KEM Lives On at the British Cartoon Archive


Adolf and His Donkey Benito – original artwork

The British Cartoon Archive holds many unique collections from celebrated cartoonists, and one fascinating example is the KEM archive. Many of you will be familiar with the image of Adolf and his Donkey Benito, but just who was KEM?

KEM was born Kimon Evan Marengo in Egypt, the son of a Greek merchant, and grew up in the Greek community of Alexandria, coming to England to pursue studies at Oxford. His studies were interrupted in 1939 by the onset of the Second World War. By this point he had already been published in many international newspapers, including the New York Times and the Daily Telegraph, and he joined the Ministry of Defence where he worked on propaganda for the Middle East. He also spent sometime working as a war correspondent.


Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill

As a product of a Middle Eastern community, his work is often quite different to that of other cartoonists of the time. He did plenty of traditional war propaganda, cartoons involving Hitler, Mussolini and Churchill, but some of the treasures in the KEM collection come in the form of his Middle Eastern propaganda. These brightly coloured pamphlets are a unique look at propaganda during the Second World War.


…and Hitler in some discomfort



One of my earliest discoveries working with the KEM archive was that of a double sided pin cushion, complete with needles and pins still inserted, of Mussolini and Hitler. Such a small item says a huge amount about attitudes towards the enemy, and whilst it certainly has a comical element, the purpose is a serious one: keeping up morale by making two dangerous men into figures of comedy and ridicule.


Beautiful artwork with a Middle Eastern flavour

Also contained in the archive is a near complete collection of all of KEM’s Christmas cards, and many of the printers blocks used to create them. These Christmas cards would hardly be considered to display traditional seasonal imagery as they are heavily politicised, and those that date from the Second World War also work as propaganda, ridiculing the enemy.


Original artwork for Southern Railways


Snobby the Dachshund’s Adventure at Sea

A large section of the collection is taken up by original artworks, for his Christmas cards, his political cartoons, and even for a couple of posters advertising the Southern Railway. All the cartoon artwork was given an accession number by KEM and carefully recorded in the ‘Rochester Books’ – giving exact dates for when he produced the artwork, rather than the dates that they first appeared in print.

One of my favourite selections of KEM’s work however is his cartoon strips of Snobby the dachshund, who can be seen here rescuing his owner at sea by turning himself into a mast for their raft.

Explore the KEM archive, and many more, on the British Cartoon Archive website.


Adventures of an Amateur Archivist

Mmmmm. Cake.

Mmmmm. Cake. (Edsel Little – Flicka)

I didn’t grow up wanting to be an archivist. My one clear ambition, around the age of eight, was to be a baker in the morning and an author in the afternoon. When it came to choosing a degree I was fairly lost, after all who really knows what they want to do when they’re seventeen. I decided to do Classical and Archaeological studies, like most people simply because I liked the subject at school, and chose the University of Kent as I knew Canterbury well and found the course contained many uniquely interesting modules.

The idea of becoming an archivist came to me about halfway through my second year at Kent. I have always been fascinated by history, even as a young child, but struggled working out how to use it in my career. I couldn’t be a history teacher, neither could I see myself as a lecturer in history – I was terrified of speaking to groups of people. I couldn’t picture myself as a career historian. Despite archaeology being part of my degree title, I followed more of an Ancient History pathway, deciding archaeology was not the right fit for me.

Bizarrely I think a large influence was the BBC’s ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ I have always primarily been more interested in social and religious history than any other sphere, and I think the initial idea I had was to become a genealogist, but WDYTYA showed me archives could hold a wealth of hugely interesting and varied material, and to be working with that material, and maybe even be in charge of what happens to it, is what pulled me towards the career. I also hold a firm belief that anything of historical value should be preserved and made available for anyone who wants to see it.

So, after a couple of years of job hunting, and a year stint as a casual and Saturday girl at my local council libraries, I managed to get a job as a Metadata Assistant at my old university. I hadn’t expected to return to Kent, but I was exceedingly happy to do so. I viewed this job as more or less perfect in terms of transitioning between libraries and archives, the wealth of experience I would gain, and the direction I wanted to be going in. Needless to say I could hardly believe my luck.

