Welcome back to a special edition of the Daily Dose! I have always maintained that the Dose and the Fiction Reboot work reciprocally; as fiction, art and history are joined in our shared past, so are they necessarily joined in our explorations of it. Today, I am featuring a unique book–nonfiction, but certainly flush with creative character (and caricature), art and humor. Welcome to the world of artist and writer Adrian Teal and his (fictional) editor, Nathaniel Crowquill. I give you The Gin Lane Gazette!
About the Book:
The 18th century was a Golden Age for newspapers and caricaturists. Never before had high society been so riotous, profligate, and eccentric, and Georgian celebrities loved nothing more than to read about their debauched exploits in the scandal-sheets, or to recognize themselves in satirical engravings in the print-shop windows.
The GIN LANE GAZETTE is an illustrated compendium of true stories from this epoch of excess; a collection of bawdy intrigue and oddities from the 1700s, brought together by your humble newspaper editor, Mr Nathaniel Crowquill, proprietor of the most scurrilous publication of his century. Gossip columns, sports reports, advertisements, obituaries, book reviews, and a titillating ‘courtesan of the month’ feature are brought together for your entertainment, and caricatures disport themselves wantonly upon every page of this ‘18th-century tabloid’.
Enter a world of panache and licentiousness, where Georgian personalities make today’s rich and famous look like teetotal milksops.
About Adrian Teal
As an ankle-biter, I used to get under everyone’s feet at the Spitting Image Workshop, receiving tuition from the head caricaturist with the kind forbearance of the show’s creators, Roger Law, Peter Fluck, and TV comedy guru John Lloyd.
I paid my way through university by freelancing for various clients – including Madness – before setting up as a full-time cartoonist in 1996. At first, I concentrated mainly on work for commercial clients such as UBS, Jongleurs, and Anglia TV, and I even originated a line of sculpted, celebrity-caricature garden ornaments, which enjoyed a brief vogue.
In around 2001, I began to focus on political caricature, and cartooned for publications such as The Sunday Telegraph, The Scotsman, The Times Educational Supplement, Time Out, The Sun, and The Daily Mail.
In 2007, Fate pushed me back into the path of John Lloyd, and I produced a cover and wrote/illustrated historical spreads for the QI Annuals. This, coupled with a regular cartoon slot for History Today, set me thinking about the possibilities of popular history, and the The Gin Lane Gazette idea was born.
Opening Q: I know you must get this question often… but I am curious how you arrived at your choice of artistic medium? I also work in inks, though mine tend toward the Edward Gorey spectrum (especially illustrations for the Witchwood of Nob’s End). How did you choose the pen and ink method–and the caricature in particular?
I actually work in a number of media, but for print reproduction – especially with the poor quality paper on which they print newspapers – I don’t think you can beat the graphic punch of pen and ink. In recent years, most British newspapers have asked their political cartoonists to work in colour, but I’m not convinced it adds a great deal. In the 1700s, there was no four-colour reproduction, of course, so it wasn’t an option, and for the Gin Lane Gazette I was trying to recreate that engraved look as closely as possible, so sharp black and white was the only way to go. Caricature has always been an obsession of mine, and I grew up admiring all the great newspaper caricaturists.
1. I earned my PhD in 18th century literature. I was draw to it because it struck me as paradoxically a time of great enlightenment and a bawdy, bar-room brawl (that lasted for 150 years). All the same, most people think of it as a boring time, lacking the panache of the Victorian era. Have you encountered a similar sentiment? In your opinion, where does it come from–and how do you answer it?
Yes, I always think the Georgian period loses out in the popular history stakes to the Victorians. I can’t for the life of me imagine why! There was a great deal less hypocrisy in the 1700s, and people lived life on their own terms. The story I always tell is about Juliana Popjoy, the mistress of Beau Nash, the Master of Ceremonies at Bath. When Nash died in the 1760s, she was so distraught that she went to live for the rest of her days in a hollow tree. Queen Victoria was obviously grief-stricken by the death of Albert, and plunged the nation into decades of mourning, but she didn’t go and live in a tree! You might say that’s a good thing, but you can’t deny the Georgians did everything with a huge amount of panache.
2. Some of my favorite things about the 18th century are the sumptuous and sometimes bizarre fashion trends (for both men and women). I know that you have illustrated some of the more outlandish ladies hairdos (one might almost call them a hair-don’t). Can you tell us a bit about these fashions? Are your renderings exaggerations–or representations of a century’s ostentation?
I don’t think I’ve exaggerated at all, to be honest! Women on their way to balls had to sit on the floors of coaches in the 1770s, because their wigs were so tall. They festooned their own heads with model ships, birds, fake fruit…you name it. The queen banned ostrich feathers from court at one stage, because ladies of the beau monde were all outdoing each other with absurdly tall profusions of them sticking out of their scalps. They were a favourite topic for Georgian caricaturists, and many people considered these fashion victims just as ridiculous as we do today.
3. The 18th century is known for radical change in politics, in medicine, in science. I know the Gazette is largely about the gossip culture surrounding court and salon, but I am curious about how these changes make themselves known in the wild lives of the Georgian rich and famous. (I have an inkling that venereal disease might ‘make itself known’ in one way or another!)
I think the best way to illustrate what I love about the 18th century is to say a little about the Whig politician Charles James Fox. He was descended directly from the party animal King Charles II, and he is the 1700s made flesh, to my way of thinking. He was friends with poets, playwrights, royalty, and courtesans, and actually married a courtesan in secret for love. He was a fat, charming, unshaven, scruffy, gambling, womaniser, who wept openly in parliament when friends felt compelled to speak against him, and he once wrote an essay about farting to win a bet. Politically, I suppose you’d have to call him a failure, and his support for the French Revolution damaged his reputation irreparably, but he was one of those people I referred to who lived life on his own terms. There was a great deal of war in the 1700s, but it was mostly taking place on foreign soil or on the high seas, and the aristocracy wasn’t quite as torn apart by political and religious strife as it had been in the previous century. They had a chance to kick back, and be eccentric and debauched, and have fun in abundance.
4. Speaking of politics and change–do you find that your work as a political cartoonist has influenced your writing of the Gin Lane Gazette?
Yes, I think so. It sharpened my sense of satire, and probably gave me some very useful insights into the way that newspaper people think about public figures, which hasn’t changed much through the centuries. I think Nathaniel Crowquill, the Gazette’s fictional editor, might have turned out quite a boring character if I hadn’t encountered a few cynical, inky-fingered old hacks through the years on which to base him! No names, no lawsuits.
5. Finally, if you were to–say–be transported to this time of excess and opulence, what sort of figure would you cut? Where in the mad world of Gin Lane would we find Adrian Teal? And what might he look like when we did?
I don’t think there’s any doubt in my mind I’d have been a caricaturist. The 18th century was the golden age of caricature, and James Gillray invented the modern political cartoon, I believe. I’d have been a young pretender nipping at his heels, and hopefully enjoying all that the exuberant, bawdy, colourful London of the late 1700s had to offer. As to how I’d look, I think I’d have thrown in my lot with the Whigs, partly because I look great in the Whiggish colours of blue and buff, but mostly for all the newfangled air-ballooning.