Comic Strip: If...

Capitalism explained by penguins and lesser seabirds

Steve Bell's If... is a daily cartoon strip which has run in the Guardian since early 1982. Born as an intentionally subversive comment on The Falklands War and initially starring a mutinous sailor called Kipling and the Falklands penguin he befriends during the war, the strip has gone from strength to strength over its very nearly thirty years and shows no sign of flagging.

Left-wing in concept and intention, the If strip has consistently and regularly provided cheer to those despairing that Thatcherism would ever end, and has provided satirical ammunition against every British prime minister ever since. Thatcher herself, the "Iron Lady", became a soul-less robot with very obvious riveting. Her successor John Major became a barely functioning wimp wearing his underpants on the outside, Tony Blair is depicted as a bulging-eyed lunatic with control freakery issues, and the current prime minister David Cameron is a giant inflated shiny condom full of hot air.

And through it all, there are penguins...

If you are searching for the equally seditious and anti-Establishment film about a British boarding school rebel starring Malcolm McDowell, go here.

Tropes featured include:

  • Dirty Cop: Metropolitan (London) copper Inspector Hardnose, whose face is deliberately drawn to look like an arse.
  • Donut Mess with a Cop; the London coppers, when not beating up strikers and ethnic minorities or on the take for bribes, are seen spending their down-time stuffing their faces with chips.
  • The Falkland Islands: The source of the penguins.
  • Funetik Aksent: The strip is full of these. American televangelists cry Prize the Lard!, and a recurring character, an avant-guard French artist, calls those who cannot see his artistic vision a bunch of ouanquéres!
  • Iron Lady: Margaret Thatcher, literally so: a soul-less robot riveted together and, like iron, prone to very obvious rusting as her cracks began to show.
  • My Country Tis of Thee That I Sting: Bell's cartoons are this for Great Britain and its political elite.
  • Riches to Rags: One story arc saw Margaret Thatcher reduced to instant poverty, a woman with no connections or resources, married to a useless unemployable drunk and mother of a spoilt bratty son (Mark) who did not take well to penury. She is seen enduring the results of her own policies, dealing with obstructive and unhelpful bureaucrats, attempting to draw social security, and generally living a nightmare.
  • Toothy Bird: The penguins have teeth.
  • The Troubles: The London police are depicted as embodying every anti-Irish prejudice. As Hardnose the chief policeman explains they are ignorant primitives living only on potatoes, he fails to notice two bovine coppers behind him who are stuffing their faces with chips. As he explains the Irish are tribal and prone to violence because it's in their natures, another two coppers are bludgeoning a black suspect...