My co-workers of happiness (and me)

My co-workers of happiness (and me)

My first task was to conquer cataloguing. I had no previous experience and so have learnt everything from scratch. Initially I was focussed on regular academic books, and then I was introduced to Special Collections book cataloguing. Initially the experience was incredibly confusing. The empty catalogue record looked to me a little like a small Excel spreadsheet with a list of, (then meaningless), numbers at the side. Now it makes perfect sense to me, but at the time I found it challenging.

7cm tall Merchant of Venice I catalogued from the Reading Rayner Collection

7cm tall Merchant of Venice I catalogued from the Reading Rayner Collection

Later I was moved on to cataloguing for the British Cartoon Archive (BCA), which doesn’t just involve books. My principle duty is cataloguing modern political cartoons from the daily newspapers. This uses a different program to book cataloguing, so, just as I was adjusting to the first program, I was given another, totally different, one to master. Cartoon cataloguing is definitely a skill that improves with practice. The point is to enter search terms in the record that describe the cartoon, but working out what is going on in any given cartoon isn’t always straightforward. What I struggled with most was approaching this with little diverse political knowledge. I had no idea who most of the people in the cartoons even were. Now I can recognise caricatures of people, despite not knowing what they look like in reality.

A hugely important collection within the BCA is that of Carl Giles, and as part of this we have stacks of blank Christmas cards, designed by him. My first non-cataloguing job was to count these, and put them in boxes. The novelty soon wore off. Unsurprising when you consider I counted over thirteen thousand of these. However I did eventually get through them, and the sense of triumph when they were done was palpable. My work at the BCA has become more diverse, although boxes continue to play a remarkably large part in my life.

Many many Giles annuals (without attendant boxes)

Many many Giles annuals (without attendant boxes)

A few months into my work at Kent the BCA received a new and highly significant collection of the political cartoonist Leon Kuhn. He was an anti-war cartoonist, who campaigned alongside George Galloway’s party Respect in the 2005 general election. His work, I have learned, is unique, hard hitting, and often fairly disturbing. It is also large. I was given the task of unrolling and relocating his political posters, many of which were taller than my five feet two inches. I appreciate that for a human five foot two is not especially tall, but for rolls of paper it is pretty big, not to mention unwieldy. I also had to relocate the rest of the collection, including boxes of campaign leaflets, photos and books. I did enjoy this work, especially as it was my first real opportunity to see some of the collections, but I felt a little like a removals lady.

The work that I am proudest of taking on is of a more social nature. I have always struggled to talk to people, be they in groups, or just one person I don’t know particularly well. I often find my nerves get the better of me to the point of panic attacks. So when I was asked if I wanted to supervise volunteers in a rare book cleaning project and help out in seminars run for students using Special Collections and Archives material, my first response, both times, was panic and a distinct sense of ‘no way,’ after all I had only been in the job three months, surely there was no way I was prepared for this. I ignored my brain screaming wordlessly at me, and agreed to give both a go.

The volunteering was the easier of the two to deal with. Initially I only had one volunteer to supervise cleaning rare books in preparation for our move to the Templeman extension next year, and I was lucky that she was a happy, friendly and chatty sort of person. It went a lot better than I anticipated and I actually enjoyed doing it, which is what surprised me the most. This project has allowed my confidence to grow substantially.

Before and after - volunteer cleaning

Before and after – volunteer cleaning

The seminars were harder. There would be a group of students who would all be listening to, and for the most part looking at, me whilst I gave a run down on what Special Collections and Archives was, how to order items and how to use the material we had out in the seminar. I was shaking at the time, but I overcame my nerves, and found presenting became easier with each seminar. This came with a great sense of achievement, as I overcame my initial concerns.

