British Cartoon Archive


Chris Riddell was born on 13 April 1962 in Cape Town, South Africa, where his father was an Anglican priest and a member of the ANC. The family moved  to England in 1963, when Riddell was one year old, and he spent his childhood in a number of different locations, as his father moved between parishes. Both of Riddell's parents continued to be active in the anti-apartheid movement. "When everybody was talking about the winter of discontent," he later recalled, "we'd be discussing the Soweto riots."

Riddell attended Archbishop Tenison's Church of England Grammar School, in Lambeth, after which he went to Epsom School of Art and Design for a year's foundation course. From 1981 to 1984 he studied illustration at Brighton Polytechnic, where he was taught by Raymond Briggs, the children's illustrator whose first political book, When the Wind Blows, appeared in 1982. Riddell acknowledges him as a "huge influence" on his work. Briggs introduced him to his own publisher, and, while still a student, Riddell was commissioned to illustrate The Book of Giants for Sainsbury’s. It appeared in 1985.

In 1988 the Europe editor of the Economist, impressed by his book illustrations, hired Riddell to illustrate articles at the magazine, where he remained until 1997. In 1989 Riddell got his first job as political cartoonist, for the short-lived Sunday Correspondent, and from 1990 to 1991 he was also business cartoonist on the Observer, producing illustrations for the personal finance pages. 'Chic' Jacob was then working on the paper, and Riddell later recalled that "he went out of his way to be both kind and encouraging": "Stopping by my desk and looking over my shoulder he'd roll his eyes and commiserate over the peculiarly arcane subject matter we business cartoonists were often called upon to illustrate. Whether it was a wolf at the door, an animated piggy bank or a stockbroker jousting with a bear, he'd pat me on the back and assure me I was doing a fine job."

In 1991 Riddell moved to the Independent, and also joined the "Business on Sunday" section of the Independent on Sunday. In 1992, with Chris Priestley, a colleague from the Economist, he produced a strip called "Bestiary" for the Independent on Sunday. As Riddell told an interviewer, he now felt that British society had "a millennarian feeling of decay, a suppurating, pustular mood", and he was trying to catch this in his richly-detailed political drawings. One of his contemporary favourites was published in the Independent on Sunday on 25 July 1993, showing a rat enjoying the stench rising from the House of Commons.

In 1995 Riddell became Political Cartoonist on the Observer, for which he also produced the "Antrobus" strip. When the General Election of 1997 brought Tony Blair to power, Riddell complained that he was "'fiendishly difficult" to draw. "My first Blair", he observed soon afterwards, "was thin-necked, with big ears in a huge double-breasted suit that was too big for him": "But this image is no longer appropriate...He's changing all the time. I make a point of always keeping up to date pictures in front of me. I've noticed that lately he has developed more of a frown. His brow is more furrowed. He's not as carefree as he was. And his ears are becoming less useful."

Riddell won the Macallan Award for the best Labour election cartoon of 1997, but the process of capturing the Prime Minister remained a difficult one. "Along with most other cartoonists I've had my bad Blair days", Riddell observed in 1998: "If he had any decency he would grow a moustache and wear glasses. He has those ears all right, the wonky-toothed grin, the fly-away hair, but put them all together and you can miss by a mile...If only Robin Cook had won the leadership - or Gordon Brown, with his cast-iron hair-do." The new politicians of 2010 seemed equally elusive, but as Riddell commented "it takes a while for their misdeeds to register on their faces, so we have to help that along a little bit."

Riddell cites his influences as Ernest Shepard, John Tenniel and William Heath Robinson - "I particularly loved his illustrations for Professor Branestawm" - as well as the black and white book illustrators of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Although a lover of black and white, Riddell successfully managed the transition to colour at the Observer, despite poor colour registration in the early days. "If the press jumped slightly," he recalled, "everything came out in 3-D. But when colour printing got better, I started to think: 'What can colour do for me?' I mean, you can editorialise with colour - you can put figures in shadow, suggest blushing politicians, do sunsets."

On Fridays Riddell travels from his home in Brighton to the Observer office, to produce the cartoon for Sunday’s paper. As he explained to an interviewer in 2008, he listens to the Today programme and skims the Guardian, before catching the train. Here he sits doodling around a blank frame, "but all the time I'm thinking about topics. And always - without fail - an idea forms between Haywards Heath and East Croydon. The idea fills out the blank space, then from East Croydon to London Bridge I write the caption, cross it out, write it again, and so on." At the office he shows his sketch to the editor, then starts work at his desk - one of the few in the office that doesn't have a computer. Here he copies out the sketch, works over it in ink using a soft brush, adding colour wash and goache highlights after drying with a hairdryer.

Riddell has drawn covers for Punch, Economist, New Statesman and Literary Review. He has also written and illustrated a large number of very successful children's books such as The Wish Factory of 1990, which The Independent described as "magical and inventive - like Heath Robinson with a few drinks inside him."  In 1996 he was voted Caricaturist of the Year by the Cartoon Art Trust, and in 2015 he was appointed UK Children's Laureate. Riddell lives in Brighton with his wife, the illustrator and print-maker Joanna Burroughes, and their three children.

In 2010 Riddell explained his method of working in a video for The Guardian. "I like to draw quite politely," he explained,"but I like to be quite rude": "the way that you draw can display anger and savagery, but...I think one can be more devastating by being gentler and kinder. It’s one of those ‘more in sympathy than anger’ approaches which can be something that politicians find hardest to combat. You know, they can take hate and they can take vitriol, but they can’t take pity quite as well."

Riddell sees political cartooning as a personal commentary on changing events: "All I do is reflect, or react to, what politicians are putting out there. It's not the job of a satirist to be balanced. The best stuff often comes from a certain bias." When asked about the impact of this commentary on the public, Riddell is doubtful. "I just think about the reader, and their reaction to what I'm doing", he observes: "My significance is when someone opens the paper on a Sunday and looks at it for a couple of seconds. That's it."





55 catalogued originals CR0001-CR0053
193 uncatalogued originals CR0056-CA0248
1 box photocopies
1 t-shirt
1 framed uncatalogued MO0014



back to top

University of Kent - © University of Kent

The University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent, CT2 7NZ, T: +44 (0)1227 764000

Contact Us | Copyright | Problem with page? | CARD | CARD blog | Site map | Terms & conditions

Last Updated: 21/03/2016