Shock and Awe,
This review is from: Terror and Discord: The Shemus Cartoons in the "Freeman's Journal" 1920-1924 (Paperback)This is a gem of a book which introduces us to Ernest Forbes, author of the Shemus cartoons published in the Freeman's Journal between 1920 and 1924. While the cartoons are only part of Ernest's total output, they provide a neat take on the political state of Ireland in those years.
There is a view today of cartoons that they are simply one-off frivolous cheap shots and are as ephemeral as the chips' wrapping paper in which they are published. There are two points worth making regarding this particular set of cartoons.
Firstly, there are cartoonists and cartoonists. Some produce minimal stylised images which just make a simple point. Others do high quality layered work which can be admired at first sight for its main point but which has hidden riches for the observer who is prepared to seek them out. The Shemus cartoons are most certainly in the latter category.
Secondly, the Shemus cartoons might well have remained in relative obscurity had the National Library of Ireland not acquired a set of them and Felix M Larkin provided us with this valuable analysis of both the man and this portion of his work. We not only have the cartoons as they appeared on newsprint in the paper; we also have the original artworks thanks to the vision of the National Library in acquiring them.
Felix illustrates for us the immediate visual impact of the cartoons, through the samples chosen for inclusion in the book; he then guides us through the layers beneath. As the Chairman of the National Library of Ireland remarks in his foreword to the book, "many of the cartoons with multiple caricatures would not be remotely as intelligble to readers today as they were to contemporary readers of the Freeman's Journal".
The selection in the book includes not only political cartoons but also some of Shemus's caricature portraits.
One political cartoon which Felix describes as "troubling" is of the Grim Reaper reporting success to Sir Henry Wilson, following a "Belfast orgy of sabotage and slaughter" for which the Freemans's Journal (and Shemus) held Wilson responsible. Wilson was shot in London just a fortnight after the cartoon was published.
I particularly liked the portraits of Richard Mulcahy and Ernest Blyth. It was as Head of the Defence Forces and Minister for Local Government, respectively, that these two gentlemen brought a rebellious Dublin City Council to heel in January 1923 when the Council was trying to pay half-salaries to the families of those of their employees who had been locked up by the new Free State.
This book is an indispensible introduction and guide to the collection of Shemus cartoons. It gives us a fascinating glimpse, through the eyes of the visual artist, of a tumultuous period of Irish history which included the War of Independence, the Civil War, and the laying of the foundations of the new state.