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Bell working at the 2016 Labour Party Conference
|Occupation||Political cartoonist, artist|
Born in Walthamstow, London, and raised in Slough, Bell moved to North Yorkshire with his family in 1968, where he trained as an artist at the Teesside College of Art. He graduated in film-making and art from the University of Leeds in 1974 and trained as an art teacher at St Luke's College, Exeter (now St Luke's Campus at the University of Exeter) in 1975. He taught art for one year in Birmingham before becoming a freelance cartoonist in 1977. His comic strip Maggie's Farm appeared in the London listings magazine Time Out from 1979 and later in City Limits, and Lord God Almighty appeared in The Leveller in the 1970s. In 1980 he contributed a cartoon interpretation of the lyrics to Ivan Meets G.I. Joe to the inner lyric bag of the Clash's triple album Sandinista!
Steve Bell is probably best known for the daily strip called If..., which has appeared in The Guardian newspaper since 1981, and since the mid-1990s he has also been that newspaper's principal editorial cartoonist.
Collections of his cartoons have been published, and he has also illustrated original books in collaboration with authors. He has made short animated films with Bob Godfrey, including a short series of animated cartoons for Channel 4 television in 1999 to mark the 20th anniversary of Margaret Thatcher's rise to power, entitled Margaret Thatcher – Where Am I Now? He has appeared in a radio programme about the life of 18th century caricaturist James Gillray. Earlier in his career he wrote and drew the Gremlins comic strip for the British comic Jackpot.
Bell's parodies include Goya's The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters (in an editorial cartoon about the UK Independence Party); William Hogarth's The Gate of Calais about the ban on UK meat exports following outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease and bovine BSE; and – before the 2005 General Election when it briefly seemed as if the Liberal Democrats might seriously threaten Labour – J. M. W. Turner's The Fighting Temeraire, in which a chirpy Charles Kennedy as tug-boat towed a grotesque and dilapidated Tony Blair to be broken up. Following the death of Margaret Thatcher, for his cartoon the next day, 9 April 2013, Bell adapted an illustration by Gustave Doré of Farinata in Dante's Inferno, giving Thatcher the speech bubble "Why is this pit still open??" with reference to the closure of coal mines after the miners' strike of 1984–85.
Bell's cartoons regularly feature grotesque caricatures, and have sometimes caused controversy as well as receiving critical acclaim. During the November 2012 Israel/Gaza conflict The Guardian published a cartoon by Bell showing the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, as a puppeteer controlling William Hague and Tony Blair. Dave Rich, blogging for the Community Security Trust, said that the illustration was comparable to those featured in Nazi and other antisemitic publications. While Bell defended his cartoon, the newspaper's readers' editor Chris Elliott concluded in an article on 25 November: "While journalists and cartoonists should be free to express an opinion that Netanyahu is opportunistic and manipulative, in my view they should not use the language – including the visual language – of antisemitic stereotypes." The UK's Press Complaints Commission PCC received 22 complaints, but ruled on 19 December that it was unable to take the matter further.
In the run-up to the United Kingdom general election, 2015, there was outrage on Twitter over an If... cartoon strip depicting Scottish National Party (SNP) leader Nicola Sturgeon as refusing to compromise on their "core demand" for "incest and Scottish folk dancing". Numerous tweets branded Bell as racist, while others said that it was no more outrageous than his cartoons mocking other politicians. There were over 300 complaints made to The Guardian and nearly 1,000 comments under the online cartoon, mostly negative. The wording referred to a quotation attributed to Sir Arnold Bax, who said a Scottish friend had told him "You should make a point of trying every experience once, excepting incest and folk dancing". During the Scottish independence referendum, 2014, Bell's cartoon strip depicted Sturgeon's "Yes" campaigning as promising "No Noness ... and Yes Yesness; Nationalism, Socialism: together they go so well!!"
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