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CSBG Archive

Stars of Political Cartooning – Philip Zec

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 great cartoonist who is, more than most other cartoonists, known almost entirely for two cartoons in particular.


Philip Zec was born in London in 1909.

He won a scholarship to Art School, and upon graduation, he began working in advertising. Eventually, he was successful enough to start his own agency. However, with the advent of World War II in Europe, Zec, the son of Russian Jews, had a deep hatred of Hitler and the Nazis and he was looking for an avenue to express that disdain, and a friend of his helped him find it working for the Daily Mirror.

Unlike the great David Low, Zec tended to be a bit more aggressive with his attacks (Low tended to go for mocking the people he hated rather than outright attacking them)…

This cartoon is fairly self-explanatory…

The New Christianity. 100% Aryan.

This one is, too, really…

It’s funny, I did a Hess cartoon by another cartoonist on the list (I forget who). That cartoon was mystified by Hess’ trip to SwitzerScotland to broker a peace. Here, Zec is a bit angrier…

Can’t we be friends?

By the by, the hatred Zec had for the Nazis was mutual. Hitler had him on a list of “people to arrest” if/when Germany was to invade England.

This piece on the French Resistance is fairly self-explanatory…


Here, Zec aims his sights on General Henri-Philippe Petain, who was the head of the Vichy government in France (Petain was first sentenced to death for treason after the war, but was commuted to a life sentence – the dude was already in his 80s at the time).

Saving France – for Germany

Here, Zec shows his disgust for Pierre Laval, who was a former Prime Minister of France who worked closely with the Nazis during World War II (which saw him being put to death after the war by the new French government).

Can you believe a former Prime Minister being willing to work in concert with an invading power?!

Okay, that’s a nice sampling of Zec’s cartoons – now I’ll show you the two cartoons he’ll forever be known for.

The first one came in 1942, when Zec published the following cartoon…

The price of petrol has been increased by one penny.” Official

Zec’s message was “men are risking their lives to bring you petrol, don’t waste it.” In fact, his original caption WAS “Petrol is Dearer Now” before a colleague got him to change it.

The cartoon, though, absolutely infuriated the government, including Winston Churchill, who felt that it was saying that the petrol companies were profiting off of the sacrifices of the merchant navy, which, to be honest, the caption does sort of give that impression – doesn’t it?

In any event, Churchill had the government examine Zec, and Parliament actually conferred on whether they were going to shut the Daily Mirror DOWN over the cartoon! In the end, they chose to just severely reprimand the paper.

Three years later, the government was singing a different tune, as Zec produced the following stunning, powerful (and for the government, political useful) cartoon at the close of the War in Europe…

“Here you are! Don’t lose it again.”

Isn’t that amazing?

Well, the Labour Party wanted to use this as their basic slogan for their re-election campaign in 1945, and actually went to Zec for help with the campaign. They even officially apologized to him for their castigation of him three years earlier.

In the end, on the day of the election, the Daily Mirror reprinted the cartoon on the front page to exhort readers to vote for the Labour Party…

Labour carried the day, and Zec’s cartoon was given considerable credit for the victory.

Zec became a director of the Mirror after the war, and continued cartooning for the Mirror and other periodicals (even the Jewish Chronicle).

Philip Zec passed away in 1983.


I enjoyed this one more than most of the others, Brian. Keep it up.

>Churchill’s Labour Party wanted to use this as their basic slogan <

Winston Churchill’s party was the Conservative party, not Labour.

This is a fantastic series, by the way, and very much the kind of thing that gives CSBG its character. I just knew that Zec would turn up sooner or later.

Tom Fitzpatrick

October 19, 2008 at 5:56 am

Such a fascinating array of political cartoonists (all or most of them dead or retired).

On a separate matter, Mr. B.C., what’s up with the CBR Poll?

Whenever I vote on a new poll (for the first time), the “Hey, you’ve already voted. No fair” keeps popping up.

Actually, my little floating correction needs more clarification. The last paragraph makes it look like the cartoon was an integral part of a succesful re-election campaign. In fact, Churchill’s party was turfed out despite the war record. If that Daily Mirror front page is exhorting people to vote Labour, then it means it was Labour leader Clement Attlee’s campaign that was successful in getting Zec’s help.

Thanks, Tilt!

Total brain fart there.

That cartoon was mystified by Hess’ trip to Switzerland to broker a peace.

Do you mean Hess’s famous flight to Britain?

I meant Scotland!

Don’t lose it again! The life and war-time cartoons of Philip Zec (Hardback)

Donald Zec – £19.99

Philip Zec is now widely regarded as the most important political cartoonist of World War Two. From 1939 to 1945 he produced 1529 cartoons for the Daily Mirror which caught brilliantly the defiance of the British people at war. Some of his finest drawings are reproduced in these pages. Two cartoons made history: the first, the notorious ‘seaman on the raft’ cartoon was astonishingly misinterpreted in Downing Street and led to a furious debate in Parliament: the second, a moving evocation of the folly of war gives the book its title and marks the sixtieth anniversary of VE Day on 8th of May. Written by the cartoonist’ss brother Donald, the award-wining journalist and author, Don’t Lose It Again hallmarks a unique talent which contributed significantly to the British war effort. This book is probably the most incisive biography of a political cartoonist since Sir David Low’s own autobiography 49 years ago

Don’t lose it again! The life and war-time cartoons of Philip Zec (Hardback) is available at a knockdown price of £9.99 from http://www.politicalcartoon.co.uk with FREE POSTAGEand PACKING!!!!

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