I think it’s easy to say the most interesting thing that has occurred in my brief time here was the Reading Room leak. I came in on a Monday morning to be informed it was basically raining in the reading room. Over the course of the day tiles fell off the ceiling and the carpet was soaked through, however all staff pulled together to ensure there was no major damage to any collection items. Throughout the day, and over the course of the next couple of days, I helped various other staff members remove items from the room, such as reference books, old playbills from our theatre collections, and the Indonesian shaman’s staff. (You get some weird looks when you carry that through the library and into a lift). Basically the entire of that week was a little frantic. I regularly had to leave my usual work to go and help deal with the disaster. I spent a lot of time scurrying around the building, and found I was exhausted at the end of it. But oddly I almost enjoyed the experience. Especially after we managed to save everything.

My colleague Josie in the leaking reading room

My colleague Josie in the leaking reading room

My experience has been invaluable. I have huge variety in the work I do, with ample opportunity to push myself further. I have a much clearer idea of the work archivists do, and most importantly for me I have confirmed to myself that this is the area in which I want to work. I absolutely love the work I do, although that may not always come across. Even tasks that I didn’t necessarily find easy are an important experience, and I think it’s good for archivists to be involved in their collections with work at every level. My experience of working with a variety of collections, in a variety of functions has prepared me to commit to a postgraduate course in archive management. I work in the happy knowledge that I am incredibly lucky to be working here. It took me two years following graduation to get a full time job, but now I know that it was worth the wait, and I am unbelievably happy to be back at Kent.

Rachel Dickinson

Thou shall not leak!!

Thou shall not leak!!

Victorians, assassinations and monsters

Here we are at the end of the first week of term – and would you believe, it’s almost exactly a month since Christmas. With so much of January behind us already, we’re looking forward to the rest of the year and I’d like to take the opportunity just to mention some of the excitement we’ve got to come in the next few months.


Playbill from Theatre Royal, Hull, 1850

On Monday, we had our first taught session with the Victorian and Edwardian Theatre students in the reading room. It’s always great to get to meet and talk to researchers, as well as providing materials to inspire them and help them with their discoveries. One of the great things about this module is that each time we’ve run it, all of the second year Drama students are swept up with enthusiasm for the materials and being able to use them in creative ways to explore a topic of their choice. Of course, we’re in the early days so far and tutors Ken Pickering and Mark Woolgar still have plenty of sessions left – covering topics as diverse as pantomime, Henry Irving and votes for women. We’re very much looking forward to getting to know the students and to support their work which leads to a public exhibition in April.

If you’d like to learn more about this module, or see examples of past exhibitions by students of this course, take a look at our Exhibition pages on the website. If you’re interested in setting up teaching opportunities with the collections, please do get in touch with us.

While we’re on the topic of exhibitions, we have a brand new exhibition in the Gallery this term. ‘The Bullet is Stronger than the Ballot‘ is built around the unique holdings on the British Cartoon Archive, and explores the theme of political assassination. This ties in with the Beaney’s season on the theme which features Manet’s ‘The Execution of Maximilian’ and John Opie’s eighteenth century painting, ‘The Murder of Thomas Becket’. More information about our exhibition, which will run until 2 March, is available on our website as well.

The Devil rides again...come and discover the monsters hidden in the library

The Devil rides again! Discover monsters hidden in the library

If you’re more interested in some mystery and the odd spine-chilling tale, the second lecture in our annual series could be the event for you! Monsters in the Library: M. R. James and bestiaries at Canterbury Cathedral will be presented by Diane Heath, who is an assistant lecturer in History at the University of Kent and also teaches at Canterbury Christ Church University. She will be telling us about her research into mythical monsters and beasts in the Cathedral’s collections, drawn together through the work of scholar and author Montague Rhodes James. I have been told that we may discover, as part of this lecture, the medieval methods for finding unicorns. In any case, it will be an intriguing evening which we hope will not result in any nightmares!

The talk will take place at the AV Theatre, Cathedral Lodge, in the Cathedral Precincts at 6.30 on Wednesday 12 Febuary, with refreshments from 6pm.

And that’s all we have time for this week, although I’m sure I’ll be updating you about all kinds of exciting and interesting aspects of our collections in the next months. I hope that we’ll see you at some of these events, and please do let us know what you think of them!

An unforgettable year: 2014

A very happy new year; on behalf of the Special Collections & Archives, I’d like to wish you a successful, peaceful and happy 2014. We finished 2013 in celebratory style, with two book launches for the ever talented students of Simon Smith’s The Book Project module, and a festive get together for our volunteers. Now back at the Templeman Library, we’re getting back into the flow of things, with the reading room back to our normal opening hours, ahead of the start of term on 20 January.

