Margaret Thatcher by Steve Bell
Episode of ‘If’, caricaturing UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Labour politician Michael Foot.

Steve Bell is one of Britain's sharpest political cartoonists. His best known work are the satirical comics 'Maggie's Farm'  (1979) and the long-running political comic strip 'If...' (1981-2021). As of the 2010s the controversial cartoonist has brutally depicted both British and international politics for almost four decades now. His work has often been victim of censorship and occasionally irritated thin-skinned politicians.

Early life and career
He was born in 1951 in Walthamstow and studied art at the Teesside College of Art, graduating in this discipline and film making at Leeds University in 1974. Among his influences are Leslie Illingworth, Trog (Wally Fawkes), James Gillray, William Hogarth, George Cruikshank, David Low, Ronald Searle, E.C. Segar, Leo Baxendale and Robert Crumb. Three years after his graduation, he became an art teacher in Birmingham, but quit after only a year because the job was not what he expected from it. Encouraged by his girlfriend, he tried out cartooning. He was rejected by The Beano, but still impressed enough to preserve their rejection letter. His first comic strip, 'Maxwell the Mutant: Marauding the Midlands' was published in the alternative paper Birmingham Broadside in 1977. It featured a story about a man able to mutate in whoever he wanted. His rival, Neville Worthyboss, was a thinly veiled caricature of the head of the local city council, Neville Bosworth.

Moving House by Steve Bell
'Moving House' (From: Shiver and Shake Annual 1980).

'Maggie's Farm' and other comics from the late 1970s and early 1980s
Thanks to a cartoonist friend, Kipper Williams, Bell found work at the magazine Whoopee, where he published the short-lived comic strip 'Dick Doobie the Back to Front Man' (1978). His strip 'Gremlins' appeared in the first issue of the magazine Jackpot. While he enjoyed making children's comics he was more drawn to making political work. With the election of Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister in 1979, he had more than enough reasons to become more socially conscious. When Time Out looked for a cartoonist who could attack Thatcher's administration, Bell gave them the satirical comic strip 'Maggie's Farm' (1979), whose title was both a nod to Thatcher as well as the Bob Dylan song of the same name. The strip meant his breakthrough and was later transferred to City Limits magazine. Other projects he made around 1980 were the comic strip 'Lord God Almighty' for The Leveller and a cartoony adaptation of the song 'Ivan Meets G.I. Joe' by The Clash, which can be read inside the sleeve of their album 'Sandinista!'. Another graphic artist who once collaborated with The Clash was Derek Boshier.

Ivan Meets GI Joe by Steve Bell

Bell's best-known comic strip is 'If...', which has been running in The Guardian since 2 November 1981 and was named after Rudyard Kipling's iconic poem. The satirical gag strip only took off during the Falklands War (1982), when Bell got the idea to move the action of his stories to the Falkland Islands. Most episodes center around a socialist marine officer, Reginald Kipling, and a talking penguin who shares more conservative and capitalist ideas. Over the course of decades, storylines mirrored current events and had frequent unflattering cameos of real-life politicians, such as Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, Khomeini, Henry Kissinger, George Bush Sr. and Jr. and Donald Trump. 

If... by Steve Bell
Episode of 'If', caricaturing U.S. President George Bush Jr. in conflict between his lying tongue and his talking ass.

Apart from 'If...' Bell also publishes one-panel cartoons, which forces him to reach two deadlines a day. His interest in politics is such that he often visits political party conferences to see his targets in real life. He claims it often inspired him spotting small details in their features which he didn't notice in photographs or news footage, such as "Prime Minister Tony Blair's psychotic glint in his eye". He also enjoys referencing famous classical paintings in his cartoons. Bell has also published in Cheeky, Private Eye, New Society, Leveller, Social Work Today, NME, The Journalist and The New Statesman. Together with Bob Godfrey, he made the animated cartoon series, 'Margaret Thatcher - Where Am I Now?' (1999) for Channel 4. Since November 2012 Bell also has his own Twitter account. 

The final episode of 'If...' was published on 29 April 2021. The Guardian's budget cuts were the main reason, though Bell remains an editorial cartoonist for the paper.

