the Allies to Dunkirk – at this point, Hitler seemed impervious, almost as though he was working with the Devil).

Low became a knight in 1962, one year before he passed away, a legend of British cartooning.

Thanks to the British Cartoon Archive for the images.


Yeah, one of my favorite ever artists. One of my favorite cartoons of his is after Mussolini bombed Abyssinia, two panels contrasting the “Barbarism” of the natives with “Civilisation”, the bombed-out landscape with a plane flying away.

Brian, are you going to be covering Boris Yefimov, the famous Russian cartoonist who died this week?

Isn’t that Colonel Blimp in the Union Jack towel in Difficult Days For Low?

Those bastards! They locked up Tintin! And Tintin’s dog!

My dictionary shows Low’s character, “Colonel Blimp” as a unique term (coined in 1937) meaning a conservative “reactionary. ” Indeed, Low was a very important cartoonist. In addition “Low’s Autobiography is an excellent book.

Ajit, it is Blimp. If you look at the 2 pages below that have the Hit and Muss cartoons, they also have cartoons of Col Blimp. Same whiskers, same complexion, same way of starting each statement with “Gad, Sir!”. Not sure if he’d been named by 1936, but it’s the same character.

I don’t know if it a good thing for us or a bad thing for coverage of one of the best cartoonists ever, but if you google “David Low,” this page makes the front page!!

Jeremy Cresswell

October 9, 2008 at 3:05 am

Definitely the best political cartoonst of the 20th century (I’m not just saying that because I am a New Zealander). Colonel Blimp was well known and named before 1937, George Orwell mentions him in ‘The road to Wigan Pier’, which was written in 1936 (pub. 1937).

Jeremy, for a term to be considered for the dctionary, it has to have a definition. It is interesting that “Colonel Blimp” attained a definition so quickly. It shows that David Low had a very narrow usage for his character, and used him in a way that the public understood his purpose. Therefore, to call someone a “Colonel Blimp,” was to characterize him in a way that was understood by most others (at least at the time).
Mirriam-Webster probably cites Orwell’s “Wigan Pier” and must use the publication date. “Wigan Pier” probably secured the public definition of “Colonel Blimp.”

Jeremy Cresswell

October 11, 2008 at 4:09 am

Larry. According to the Oxford English Dictionary The term was first used in the Evening Standard on May 28th 1834. It also cites the Wigan Pier reference as 1937. Anyway I believe we are drifting into the realms of pedantry :-) We can both agree that this shows how much influence David Low had on the British public.

Jeremy Cresswell

October 11, 2008 at 4:09 am

Oops, make that 1934.

Jeremy: Thank you. Your research is appreciated. I do not have an OED. My source is Merriam-Webster. Have you read “Low’s Autobiography?” Intereseting volume. It can be found used on Abebooks.com.

Jeremy Cresswell

October 11, 2008 at 6:46 am

Yes I have read it thanks, he also wrote another one: Low, David, Ye Madde Designer, London, 1935. I used in my MA to help in creating a methodology for reading historical cartoons.

Jeremy Cresswell

October 11, 2008 at 6:51 am

Here is a link to an article from a 1984 article in ‘History Today’ about Colonel Blimp.

Jeremy Cresswell

October 11, 2008 at 7:43 am

I just had a talk with a former director of the New Zealand Cartoon archive who wrote his biography for the New Zealand Dictionary of National Biography. She said that he was actually born in Dunedin and moved to Christchurch as a young child. He first published a cartoon at the age of 11 in the English periodical ‘Big Budget’. Here are some useful links:

Dictionary of NZ biography
NZ Cartoon archive
And there are some more images at the NZ national library (search for David Low)

Excuse the exessive pedantry :-)

I see plenty of pedantry, Jeremy, and I don’t think that was pedantry! :)


I have a lot of respect for someone who takes the time to research valuable sources. When I get some time, I will check out those links. Mind you, I am in the middle of writing a grad paper on female cartoonists.

Jeremy Cresswell

October 12, 2008 at 6:45 am

Mark Bryant wrote an article on a Victorian Female cartoonist in History Today. I don’t have the refernce on me but I will post it soon if you have not seen it. The grad paper sounds fascinating, I am doing a PhD on cartoon representation of the Irish in the British Empire, 1841-1901.

That sounds fascinating, Jeremy.

You have to let me read it when you finish!

Back in college, I also did some work (obviously to a MUCH lesser degree) on the treatment of Ireland in the late 19th Century popular culture – it’s certainly an interesting subject.

Jeremy Cresswell

October 13, 2008 at 4:12 am

The article is abouy Mary Darly who wrote the first British handbook on caricature in 1762. Mark Bryant, ‘The Mother of Pictorial Satire’, History Today, April 2007, pp. 58-9.

Thank you. I will look it up.

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