The Humours of Belvoir Castle -- or the Morning After

Isaac Cruikshank was a late 18th-century and early 19th-century Scottish painter and caricaturist. His cartoons are notable as prototypical examples of comics in their use of speech balloons, caricature, slapstick and occasional sequential narratives. His sons would later become well known cartoonists in their own right.

Early life and career
Isaac Cruikshank was born in 1764 in Edinburgh, Scotland, as the son of a customs officer. He left the city in 1783 to live in London, where he would remain the rest of his life. A year later he published his first drawings, all caricatures of Scottish people called 'Scotch Eloquence'. One of his most important works was an engraving depicting the torture and murder of an African slave girl in 1792, which helped turn public opinion against the slave trade.

The Abolition of the Slave Trade (1792)

Prototypical comics
He made numerous cartoons poking fun at the London Corresponding Society and Society of the Friends of the People, as well as Napoleon Bonaparte. Cruikshank had a talent for water colour paintings and copper etchings, the latter coloured and lettered by his wife, Mary McNaughton. Several of these cartoons are notable in comic history for having prototypical speech balloons when characters speak. Among these is 'Female Opinions on Military Tactics' (1798). It featured eight women argueing with soldiers about ther weapons, equipment or uniform. The cartoon is arranged in two rows, with the words written above the speakers' heads. While not exactly a narrative - more a series of humorous gags built around the same theme - the lay-out and floating texts above characters' heads already show a close resemblance to a modern-day comic strip.

The most remarkable is 'The Humours of Belvoir Castle -- or the Morning After' (1799), which lampoons the upperclass after a night of heavy drinking and partying. The characters in this drawing have text shown above their heads to indicate what they are saying. Apart from that each conversation between two or more people is shown as an individual scene, comparable to a series of humorous anecdotes. Another notable cartoon is 'French Happenings' and 'English Misery', which shows two sequences next to one another. While best known for his caricatures, he also illustrated books about theatre and illustrated George Shaw's 'General Zoology' (1800-1826). Cruikshank also illustrated song lyrics.

Final years and death
In 1803 Napoleon declared war on Great Britain. Cruikshank joined a group of military volunteers in Bloomsbury. In 1811 he took part in a drinking contest and was declared the winner afterwards. Unfortunately he collapsed from alcohol poisoning soon after, dying half a week later. His sons, George Cruikshank and Isaac Robert Cruikshank, were also famous cartoonists.

Female Opinions on Military Tactics, Sept. 30 1790
'Female Opinions on Military Tactics' (1798).

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