Wildcat Anarchist Comics collects the drawings of Donald Rooum, mostly (but by no means entirely) from the long-running “Wildcat” cartoon series that has been published in the Freedom newspaper since 1980. Rooum does not just purvey jokes, but makes the drawings comical in themselves, “getting the humour in the line,” provoking laughter even in those who do not read the captions or speech balloons. The chief characters in the strip are the Revolting Pussycat, a short-fused anarchist who is furious and shouty; and the Free-range Egghead, an intellectual who would like anarchism to be respectable but sometimes appears foolish. Governments, bosses, and authoritarians are presented as buffoons, and quite often, so are anarchists. This thoughtful and delightful collection includes strips from The Skeptic and many more, all beautifully colored for the first time by Jayne Clementson. The book also includes a lively autobiographical introduction discussing Rooum’s role in the celebrated 1963 “Challenor case,” a conspiracy among police officers to discredit non-violent demonstrators.
|Product dimensions:||7.00(w) x 9.90(h) x 0.30(d)|
About the Author
Jayne Clementson is an anarchist and a professional print designer. Jay Kinney founded and edited Anarchy Comics, and contributed to many other comics. His previous works include Anarchy Comics: The Complete Collection, Hidden Wisdom, and The Masonic Myth. Donald Rooum became an anarchist in 1944 and has contributed articles to the anarchist paper Freedom since 1947. He studied graphic design in Bradford, England, and his cartoons have been published in the British press since 1950. His editorial cartoons have appeared in Peace News since 1962. His comic strip “Wildcat” has appeared in Freedom since 1980, and “Sprite” in The Skeptic since 1987.
Read an Excerpt
Wildcat Anarchist Comics
By Donald Rooum
PM PressCopyright © 2016 Donald Rooum
All rights reserved.
How and why I became an anarchist
It is said that a person's earliest memory may give some indication of the adult person's attitude to life. My earliest memory dates from the time I was staying with my mother's sister, Aunty Emily, when my mother was in a maternity home giving birth to my twin sisters. I was one year and eight months old, sharing a bath with my cousin David. I noticed that Aunty Emily had perched the baby bath on top of a four-legged buffet. Later I was told that this was a misperception. Aunty Emily's baby bath had four legs of its own — but the fact that I remembered that detail showed that it was a real memory and not a confabulation.
Ask a little boy what he wants to be and he may well talk of an adult occupation, such as an astronaut or a bus conductor (said to be the earliest ambition of Ed Miliband), but the real ambition of every little boy is to be a Big Boy. I was sharing the bath with my cousin David, who was a Big Boy aged three. He was "messing about," laughing and refusing to get into the bath, and I thought he was wonderful. So as an adult, it may seem possible that I admire people who stand up to authority.
I used to be quite good at memorising stuff, so I did quite well at primary school, and at the age of eleven I was awarded a scholarship by the local education authority and sent to Bradford Grammar School. This is a "public school" in the British sense of the term, not public in the sense of open to all, but a fee-paying school of the premier league, a member of the Headmaster's Conference. In those days, before the Common Entrance Examination was invented, the only qualification for entry to a fee-paying school, however prestigious, was for the fees to be paid. A few boys like me, whose parents could not have afforded the fees, were judged bright enough to have their fees paid by Bradford ratepayers, and not only fees but also maintenance grants and the cost of school uniforms.
My parents were Baptists. They first met when one was taking over from the other as Secretary of the Bradford Baptist Sunday Schools Union. My sisters and I were sent to a Methodist Sunday School, because that was nearer home that any Baptist church. There, I learned about Charles Bradlaugh, the atheist who was elected to Parliament but not allowed to take his seat because he could not take the oath. He was celebrated as a hero, which may surprise people brought up in Catholic or other orthodox churches. But "free-thinking" churches — such as Baptists, Methodists, and Congregationalists — place great value on having the courage of one's convictions, "Dare to be a Daniel, dare to stand alone, dare to have a purpose plain, and dare to make it known." I was an atheist from the age of thirteen (but thought I might return to religion when I had grasped the point, because I knew some believers who seemed quite sensible, apart from their credulity).
My parents were members of the Labour Party, but my mother joined a Communist Party front organisation called the Society for Cultural Relations, and I joined with her. My mother had read that more people attended church in Russia than in Britain and thought that Stalin was a pious Christian. I was in favour of a free and equal society, and I had read that the Soviet Union was striving in that direction.
In September 1944, I answered an advertisement from the Ministry of Food, asking for boys to go hop-picking in Kent. It was traditional for people from the East End of London to go and work in the hop fields at that time of year, but there were too few Eastenders because of the war. On the Sunday off, I went to London to hear the speakers at Speakers Corner, in Hyde Park near Marble Arch, and there I heard about anarchism. The anarchist speaker said, "You can't believe in God if you don't believe in yourself." A woman asked him if he ought to be talking of God from an anarchist platform. He replied, "I am an anarchist, but I am a Christian anarchist," from which I deduced that most anarchists are atheists. At the park gate I bought a book on anarchism and a copy of the weekly War Commentary for Anarchism from the Freedom Press stall, which was run by Philip Sansom. I have been an anarchist and an associate of Freedom Press ever since, and a friend of Philip for as long as he lived.
