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Ronald Searle, 1920 - 2011

The British cartoonist and illustrator will be remembered for more than St Trinian's.
The DailyRonald Searle

"British cartoonist Ronald Searle, best known for his spiky drawings of the tearaway pupils of the fictional girls school St Trinian's, has died in southern France aged 91," reports Tim Castle for Reuters. Searle passed away on Friday, but the family waited a few days to make their announcement. "His spindly schoolgirl creations, which first appeared in 1941, hit the big screen in 1954 as The Belles of St Trinian's, with Alastair Sim starring in drag as headmistress Millicent Fritton. The film franchise was revived in 2007, with Rupert Everett taking over the headmistress role, with a follow-up, St Trinian's 2: The Legend of Fritton's Gold, appearing in 2009…. His work was recognized internationally, and he won a number of awards from America's National Cartoonists Society. In France, where he lived since 1961, he was awarded the country's prestigious Legion d'Honneur."

In March 2010, Guardian cartoonist Steve Bell wrote about organizing an exhibition "focusing on his reportage work" at the Cartoon Museum to mark Searle's 90th birthday: "What I had not reckoned with was Searle's own meticulous preservation and annotation of his own collection, and the fact that he has clearly hung on to his own best work. His archive consists of papers, books, sketchbooks and thousands of drawings, along with works by Gillray, Rowlandson, Cruikshank, Leech and Pont, and most of it is now held at the Wilhelm Busch Museum in Hanover, Germany…. The German artist George Grosz was 'a very great influence' and a small but beautiful volume of his work accompanied Searle throughout his wartime travails, for, other than a brief spell of action manning the rearguard of the British retreat down the Malay peninsula, he spent the entire war as a prisoner of the Japanese at Changi on Singapore island and as a forced laborer on the notorious Burma railway in what was then Siam. This profound and brutal experience changed everything for him and is still clearly with him to this day. The drawings he made and managed to preserve, at great risk, provide not only a unique record of a hellish experience but also demonstrate an astonishing artistic transformation."

In April, Cartoon Brew co-editor Jerry Beck posted Energetically Yours (1957, 13'49"), an industrial film Searle designed for the Standard Oil Company "directed by UPA co-founder Dave Hilberman — with animation production supervised at both Playhouse Pictures (by Bill Melendez) and Quartet Films (under Art Babbitt)."

For more on Searle, see the robust Wikipedia entry and Matt Jones's tribute blog, Perpetua.

Updates: "In France he worked for Le Figaro Littéraire, and there were constant commissions from the US, where the fine glossy magazine Holiday and Henry Luce's Life competed for his work," writes Michael McNay in the Guardian. "Life opened the way to reportage with commissions to illustrate the John F Kennedy 1960 presidential campaign and to cover the trial in 1961 in Israel of Hitler's henchman Adolf Eichmann. And then Searle accomplished a long-held ambition, to work for the New Yorker. Here, he graduated in the 1960s from cartoons to colour covers. Some of his fans saw a decline from now on, and it is true that there was a rococo prettiness about some his work, though its manic qualities eschewed cosiness."

An exhibition of Searle's work will open at the Gallery Nucleus in Alhambra CA on January 7 and will be on view through January 29.

Updates, 1/5: At Cartoon Brew, Matt Jones recalls meeting Searle in 2008 and keeping up with him throughout his last years.

Robert Mankoff looks back on the work Searle did for the New Yorker, while, for Creative Review, Patrick Burgoyne samples work by the "graphic satirist."

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