Martha Richler (Marf) was born in London in 1964, of Canadian parents, her father being the novelist and screenwriter Mordecai Richler. She studied at Harvard, Columbia and Johns Hopkins, and afterwards taught art history at Hunter College of the City of New York and Johns Hopkins. Richler was also a lecturer at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, and in 1997 wrote A World of Art - the National Gallery’s official guide - before turning to cartooning.
Richler became a professional cartoonist in 1996, with a weekly strip called “Lucky” drawn for the London Daily Express. She subsequently became the first woman pocket cartoonist in Canada, contributing a daily news cartoon to the Toronto-based Globe and Mail during its circulation war with Conrad Black’s newly-founded National Post, and drawing a weekly arts and showbusiness cartoon called “Entertoonment.” She remained at the Globe and Mail until 2001.
Richler then returned to London, where from March 2001 she worked at the Evening Standard, drawing a pocket cartoon for the Letters page, and signing herself “Marf” because that was what her father used to call her. Richler was the first female cartoonist on Fleet Street to produce a daily cartoon, later recalling that “updating the cartoon throughout the five editions which the paper produced...made my cartoon the first to publish on that day’s subject.”
In August 2003 Richler also acted as relief for the Evening Standard political cartoonist, Patrick Blower. However, when, in the following month, it was announced that Blower was to leave the paper after six years, his replacement by Richler was said to have “caused a collective raised eyebrow at the Standard’s Kensington newsroom.” This media sniping culminated in a claim by the Daily Telegraph in May 2004 that Richler’s cartoons were being regularly written by “backbench executives”, at which she sued for libel and won.
Under Richler the Evening Standard cartoon moved away from its heavily political origins towards light social observation, but she later recalled that this was partly due to the editor, Veronica Wadley, who “preferred the lighter notes” and rejected the darker roughs. “I wanted to do both darker subjects and lighter ones”, she explained: “I often presented much darker and more political ideas to the editor; it was a source of great frustration to me that I wasn’t given the freedom to switch between darker themes and lighter ones.”
Wadley brought in Rick Brookes as the Evening Standard's pocket cartoonist, but in June 2004 it was announced that Richler’s cartoon would also be reduced to pocket size, and that there was “no very active search for a replacement” as political cartoonist. As Richler recalled, there were complaints from readers when her Diary cartoon was "collapsed into a pocket cartoon", and the space used for additional celebrity photographs. But at the end of the year she was nevertheless obliged to leave the Evening Standard when, to the dismay of staff, Wadley dropped all the editorial cartoons.
This move ended the Evening Standard’s long tradition of political cartooning. As Richler recalled, “the editor summarily dismissed me with no notice and collapsed my studio the very following Monday - destroying ‘Jak’s Cabin’ - and turned it into the new City offices.” Richler transferred her political cartooning onto the web, with her own online magazine LondonSketchbook.com, launched in September 2008, and, from October 2008, with cartoons on the political blog Politicalbetting.com. Richler is happier in this environment, describing herself as “deeply passionate...about politics and political cartooning, to which I have devoted my life”.
Cartooning on the web attracts more immediate responses from readers, but Richler argues that “it makes you stronger, being pelted with rotten tomatoes one night and bouquets the next”: “You’d drive yourself mad reading all the comments, so most nights, I skim through them. But on momentous news days I read every single one - and big news days are also when 'Political Betting' gets really interesting. The cartoons are strongest when the news is big – the news drives opinion and the jokes ride on strong opinion.”
Richler’s cartoons are also represented in the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum, and in the Charles Saatchi Collection. In April 2011 "City Blues", an exhibition of her cartoons on the banking crisis and the recession, opened at the Guildhall Art Gallery in London.
- Information from Martha Richler.
- Jean Morgan “Standard draws on fresh and veteran cartoon talent”, Press Gazette, 31 May 2002.
- The Observer, 14 September 2003, Business Pages p.7, “Media Diary”.
- Stephen Glover “We still have great political cartoonists, but where is the younger talent?” The Spectator, 5 June 2004, p.27.
- The Daily Telegraph, 17 June 2004, p.19, “Diary”; 1 July 2004, p.19, “Diary.”
back to top