The late style of the graphic novelist is both enticingly accessible and disturbingly perceptiveby Jane Shilling / December 7, 2018 / Leave a comment
As a small child, the artist and author Posy Simmonds used to sit under the table with a book and, hidden by the long tablecloth, listen enthralled to the grown-up conversations going on above her head: “I was aware of an adult world where things seemed to go terribly wrong and awful things happened.” Almost seven decades later she is still recording an adult world where things go terribly wrong, in pictorial narratives in which satire is mixed with vivid curiosity and an inexhaustible relish for the strangeness of everyday life.
For Simmonds, words and drawing went together from the very beginning. She was born in 1945, the middle child of five, and grew up on her parents’ dairy farm in Cookham, Berkshire, where she learned to read by leafing through the cartoons in old bound volumes of Punchmagazine: “It was always completely normal that drawings would have words attached.” She developed an early interest in drawing, and she and a friend once hid behind a tombstone in Cookham churchyard to watch the local artist Stanley Spencer at work: “Eventually he gave us some sweets to go away.”
After school, Simmonds spent a year at the Sorbonne in Paris, then studied graphic design at the Central School of Arts and Design in London (now Central St Martin’s), where she met her husband, the graphic designer Richard Hollis. The cartoonist Mel Calman, who had been impressed by her degree show, put some newspaper work her way and introduced her to the Guardian journalist Jill Tweedie, whose lodger she became.
Simmonds worked as an illustrator for the Guardian, and in 1977 the then editor, Peter Preston, asked her to create a cartoon strip for the women’s page. After a hesitant start (“I created a lot of characters, but I didn’t really know who they were”), the Webers sprang into being: a staunchly liberal couple struggling to combine left-wing idealism with the quotidian reality of nits, disappointing holiday cottages, waning libido and the horror of having a conversation about contraception with their sneering teenage daughter.
“As I drew them I thought I knew them,” Simmonds said in 2010. “George was teaching at a polytechnic but he wished he was at Cambridge. Wendy was one of those women you see on holiday…