The Inking Woman
26 April‒23 July 2017
For many years the world of cartoons and comics was seen as a male preserve. The reality is that women have been drawing and publishing cartoons for longer than most people realise. Mary Darly (fl. 1760–1781) made satirical prints and ran her own print shop with her husband, Matthew. In about 1762, she illustrated, wrote and published the first book on caricature drawing published in England, A Book of Caricaturas. In the nineteenth century, Britain’s first comic character, Ally Sloper, was developed by the actress and cartoonist Marie Duval (1847–1890?), who drew hundreds of humorous cartoons and comic strips for Judy magazine and other penny papers.
The early years of the twentieth century saw women taking the stage politically in their fight for the vote. The suffragettes used cartoons in their campaigns, and the exhibition features posters, postcards, newspaper cartoons and even a board game, which rejoiced in the name ‘Pank-a-squith’. The early 1900s was also the height of the postcard boom, with women such as Flora White and Agnes Richardson producing comic postcards, including light-hearted propaganda during the Great War.
From the 1920s, a few women cartoonists began to appear regularly in print. Artists such as Annie Fish, Victoria Davidson, Margaret Belsky and Antonia Yeoman were published in magazines such as Lilliput, Punch, Eve, the Daily Sketch and the Daily Herald. The practice at the time was for artists to sign with their surname, so most readers were unaware of the cartoonist’s gender. In 1920, Mary Tourtel created Rupert Bear for the Daily Express, and nearly a hundred years later he is still going strong. In recent years, women joke cartoonists such as Grizelda and Kathryn Lamb have become regular contributors to Private Eye, The Spectator, the New Statesmen and The Oldie.
From the 1960s, feminism inspired both professional and aspiring cartoonists to question the roles assigned to them and address subjects, such as patriarchy, equal rights, sexuality and child rearing, previously unseen in cartoons. Groups such as the Sourcream Collective broke new ground. With limited access to the mainstream press, feminist cartoons often appeared on postcards, T-shirts and mugs published by companies such as Leeds Postcards and Cath Tate Cards. Collections of cartoons by artists such as Fanny Tribble, Angela Martin, Jo Nesbitt and Cath Jackson were published by feminist publishers such as Virago, Sheba and The Women’s Press.
The most famous woman cartoonist to come out of the 1960s was Posy Simmonds, who began her career in 1969. The exhibition features a number of her Guardian strips, including a sample of her bestknown strip, which followed the lives of Wendy Weber, a former nurse, her polytechnic lecturer husband, George, and their family and friends. Posy would later go on to produce Gemma Bovery and Tamara Drewe, retellings of classic novels later republished as award-winning graphic novels.
Over the last thirty years, women have come increasingly to the fore in comics, zines and particularly graphic novels. Fanny, set up in the early 1990s by Carol Bennett and Cath Tate, published six topical comics and two anthologies, the first featuring exclusively the work of women artists. In 2009, the network Laydeez do Comics was formed by Sarah Lightman and Nicola Streeten. Open to everyone, but led by women, LdC aims to give a voice to women cartoonists and space to the domestic and the everyday.
The comics and graphic novels in the exhibition cover all genres and topics: history, politics, health, nature, fantasy and classic literature. Recent examples include stories about the refugee crisis – Threads by Kate Evans; mental health – On Sanity by Una; and the experience of dealing with ageing parents – Life, Death and Sandwiches by Teresa Robertson. There is even a kids’ horror comic – Karen Rubins’ The Shivers –Crybaby from The Phoenix.
Self-publishing of comics by women, in print and online, comic conventions and events and the use of social media have allowed more and more women, of all backgrounds, classes and races, to find their voices, tell their stories and attract a growing audience. The Inking Woman is a celebration of the
vibrancy and variety of women’s cartoon and comic expression in the UK.
For images or more information contact Anita O’Brien on
020 7631 0793 or 020 7580 8155 or email
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Sponsored by Cath Tate Cards
Open: Tues – Sun, 10.30 – 17.30 Closed Monday.
Admission: £7, £5, £3, Free to Under-18s.
List of artists included in the exhibition:
Carol Adlam, Sally Artz, Ros Asquith, Mabel Lucie Attwell, Angela Bailey, Charlotte Bailey, Rachel Ball, Henny Beaumont, Margaret Belsky, Hannah Berry, Marie Brackenbury, Jess Bradley, Lucy C. Byatt, Kate Charlesworth, Gemma Corell, Mary Darly, Riana Duncan, Victoria Davidson, Caroline della Porta, Jean de Lemos, Wallis Eates, Hannah Eaton, Kate Evans, Annie Fish, Jacky Fleming, Karrie Fransman, Janis Goodman, Sophie Grillet, Grizelda, Katie Green, Isabel Greenberg, Ottilie Hainsworth, Merrily Harpur, Gill Hatcher, Rozi Hathaway, C. Headley Charlton, Rachel House, Laura Howell, Cath Jackson, Nicola Jennings, Lee Kennedy, Paula Knight, Kathryn Lamb, Nicola Lane, Annie Lawson, Simone Lia, Sarah Lightman, Maggie Ling, Sue McCartney-Snape, The Surreal McCoy, Liz Mackie, Cinders McLeod, Angela Martin, Jessica Martin, Ernestine Mills, Jo Nesbitt, Sofia Niazi, Danny Noble, Edie Op, Corrine Pearlman, Phyllis M Purser, Viv Quillin, Elizabeth Querstret, Agnes Richardson, Carolyn Risdale, Teresa Robertson, Christine Roche, Karen Rubins, Lesley Ruda, Alison Sampson, Fiona Scott, The Suffrage Atelier – several unknown artists, Posy Simmonds, Ginny Skinner, Zara Slattery, Erica Smith, Jackie Smith, Snowy Lake, Nicola Streeten, Carol Swain, Annie Tempest, Mary Tourtel, Fanny Tribble, Matilda Tristram, Myf Tristram, Una, Suzy Varty, Emma Vieceli, Judith Walker, Flora White, Bev Williams, Women’s Social and Political Union artist, Antonia Yeoman and Paula Youens.