THE STRIP CARTOONS OF H.M.BATEMAN -
It is, of course, too easy to divide up any artistís work into
self-contained, disparate sections. But in Batemanís case his life and
work were so remarkably intertwined that pulling out these threads is
often illuminating. For example, when he went ďmad on paperĒ, he was
actually having a nervous breakdown and spent his 21st birthday in bed.
So what was happening in 1916 that lead to cartoons like The Boy Who
Breathed on the Glass at the British Museum, The Man Who Filled his Pen
with Hotel Ink and Mexicans at Play? In terms of their subject matter
it is noticeable that they deal, however amusingly, with themes of guilt
or punishment or death. This was the middle of the First World War: a
desperate time for so many and a terrible Ė though fantastically
productive and inventive - period in Batemanís life.
Mexicans at Play
Most of Batemanís friends and acquaintances, fellow artists and
cartoonists, were away serving at the front. He had tried to join up,
had fallen ill and been rejected by the army. He fled to a remote inn on
Dartmoor and brooded, feeling desperately lonely, inadequate and
depressed. But he continued to work incredibly hard, to escape into his
work, and produced a stream of brilliant strip cartoons ( as well as
many others) that dealt with life in the armed services and became
immensely popular, especially with serving soldiers and sailors.
Eventually, towards the end of the war, the War Office realised what a
potent source of inspiration and morale these cartoons had become, and
sent Bateman off to the Front, to gather material for his work and to
entertain the troops with demonstrations of his drawing, making
caricatures and cartoons of subjects they chose for him. This had a
wonderful effect on Bateman, doing as much for his own sense of
self-worth as it did for the troops.