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Monday, November 24, 2008

Classic Les Barton cartoons

As announced on this blog recently, cartoonist Les Barton sadly passed away last month. His work on I-Spy for Sparky comic was well known and respected in comic fan circles but I've recently unearthed some of his 1950s work that may also be of interest to readers of this blog.

Back in the early 1950s there were a number of popular men's megazines that were far tamer than the top shelf fare of today. They featured "pin ups" of attractive models but they were tasteful "glamour" shots, discreetly staged to avoid nudity. However these photos only took up a small percentage of the page count (perhaps just 6 pages out of 52) with the bulk of the content being devoted to cartoons, jokes, and short stories.

Two such publications were You've Had it and This is it, both, I believe, from 1953. I don't know how many issues of these 52 page pocket-sized mags were published, or even if they were just one-off publications, as the only editions I have are the You've Had It Summer Special and the This is it Bedside Number, both shown here. A number of cartoonists had their work featured but it was Les Barton who seemed the most prominent and who had supplied cover artwork for both magazines.

I suppose the closest equivalent to these publications today are the "lad's mags" such as Zoo and Nuts. These 1950s magazines were much more subtle though, but their portrayal of women was just as blinkered. In This is it and You've Had It women were just dolly birds to be voyeured, with looks being their only attribute.

To be fair, not all of the cartoons and gag strips were about the pursuit of women. Barton himself provided numerous cartoons and short gag strips for these two magazines on a variety of subjects. This was work from the relatively early days of his career and although his style was a little different back then it's still good work.

According to this website the two publications shown here were deemed "indecent or obscene" under the Censorship of Publications Act. What this actually led to, whether it was removal from shops, pulping, or prosecution, I have no idea. (Any info appreciated.) However I do find it staggering that such tame (albeit somewhat sexist) publications could even be considered obscene or indecent. Just how uptight was the establishment of the 1950s?

Viewed today, This it it and You've Had It seem like harmless publications of mild amusement and outdated attitudes. Les Barton and others provided some nice work for them but the novelty of the magazines today lies in their social context. On the one hand they portray women as easily available but on the other they feature Charles Atlas ads and adverts to "Be taller" to play on men's insecurities. "Girls prefer a He-Man" boast the back page ads, and that may still be true for some shallow ones even today, but they'd probably prefer one that didn't read You've Had It under the bedsheets.


Royston Robertson said...

It's great to see these cartoons, Lew. I knew Les through the CCGB and have seen a lot of his cartoons, but never this early stuff. Ace blog, keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

Those were the Eire "Censorship of Publications Acts" - the republic was unbelievably uptight in the 1950s.

Lew Stringer said...

Thanks for the clarification.

Mike Morris said...

Hi Lew
Great site, always very interesting. I've only just noticed this--there were certainly other issues of these magazines; I remember buying them (aged 8 or 9) from our local newsagent in the late 60's--couldn't for the life of me remember what they were called. And no, I didn't get a lot of the jokes...

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