Over the years, I have learned that one of the things that separates truly great works from merely good ones is an ability to transcend its time. While there are many quality books written, so many of them can feel dated after the passage of just a few short years; the truly great ones speak to truths about life and humanity that are universal, and remain relevant – for better and for worse – long after their authors are dead and buried.
And of all the forms of artistic and literary expression out there, there is perhaps none more prone to becoming dated than the editorial cartoon. This is something to which they are inherently vulnerable given their role, which is to comment regularly on current events and the prominent individuals of their time. Yet even here there are a handful of cartoonists whose work transcends the moment and can be appreciated for the enduring observations they provide.
Among the select few who achieved this distinction is David Low. A New Zealander who worked as a cartoonist for half a century, he had the good fortune for a man of his profession to live in the interesting times of the mid-20th century, with all of its political failures and attendant horrors. Such was his reputation that he made the "Black Book" of people the Germans intended to arrest after they invaded England in 1940. It is difficult to think of a more singular honor than that.
While most of Low’s cartoons featured the high and mighty, he also created one of the great iconic figures of the 20th century in Colonel Blimp. An orotund figure who pontificated on the issues of the day while wearing nothing more than a towel wrapped around his ample waist, he was used so effectively by Low to satirize a segment of reactionary British public opinion that the character's very name became a shorthand for it. I long enjoyed Low’s cartoons as historical artifacts, but it wasn’t until I came across some today that I realized how relevant they are to our political situation today.
Take these two, which could easily refer to the ongoing Brexit debacle.
And if a parliamentary candidate were to propose a platform like this in 2019, the Tory selection committees would probably fight each other over which would have the honor of nominating him.
I doubt that Low would be pleased to know how relevant his creation has remained, but it's a testament to his genius that their satire is as pointed and effective today as it was in his time.