Friday, 22 January 2016

A Taste of Honeysett: The Acerbic Witt of Martin Honeysett

An exhibition of the late Martin Honeysett’s deliciously dark cartoons reveals he did far more than make us laugh

Written by Richard Ingrams
Richard-Ingrams-176All cartoonists are geniuses, the novelist John Updike, who had a long association with The New Yorker, decreed. After years dealing with cartoonists at two very different magazines, I would second Updike unreservedly.

Apart from the genius, the joy of cartoonists from an editor’s point of view is the variety. Each has his or her individual style, instantly recognisable. But you can divide them, roughly, into two camps. Those who can draw and those who can’t.

The latter I would describe as primitives, taking their inspiration from the great James Thurber. Martin Honeysett belongs in the former category. He was not just a cartoonist; he was a brilliant artist.

The Honeysett I knew from the Private Eye days in the 1970s was a cartoonist especially suited to those sordid, angst-ridden years. His masterly cartoons featured grotesque, squalidly dressed men and women often living in the company of rats. Honeysett’s women had their hair in curlers; the men had fags dangling from their lips. In a typical cartoon a cinema usherette tells a couple watching a film, ‘Sorry to trouble you but this gentleman thinks he left some chewing gum under that seat.’ (On the screen is a hideous sharp-nosed blonde.)

The Oldie gave more space to the cartoonist and also used a good deal of illustration. Unlike the old Private Eye it had colour throughout and a full-page colour cartoon on the cover (now sadly discontinued). As editor it was a particular pleasure to discover another side to Martin. He was still doing the same sort of cartoons, but now he emerged as a superb illustrator – particularly where the subject matter was macabre – and also cover artist. I would not have guessed from his Private Eye cartoons that he was capable of such elaborate artwork full of detail, which never obscured the central idea and was invariably very funny.

I knew that given a theme – Christmas, the Grand National, the coming of spring – Martin would produce a handful of pencilled roughs almost overnight. One of them was bound to be a winner, and if the original drawing needed adjustments, Martin was very happy to oblige. It was always exciting for me to see the pencilled rough transformed into a fullcolour cartoon, and I cannot remember a single instance of disagreement or disharmony.

Martin taught on our one-day courses for would-be cartoonists, and I realised what a considerate, modest man he was and what a good teacher he must have been. I wish I had seen more of him.

Until 16 April at the Cartoon Museum, Little Russell Street, London WC1: 020-7580 8155, www.cartoonmuseum.org


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