Who’s this week’s hero, Johnny?
This week’s hero is a hero every single week. For a change, it isn’t a footballer, or a team, or a manager, or even a TV or radio personality. No, it is someone from one of the most rarefied and frankly really bloody difficult professions: a cartoonist. He casts a gimlet eye on football matters every week in The Guardian and has become an indispensable part of our footballing cultural universe with his brilliant drawing and cutting, deep humour. He pulls back the veil on this world of tears with satire and allows us to laugh at it.
A 44-year-old man who hails from Swindon but now resides in Sydney, he designed Swindon Town’s mascot Rockin’ Robin, which is a terrifying, ornithologically inaccurate, almost psychedelic vision in loose-fitting, surely fetid polyester fur. He also created the scary, vaguely fascist icon that is West Ham United’s ‘Herbie the Hammer’, which is surely inspired by Gerald Scarfe’s work on The Wall.
Before The Guardian, he started his career working on a Swindon fanzine and has two books to his name: The Illustrated History of Football (2016) and the ‘Hall of Fame’ edition the following year. He’s also very successfully dipped his nib into political work for the paper too. His work during the 2017 election was more revealing and cogent than many a 2,000-word article. He also does an A League piece for the Australian market.
But it’s his work slicing and dicing the self-regarding, bloated, amoral, pompous nonsense that the Premier League pushes at us, like it’s normal life going on as normal, that we love him for. Without him, many of us would feel a little more alone in the world.
That’ll be David Squires, then.
So what have they done to deserve this?
I was inspired to laud David this week because, as ever, his strip was so succinct and bang on the money in royally skewering its subject matter. There was absolutely nothing about the betting company and the Huddersfield shirt sponsorship/non-sponsorship/actual sponsorship that hadn’t been very fecking annoying on every level. It needed the boy Squires to apply his medically sharp scalpel of satire to cut out the cancer, hold it up and and name it.
His genius lies in an extraordinary ability to create a strip which manages to be funny, satirical, sometimes vaguely disgusted and sharply political, all at the same time. But you can just read it for the laughs if you want. This one is an excoriating damning of football’s grotesque omnipresent betting culture; of the ‘all in the name of banter’ culture it feeds off; of a certain sort of male attitude that sustains it; and the amoral people in clubs and companies who perpetuate it. And, as he so often does, by the final frame (the block capitals are so brilliantly informative) it all feels melancholic, dark and damaged – as though we have been laughing at something out of desperation that the world has gone bad.
All. In. Nine. Frames.
It is just astonishingly good. But here’s the thing and here’s why I wanted to make him Hero of the Week: we take this level of comic dissection totally for granted now. We expect it every Tuesday because it’s always of this standard. Many can be brilliant once or twice, but he does it all the time. That is the mark of true genius.
If I say his work is political, it is political in the best, non-dogmatic, non-branded sense and in that, it’s just right for these times when the old left and right political labels have so little meaning to most. You might call it liberal or progressive, but to me it just feels human and comes from someone with moral standards and real soul. This contrasts so profoundly to so much of his subject matter and is very much the grit that makes his pearl. I also sense some real moral sodding outrage at times, and plain old disgust at others, as football’s ceaseless parade of venal devils, false gods and absolute feckin’ roasters are paraded in front of us as though they are something to be.
Even a scant knowledge of the artform, going back to William Hogarth and James Gillray, shows that to be a successful cartoonist you absolutely need that strong moral conviction and a political standpoint to go with it to give the satire some teeth. It needs to come from a place of, if not always outrage, then certainly indignation.
However, there is more to David’s art than biting satire; he can also conjure an elegiac quality when honouring someone. His North Bank Redemption strip on the retirement of Arsene Wenger was, many feel, one of his finest achievements. And I tell you this, the depiction of Gunnersaurus waiting for his old boss on the beach in the penultimate frame…well…I’d wager, as silly as it may be, moistened an eye or two. I know it did, in fact.
His finest moment. pic.twitter.com/uMu7M1iuh9
— Darby (@DarbyAndrew) July 25, 2019
Some of his drawings live long in the memory. He captured the essence of Neil Warnock so profoundly that he appears to be more Warnocky than the real thing. The depiction of the absence of eyebrows with a single wavy line is inspired. He, Allardyce, Waddle and Shilton singing a Brexit song was brilliant. Then there was his brilliant Sarri, face stuffed full of fags. His Mourinho drawn as a teenage Emo was inspired and captured the emotional subtext of his United reign brilliantly – and is apparently his most popular creation.
Although called cartoons, this is no mere throwaway stuff. There is depth here. The strips are always worth taking to time to digest, partly because they are usually nuanced and dense with other media and political references, or bits from The Simpsons. Also because there is so much going on in the background, sometimes related to the foreground, sometimes not. I do wonder if he likes drawing the background bits most of all. It’s very much the subtle seasoning on the steak that makes the meal.
He’s a brave artist and he doesn’t seem inclined to flinch when satirising those clubs who have fans that are notoriously thin-skinned and quick to take offence, or indeed when satirising those same fans. In the social media age, that is not the way to have an easy life and he’s to be commended for having the balls to put his foot up on the stage monitor of life and rock it hard.
It strikes me that being a cartoonist requires two major skills: simply, you need to be able to write and to draw too. Failure to deliver one to the highest standard will let the other down.
Whereas many of the cartoonists that feature in broadsheet newspapers paint a single frame and in doing so make a single statement, David’s strips need to have a narrative to drive them forward. A start, middle and end. In that, it is a very different sort of discipline.
