The life of the cartoonist ‘Vicky’…..
Victor ‘Vicky’ Weisz was one of the great political satirists of the mid twentieth century. His cartoons graced the pages of the Daily Mirror, Evening Standard and News Chronicle from 1935 when he first came to England as a refugee until his tragic death in 1966. Leaving Germany as Hitler and the Nazi party’s prominence grew stronger he took with him his socialist hatred of the regime having openly criticized it through his drawings in the journal 12 Unter Blatt until it was taken over by the Nazis. Born in Berlin in 1913 to Hungarian-Jewish parents Vicky had begun drawing political cartoons following the suicide of his father in 1928 in what would prove to be a tragic precursor to his own death.
His first real break came in 1939 when the then editor of The News Chronicle, Gerald Barry gave him a retainer despite his poor English and as Barry recalled: “plainly possessed a wholly insufficient understanding of our manners and habits of thought to make a caricaturist for a popular British daily” So began a fourteen year association with the newspaper and in those early formative years the artist immersed himself in British culture and politics, he recorded the Second World War losing none of his hatred for the Nazis whilst displaying political independence regardless of the persuasion of the paper’s owners. In time, his grasp of British politics would be formidable and his cartoons showed a deep understanding of the political establishment and the effect of it on the working class people with whom he shared a real sense of solidarity if not, as James Cameron once alluded to, more in spirit than reality.
By the 1940s Weisz was working under the pseudonym of ‘Vicky’ and he continued working for The News Chronicle until 1958 when he took offence to its new editor, Robin Cruickshank turning down some of his work. So began his tenure at The Daily Mirror and the Evening Standard and his cartoons of the then Prime Minister Harold Macmillan whom he portrayed as ‘Supermac’ after the cartoon hero Superman became the stuff of legend. Ironically, this portrayal helped Macmillan’s standing and quite probably helped him increase his majority in parliament in the 1959 election.
Vicky’s range of targets was long and broad, he took on imperialism wherever it raised its head from colonial rule in India and Malaya to America’s role in Vietnam and by the 1960s his left-leaning political ideology was coming evermore to the fore of his work. He was not the greatest artist of his day but his subject choice and sharp wit set him aside from the rest. He believed in the power of satire and had hoped that his drawings would make a bigger difference to the social landscape than perhaps they did or ever could and this realisation would, by the onset of the 1960s go some way in accelerating his decline into depression. Despite being awarded Cartoonist of the Year for 1960 by Granada TV’s What the Paper’s Say, Vicky was a man who fretted over his work, fell out with fellow cartoonists and was, at heart, a shy man who hated conflict, allowing his drawings to be his sabre and yet despite the witty, cutting sketches he made very few enemies, especially amongst his intended targets.
He also drew many of the leading people of the day from outside the political spectrum, from a fine drawing of Evelyn Waugh (opposite) to W.H. Auden, Cyril Connolly, Orson Welles, Dame Edith Sitwell, Victor Gollancz to Bertrand Russell. These were commissioned by The New Statesman for their ‘Profiles’ series and the sketches of Russell in particular came from the formative meetings of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in which Vicky, alongside Russell, James Cameron, Michael Foot, J.B. Priestly and others were the founding figures.
His involvement with CND would prove a big influence on his work, he often portrayed the idiocy of world leaders and their attitude to nuclear annihilation which included a self portrait in a 1960 cartoon in which he is marching with the CND’s leading figures carrying Ban the Bomb signs whilst being followed by Khrushchev, Macmillan, Eisenhower and De Gaulle trying to cash in on their narrative.
His run at Macmillan had to end eventually and as Labour welcomed in their new Prime Minister, Harold Wilson so Vicky set about creating his caricature as a Boy Scout running bob a job errands for the American president. Despite his loathing for America’s involvement in Vietnam and Britain’s refusal to denounce it, Vicky did not despise America but he felt let down by both countries and in particular the Wilson Labour government whom he trusted to take a stance. A year before he died he had become anxious about his ideas drying up and a battle with depression soon took hold until on the 23rd February 1966 he was found dead of an overdose of sleeping tablets.
James Cameron said of his good friend: “All satirists cause pain because they are obliged to traffic in the rasping medium of truth. Vicky was truthful because he was, like most funny men, urgently and profoundly serious”
Categories: James Cameron, Reportage, The Reading Room
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