And what a term it’s likely to be! To start with, we have our first exhibition of 2014 opening in just a week’s time, on Friday 17 January. ‘The Bullet is Stronger than the Ballot‘ will explore cartoons of political assassinations, in collaboration with The Beaney, who are 15884 croppedhosting Manet’s ‘The Execution of Maximilian’, as part of a season looking at political assassination, as far back as Thomas Becket. Drawing on a wide range of cartoonists’ work since the Second World War, ‘The Bullet is Stronger than the Ballot’ will be on display in the Templeman Gallery until the end of February. Dr. Nick Hiley, Head of Special Collections and Curator of the British Cartoon Archive, will be giving a talk about British cartoonists and political assasinations at the Beaney on Thursday 20 February.

Exhibition launch 2013We’ll also be heavily involved in teaching this term, particularly with the Drama department, whose ‘Victorian and Edwardian Theatre‘ module has become a huge success. This involves intensive teaching in Special Collections, encouraging students to analyse the rare and unique performance materials we hold, and culminates in an exhibition curated by the students in the Templeman Gallery in April. I’m sure I will be blogging much more about that as we get closer to the time.

With the Templeman Development Project now well under way (foundations and ground floor level now visible), we’re starting to see our planned changes coming into effect. The first impact is going to be the closure of the Templeman Gallery space in the summer of 2014. This means that our final major exhibition, for the time being, will also be our first public presentation of the Kingsley Wood papers, in May 2014. The exhibition will open with the launch of historian Hugh Gault’s new book Kingsley Wood: Making the Heavens Hum. We can’t wait to see the results of all Hugh’s hard work, and many hours spent poring over cuttings in the reading room!

Section of Kingsley Wood's election poster for 1918.

Section of Kingsley Wood’s election poster for 1918

In addition, we still have two talks to come in this year’s Special Collections & Cathedral Library Lecture series – in February, Diane Heath will be telling us all about the monsters and beasts in medieval books, followed by Olly Double guiding us through the giggles of popular comedy, from music hall to standup in June.

Of course, we’ll also be doing all of our normal work cataloguing, processing and caring for collections, helping you with enquiries and research and in particular preparing for the University’s 50th anniversary celebrations next year. And that’s not to mention the start of the 4 year World War One centenary commemorations, or the exciting prospect of watching the Templeman extension – and the new Special Collections basement, offices and research and teaching space – take shape.

All in all, I think it’s going to be a very exciting and busy year!

A flurry of events

Hot on the heels of my last post, announcing the short-term DocExplore exhibition and Harry Bloom Centenary display, we have some more exciting events to tell you about.

National Theatre display

National Theatre display (Templeman foyer)

Firstly, our third exhibition of the month, which joins in with the National Theatre’s 50th anniversary celebrations, is now on show. This small exhibition takes pride of place in the Templeman Library’s foyer, and contains gems from our collections which span the National’s life. Some of the highlights include the programme for the first production staged at the National, Hamlet, with Laurence Olivier as director, Chekov’s The Seagull, starring Judy Dench and Bill Nighy and materials relating to one of the National’s biggest successes, The History Boys. Do take a look if you get the chance, and tweet your thoughts to @UoKSpecialColls, using the hashtag #nt50.

Finding the funny posterI’m also delighted to announce that the new series of Special Collections & Archives and Cathedral Library lectures, will be opened by Pip Gregory on 26 November. Pip is in her second year of a PhD with the School of History, and is making intensive use of the British Cartoon Archive to examine humour in British and German cartoons of the First World War. On Tuesday 26, she will be sharing some of her discoveries and the challenges of studying humour when it comes to the First World War, in her talk: ‘Finding the Funny: humour in First World War cartoons’. There will be refreshments available from TR201 in the library from 5.30, with the talk starting at 6. The event will finish by 7.15, and we do hope to see you there.

Next on our radar is a celebration of pantomime, but I’ll let you know more about that as it occurs.