Book Shorts

Political cartoonist Gerald Scarfe tells the story of his life and work in new book

For more than 60 years the rapier-sharp pen has wounded his enemies deeply and he has met all the great and the good of our day

Gerald Scarfe, Margaret Thatcher as the Torydactyl (1980s) © Gerald Scarfe

Among political cartoonists, I often think that Thomas Rowlandson played the Beatles to James Gillray’s Stones, the latter being more relentlessly in-your-face than the former. In our own time, there can be no doubt that Gerald Scarfe is our Rolling Stone. In a 60-year-long career, Scarfe has pulled no punches in viciously caricaturing his enemies (who could forget his Margaret Thatcher, shown here, as the Torydactyl with blood dripping from her fangs?).

His work has been published many times in book form and now, aged 83, he has written his autobiography. To say that his life was eventful cannot do justice to the many events and people he mentions here—from his work as a young man reporting on the Vietnam war, through his rock’n’roll years (notably with Pink Floyd) and his appearances in all the high quality US and UK publications—Sunday Times, New Yorker, Private Eye, Time—to stage and opera works and even working for Walt Disney (Hercules). To my knowledge no one has ever tried to bribe him to shut up (as happened to Rowlandson and George Cruikshank) or if they did, they failed to succeed.

Reviewers often blame autobiographers for name-dropping, but often it is not a case of boasting, but simple matters of fact. Many famous names are dropped here, needless to say. But so too are facts of a life just like yours or mine (he has uffered all his life from asthma). What fascinates is to read about his own views of himself and how his work has come about.

  • Gerald Scarfe, Long Drawn Out Trip: a Memoir, Little, Brown, 282pp, £20 (hb)