Saturday, 28 January 2012
Tom & Jerry - The Prequel
I promised some people on Twitter I'd write a little something about this almost forgotten part of cartoon history...
As a British cartoonist, I'm delighted to say that the original 'Tom and Jerry' were a British cartoon creation of the 1820s. The sports writer Pierce Egan (he wrote a history of pugilism called 'Boxiana') penned a hugely popular book entitled Life in London, which featured the adventures of two fictional young 'swells' named Corinthian Tom and Jerry Hawthorne, and it was illustrated with 36 brilliant aquatints by the caricaturist brothers George and Robert Cruikshank. It was issued in 12 parts, and each issue cost a not inconsiderable 2s 6d.
Tom and Jerry seek out 'sprees' in every conceivable setting in Regency London, and make no distinction between the pleasures afforded by the lowest gin shop or slum, and the more highbrow theatrical entertainments in Drury Lane or the classical antiquities displayed in the British Museum. Boxing, cockfights, brothels, Tattersall's, Westminster Abbey...it was all part of the rich tapestry of life, as far as our two heroes and their confedeartes were concerned. As long as the people with whom they associated were 'liberal', convivial men and women of spirit, they attached no importance to their social status. The very antithesis of pernickety, stand-offish Dandies, Tom and Jerry were men who sought out variety, and were at ease crossing social boundaries.
By the Victorian period, their exploits had become an embarrassing reminder of how dissolute were the lives of the previous generation, and the book fell out of favour. To someone researching the Georgian period, however, it could not be a more useful window into the last gasp of Georgian panache, open-mindedness and debauchery.