Friday, May 24, 2013

Mr. Punch" in the Arts: "Punch Hanging the Devil," 1841

Image From Punch Magazine.

Throughout Mr. Punch’s English evolution, he increasingly began to represent the voice of the people and became a tool by which satirical commentary could be proffered without fear of retribution. In 1841, Henry Mayhew and engraver Ebenezer Landells founded Punch Magazine—taking the name from the popular puppet as well as a personal pun that they shared with their contributor, Mark Lemon, “Punch is nothing without Lemon.”

Punch Magazine gave rise to a new style of parody and political commentary and is credited as being the first publication to refer to a comic drawing as a “cartoon.” A conservative magazine, Punch offered sophisticated humor without the threat of vulgarity, and was soon welcomed into the finest drawing rooms and clubs. The magazine grew in popularity until the 1940’s. Soon, its readership slowly declined. The magazine closed in 1992. Mohammed Al-Fayed’s 1996 remake of Punch Magazine was a dismal failure.

Image From Punch Magazine.
Still, many copies of Punch remain today and offer us a glimpse at the art, politics and humor of one hundred and fifty years of British history. I’m particularly fond of the magazine’s first cover. The engraving by Landelis depicts Mr. Punch triumphantly hanging the Devil (a favorite pastime of his). The wild look of glee on Mr. Punch’s face just makes me smile.

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