My subscription copies of War Commentary stopped arriving in December, so I wrote to ask why, and had a reply from Lilian Wolfe, the volunteer administrator of Freedom Press. She explained that the files had been impounded by Special Branch (the political police). The editors of War Commentary were suspected of Conspiring to Contravene Defence Regulation 39B, a crime for which they were imprisoned in 1945.
My mother's family were very close, kindly enough in their personal relations, but not far from fascist in their political opinions. When I was eighteen, and my conscription papers arrived, I registered as a conscientious objector. My mother's dominant oldest sister said to my mother, "You wouldn't let him play with guns when he was little, and now he's frightened of his own shadow," my mother said to me, "It isn't you that gets it from your Aunty Meg; it's me," and I surrendered. I am an anarchist by conviction, but a worm by temperament.
The standard route for conscientious objectors was to apply for registration, get turned down by the first tribunal, appeal, get turned down by the appeals tribunal, and spend three months in prison. I got turned down by the first tribunal, gave up, and spent twenty-six months in misery.
I was called up when Germany and Japan had been defeated, and the new enemies were "subject peoples" fighting for independence from the British Empire and various other empires. One British soldier I met had served in a battalion loaned by the British government to the Dutch government, to suppress rebellion in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia). On pay days, he told me, the lads collected their British pay from a British officer, their Dutch pay from a Dutch officer, and a bottle of booze each from the civilian representative of a Dutch brewer. He said he had taken part in the massacre of a village called Kokomo. The company were issued with boxes of matches, entered the village and set fire to the straw houses, then withdrew to a safe distance and shot everything coming out, men, women, children, dogs, goats, and chickens. Fortunately, because I made no secret of my opinions, I was "excused" posting overseas and never ordered to take part in any atrocities.
The day I joined up, I was asked to state my religion and said I had none; "Right. You're Church of England. Anyone asks you again, say C of E." Later I was a recruiting clerk myself, under orders not to allow any conscript to register himself as atheist or agnostic. To the atheists and agnostics I refused, I explained that atheism was rational but the army was an irrational organisation. Had my argument been unsuccessful, I would have called the clerk sergeant, who was not himself permitted to register an atheist and would have had to send for the adjutant. Later, I made friends with a conscript who had "Atheist" written in his pay book, showing that he must have caused a lot of trouble on his first day. He was "excused" posting overseas.
Released from conscription, I worked in an engineering factory for a short time, then fiddled an army resettlement grant to study commercial design, full time, for four years. I lived at home, paying less rent than I would have paid for separate lodging, but spent as much time as possible away from home, because I was cross with my parents. Later, I came to realise that this was unfair. My parents loved me, and supported me much more than they need have done, but by not supporting me in my resistance to conscription they had subjected me to years of being shouted at by morons, and risk of being killed in colonial wars of which neither they nor I approved.
As a full-time student, I had free access to evening classes, so in term time I would spend twelve hours a day in college, four days a week. On Friday evenings I would take the Bradford tram to the depot in Crossflats, walk twelve miles over the moor to a youth hostel near Colne, and take the bus back to Bradford on Monday mornings.
The youth hostel, a former smallpox hospital called Jerusalem Farm, was the meeting place of Colne and Nelson Anarchist Discussion Group, organised by Kathleen Rantell, who was one of the hostel wardens. Members of the group travelled in from Colne, Nelson, Haworth, Bradford, Leeds, Liverpool, and Birmingham, to stay at weekends. We joined with local branches of the Peace Pledge Union, the Syndicalist Workers' Federation, and the Independent Labour Party, to form the Nelson and Colne Antimilitarist Group, and hired a hall to hold public debates, a popular entertainment at that district at the time. The Communist Party had a rule against meeting with anarchists but agreed to debate with "antimilitarists." Their appointed speaker was furious when he found out who we were.
After I graduated from art school, in January 1954, I went to London and got a job. Some other members of the Colne group also migrated to London. I shared a room with Jack Robinson from Birmingham, a second-hand book dealer who was working with Lilian Wolfe in the Freedom Press bookshop. Later, I shared a room with Irene Brown from Haworth, with whom I lived happily for twenty-seven years, and had four children.
That is how I became an anarchist. The other question is why. I was once asked by a policeman, "Why are you an anarchist?" and I said, "Why is anybody anything? It satisfies some emotional need, I suppose," which is the only answer I can think of.
More autobiographical stuff (in case anyone might be interested)
At the posh school i attended (fees and expenses paid by local taxpayers), I had to take one year twice because I was in hospital with scarlet fever at exam time and then did fairly well until the final year, when, I suppose, I was emotionally tied up by the prospect of military conscription and the disagreement with my family.