I imagine the hardest thing about writing and drawing in this genre is firstly to pick the right targets for that specific week. Second is to get the pitch and tone correct. It’d be all too easy to be overbearing, pompous, crude or vulgar. Similarly, it’s easy for satire to tip over into bullying and abuse. Even when you want to give both barrels to someone, it still has to be done in the right way using a rapier rather than a sledgehammer. On top of that, you need to always be punching upwards. The fact that David manages to do this so accurately week after week is a testament to his taste as much as his talent.
Many of us now eagerly await the next strip after a high-profile incident in the football world just to see what he’s got to say about it. And that must be the great compliment of all for anyone.
He has become an indispensable colour in the rainbow of our football life.
Anyone grumpy about it?
David’s work is clever and intelligent, often with layers of understatement, so I assume this keeps many at arm’s length. Blinkered tribal psychotics, encouraged by their club to be unofficial, unpaid PR merchants drawing a curtain over that which they do not want to be spoken of, will doubtless take against him for satirising their club’s players and morally dubious owners
His savaging of the Brexit nonsense would surely put the back up of the more Union Jack waistcoat types but then they’re not likely to be reading The Guardian and would just see it as the work of, in the modern vernacular of idiocy, a snowflake.
Anyone who has drunk deeply from the Premier League’s well of propaganda and really does think that it’s the Best League In The World and keeps saying it like some sort of Owen Coyle tribute act, might also struggle to share his dystopian vision.
I do often wonder what those who are the targets of his acid nib feel about his cartoons. What do those who would love a company called Banter Betz (the cheap ‘z’ is crucial and is the sort of detail he gets just so right) think about what he is saying in this week’s strip? Do they see the problem or do they think it is a celebration of ‘their’ culture?
Similarly, I wonder if the subjects of the cartoons take it as some sort of compliment, in the way of politicians who bought their own Spitting Image puppet.
What the people say
I wasn’t sure how many people would respond this week but I was inundated with praise for the great man in a volume that I have never experienced before. I think this may be because he has a lot of readers who don’t just like his work but absolutely bloody love it. When you have a passion for something, it is only natural to want to share that passion. Everyone has their favourites, of course, but I think we all love the same things about his work. There were way too many comments for me to include more than a representative selection.
We begin, because we are at peace with the universe, with two haikus from 4_4_haiku
Inspiring us with humour
Highlight of the week
The poppy hypocrisy
North bank redemption
Sachin Nakrani got in touch with the following:
‘Not only a brilliantly talented and wonderfully witty cartoonist, but also an incredibly nice and considerate man. I’ve never met David (what with him living in Australia and me in England) but from out email conversations alone, I consider him a true friend.’
And Max Rushden had this to say:
‘Oh yes. I know him. He’s delightfully pleasant in person. V humble. One of those players who doesn’t know how good he is. Long may that continue so don’t publish anything or don’t show him. This could be the article that changes him forever.’
And now to you:
‘He has to be the greatest man alive!’
‘The attention to detail. It’s like early arrested development in that reviewing just yields more jokes. And the saxophone player/Mick Hucknall eating a footlong subway.’
‘He’s an oasis of sanity and hilarity in a desert of madness.’
‘He’s just ace, isn’t he? His cartoons are a genuine highlight of my week, both sporting and generally.’
”Genius’ is overused, but David Squires is a double genius. His strip makes Tuesday lunchtimes one of the best parts of the week…and Tuesdays are rubbish.’
‘I have never been disappointed by a single of his cartoons, even when they poke fun at my own club.’
‘Brilliantly judged cartoon following death of Leicester chairman. There is a panel of him and Ranieri looking at the Premier League trophy which is a perfect mixture of humour, respect and poignancy.’
‘We’re lucky enough to get a double dose of Squires every week here in Oz. A Premier League AND an A-League (Australian competition) cartoon. Sorry England, you can’t have him back.’
‘He’s in the grand tradition of British satirists, dry and ridiculous, sardonic and silly. I read every strip with a broad smile.’
‘A bona fide genius. Hilarious, yes, but always gets the tone exactly right on more serious matters. As a Watford fan, the tribute to Graham Taylor was perfection.’
‘Probably the only person in the industry whose output is 10/10 every single week. The standard is amazing.
‘His bit with Ederson’s smiley face tattoo whispering murder in his ear has become a whole thing among my friends. Absolutely f*cking brilliant.’
‘The Marina Hyde of drawing, if that doesn’t sound too mad. Takes on the sublime, the ridiculous and the serious with equal vigor and ease.’
“To hell with the world, let them know it’s Brexit time” will never be surpassed.’
What does the future hold?
In an era when technology plays to the visual so strongly, cartoonists and graphic artists have become increasingly important. The ability to sum up often complex issues in a few frames without dumbing down or overtly playing to the gallery is not just a great skill to have, but it is actively needed as a bulwark against the dumb block capital slaverings of the daily press and other media.
Indeed, considering the vastness of football coverage, there is very little other satire at a time when it is badly needed to throw light into darkness and to call out that which would otherwise go without comment or gainsay.
Never has he been more needed as a civilising influence and road sign to sanity. We live at a time when genuflecting to Mammon and fellating rampant materialism is the dominant paradigm of the Premier League’s shameless greedocratic culture and so many of us feel we’re living in an age where the lunatics have taken over the Banter Betz-sponsored asylum. But the boy Squiresy is here to help keep us sane and stop us feeling alone.
Thanks for being there, David. It means a lot to a lot. Probably more than you’ll ever, ever know.