Saturday, March 8, 2008

The cartoon world of William Heath Robinson (1872-1944)

WH Robinson was born in 1872, his father and his two brothers were also artists.
"If my drawings ever had success," said WH Robinson, "it will be not only by the great machinery and insane situations, but also by the style in which they are drawn!" He himself didn’t see the humor of the case, but he was part of it.
Heath Robinson's ideas on topics such as war, sports, household, traffic, etc. still apply nowadays. One thing, however, is required to understand the humor of his drawings : you should take the time for it. This willingness asked the artist also from his family when he called them in his studio to see if a new drawing "worked" fine.
The books below contain a magnificent collection of drawings of the artist, whose name already became a ‘household word’ during his life as a result of his fanciful and intricate drawings of impractical creations.
If a machine or system is “Heath Robinson”, it is very complicated in a way that is funny, but not practical or effective.

When the French cartoonist Albert Robida (born 24 years before Robinson) foretold the chemical, biological and air weapons of a next war, some 30 years before the 1st World War launching, it was just a strange kind of science fiction. When Robinson lets the British make fun of this war’s realities, it is a harder task. However, he succeeds to entertain and enjoy his readers, thanks to the absurdly ingenious devices he used to invent and thanks to his peculiar harmless humour: because, in the flood of the caricatural graphic propaganda of those times, he is one of the very few to have kept an easy-going humour, in spite of the tragic events. This cartoon collection is a perfect example of the famous and inimitable ‘British humour’.

Here are the wonders of many unlikely technologies or, how to use a lot of complicated devices (all absurdly ingenious) for a simple (although sometime useful?!?) result. They are the funny dawn of our actual ‘modern’ achievements.
In the UK, W. Heath Robinson is best known for creating bizarre cartoons contraptions which caused his name to enter the language to describe such funny and odd devices. He was named: ‘the gadget’s king”.
9 other cartoon books by W. Heath Robinson were issued by the same publisher, from 1975 to 1989.

Hereunder a Dutch “Wonderlijke bedenksels” and a German “Die verrüekt perfekte Welt des Heath Robinson” WHR book I bought on e-Bay.

Read more:
Heath Robinson in Wikipedia
The William Heath Robinson Trust
Heath robinson (codebreaking machine)
Contraptions - book review on Li-An's Blog (French)
Some original works and prices
Heath Robinson cartoon search
[4 Heath Robinson Cartoonbook files]


Li-An said...

Robinson was a "classical" illustrator too before WW I and a nice one !
And thank you for the link !

Jan said...

You are right Li-an. We often forget that many of the cartoonists are very good illustrators too, or shall we say: illustrators are often good cartoonists?

Li-An said...

Well, it's a different work, I'm not sure every illustrator will make a good cartoonist (and vice versa as we say in french)