Regional College of Art, Bradford, where I studied commercial design, was small enough for all the students to know each other. I was quite friendly with David Hockney when I was twenty-six and he was sixteen, already recognised by teachers and fellow students as outstanding. I became fairly good at life drawing.
In January 1954, sharing a room with Jack Robinson, I telephoned advertising agencies and graphic art studios to ask if there were any jobs going, and got a job within a week, as a layout artist in a small advertising agency. After working for short periods at a succession of employers, I took a course of evening classes and won a City and Guilds Full Technological Certificate in Typographic Design (First Class — have I mentioned I was quite good at memorising stuff?) and changed my job to typographer. That is a job which requires care and precision rather than creative flair, and I turned out to be quite good at it. After twelve years in advertising agencies, I became a full-time lecturer in typographic design, at London College of Printing.
The Malatesta Club opened in London on the first of May 1954, and served as an anarchist meeting space for four years. A dozen or more anarchists, brought together by Philip Sansom, had already spent six or seven weeks cleaning and preparing. My father, a skilled sheet metal worker, had designed and made a hood to take heat and steam from the oven up to the ground outside, which could be folded for me to carry it from Bradford. The evening before it opened I was there until two in the morning painting the floor.
Beginning in 1960, I was producing five or six cartoons a week, and my companion Irene was sending them "on spec" to newspapers and magazines. In 1962, I was a regular contributor to the Spectator and contracted to do weekly political cartoons for Peace News ("for non-violent revolution"). At one of the trials and inquiries connected with the Challenor case, I was asked by a barrister where my cartoons were published and was able to boast, "My biggest single market is the Daily Mirror, and I am also published frequently in the, Spectator, Peace News, and She." The barrister said, "And the Daily Worker." I told him I had no connection with the Communist Party, and he was quite flustered. It was common, at the time, for ignorant supporters of the establishment to believe that anyone opposed to nuclear weapons was either a stooge or a paid agent of Moscow. But it was surely inexcusable for a highly paid barrister to rely on such ignorant prejudice in preparing his brief.
I was always interested in "nature study" at infant and junior schools, but biology was not available at my posh school, because it was a boys' school, and before World War II, biology was considered girly. I studied on my own, and at thirty-four was awarded a pass in biology at O-level, an examination usually taken at the age of sixteen.
When the Open University was founded in 1972, I gave up doing cartoons so I could use the time to study with the OU (fees and some expenses paid by the Inner London Education Authority, which was eager for its teachers and lecturers to take degrees). At the age of fifty-one I was awarded a degree in life sciences (with First Class Honours — have I mentioned ... ?). I could not be a full member of the Institute of Biology (now incorporated into the Society of Biology), because I was not a practising biologist, but I wrote some articles in learned journals and became a full member at the age of seventy-six.
After getting the degree I resumed cartoon work, but most of what I do now is unpaid, including "Wildcat" in Freedom since 1980, "Sprite" in the Skeptic since 1987, and "Roouminations" in Peace News since it resumed publication recently. I pursue my ambition to become a famous cartoonist and contribute to the anarchist cause at the same time.
The anarchist revolution is now
Anarchism is said to be against government, which is true if "Government" means not only national rulers but any group or institution or group, or even individual, which uses intimidation to enforce its demands, such as unbridled capitalism and outlaw gangsters. Many real situations involve conflict between different kinds of government, and anarchists have to choose the lesser of two evils.
The anarchist ideal is a society where there is no coercion, nobody is boss over anybody, and everything is organised on the basis of voluntary cooperation. This ideal is not uniquely anarchist but common to socialists in general, and anarchists are opposed by authoritarian socialists.
At youth hostels when I was a student, I often enjoyed arguments with young members of the Communist Party, well-meaning people who wanted free society as much as the anarchists, but accused the anarchists of not wanting a revolution. Well, it depends on how you define "revolution." What they meant was the working class uniting under the leadership of the Communist Party, and rising up to defeat the bourgeois governments and install the dictatorship of the proletariat. Or rather a benevolent dictatorship of the Party, which would take over all the coercive organs of the state and capitalism, and stay in power until the proletariat was ready and the state would wither away.
Anarchists agree with Marxist-Leninists that the change to a free society cannot happen overnight, that there must be a period of transition. But the anarchist programme does not start with a move in the opposite direction. People are unlikely to learn how to live in a coercion-free society through the experience of living in a totalitarian dictatorship.
The anarchist programme is to resist coercive authority and weaken it. When people gain a bit of freedom and get used to it, they will demand a bit more freedom, and so on, progressing towards coercion-free society at whatever speed is possible (or if necessary, putting a brake on progress in the opposite direction). Meanwhile, the opportunities for every individual will be as wide as circumstances allow.
Excerpted from Wildcat Anarchist Comics by Donald Rooum. Copyright © 2016 Donald Rooum. Excerpted by permission of PM Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsForeword by Jay Kinney,
An Anarchist Alphabet,
Gandaft the Famous Wizard,
The Tale of the Straw Boggart,