Cartoon by Steve Bell
Episode of ‘If’, depicting UK Prime Minister Tony Blair gradually transforming into Margaret Thatcher’s face. A criticism of his policies mirroring hers more than his own party ideology.

His merciless style often caused controversy. In 1982 an episode of 'If...', which poked fun at Pope John Paul II and Khomeini, was refused publication. A 1983 cartoon depicting Kissinger as a giant turkey with a German accent was taken to the Press Council. Five years later a cartoon about Ronald Reagan was condemned as being obscene by a speaker in the House of Lords. After drawing a pièta with Margaret Thatcher as the Virgin Mary and John Major as Jesus, while Catholic and Conservative politician John Gummer looks on, Gummer wrote a letter of protest to The Guardian, feeling "Steve Bell's perversions" were "degrading". Reportedly Blair's deputy PM John Prescott told a friend that if Bell ever came to a party conference he would "head-butt" him. In 1999 Bell was even fired by The New Statesman for a cover which depicted Tony Blair's brain in a food-processor. On 16 March 2015 the Guardian received more than 300 angry readers' letters, caused by a comic strip by Bell mocking Scottish politicians Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond. The comic in question depicts Sturgeon and Salmond defending the "core demand" of their party: "incest and Scottish Country Dancing". 

A 2012 cartoon depicting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu using British politicians Tony Blair and William Hague as glove puppets was condemned by some for being antisemitic, which Bell strongly denied. On 25 June 2018 The Guardian refused to print a cartoon by Bell depicting Netanyahu and British Prime Minister Theresa May sitting by a fireplace, with the face of Palestinian nurse Rouzan Al-Najjar in the flames. Al-Naijar had been shot by a Israeli soldier. The cartoon was censored because an editor thought the fireplace was a reference to Nazi camp ovens and the Holocaust. Bell found this interpretation so far-fetched that he went public with the news of his censorship. Between 3 and 6 April 2017 Bell caused another stir when he drew a comic strip about politician Ken Livingstone. Livingstone had been banned from the Labour Party after claiming that in 1932 Hitler wanted to export all Jews to Israel, making him a technical Zionist. For several days in a row Bell depicted Livingstone being put on trial in a literal kangaroo court. The kangaroo judge claims he's guilty for "mentioning Hitler too often" and "bringing the Kangaroo Party into disrepute". When Livingstone points out that he's in a kangaroo court, the marsupial condemns him for using a "blatant antisemitic stereotype".

On 18 July 2019 a cartoon by Bell which ridiculed Labour politician Tom Watson as a witch hunter seeking "unholy antisemitic tropes" also caused controversy. Watson was portrayed next to Netanyahu, who holds two plush puppets, referring to U.S. President Donald Trump and politician Boris Johnson. Earlier that year, in April 2019, two other cartoons by respectively António and Roar Hagen in The New York Times were also accused of antisemitism because they satirized Netanyahu. In António's case he was fired and The New York Times announced it would no longer publish political cartoons. In June 2019 Canadian cartoonist Michael de Adder was fired by Brunswick News Inc., also over a cartoon satirizing Trump. 

Art by Steve Bell
Episode of 'If', showing Thatcher using Blair as a ventriloquist's dummy. The first two lines are a reference to a misquotation of French president François Mitterrand, who is said to have described Thatcher as having "the eyes of Caligula and the mouth of Marilyn Monroe", while he actually said she had the "eyes of Stalin and the voice of Marilyn Monroe".

Graphic contributions
Steve Bell was one of several cartoonists to make a contribution to 'Spitting Image. The Giant Komic Book' (Pyramid Book Ltd & Octopus Publishing Group, 1988), a comic book based on the satirical puppet TV show 'Spitting Image' by Peter Fluck and Roger Law

Steve Bell was voted Humorous Strip Cartoonist of the Year 1984 and was honored with the same title by the British Press Awards in 2003. 

Thatcher and Reagan by Steve Bell
President Ronald Reagan and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Series and books by Steve Bell you can order today:


If you want to help us continue and improve our ever- expanding database, we would appreciate your donation through Paypal.