David Low

David Low

1891-1963    |    Cartoonist

David Low became known as the dominant cartoonist of the western world. His bold and simple cartooning style was in direct descent from Phil May but he pioneered the use of a free-flowing brush, rather than pen, and was imitated by generations of newspaper artists. He sold his first cartoon when he was 11, joined The Bulletin in 1911 and was lured to The Star in London in 1919. He later moved to Lord Beaverbrook’s Evening Standard where his work was syndicated worldwide. His ridicule infuriated Adolf Hitler who demanded the British government stop him and when this failed he was placed high on the Nazi’s post-invasion death list.

Low lived and breathed politics. Self-taught and a great draughtsman, he combined economy of line with powerful use of dramatic but balanced blacks that gave his work gravitas.



David Low


Not since the days of James Gilray and Thomas Nast had a cartoonist had as much political pull as David Low. Born in New Zealand in 1891, he was the most influential cartoonist of the last century.

Low lived and breathed politics. Self-taught and a great draughtsman, he combined economy of line with powerful use of dramatic but balanced blacks that gave his work gravitas. His New Zealand and Australian experience made him see British and European politics through fresh and objective eyes and, according to some, Low was number two after Churchill on Hitler’s post-war death list.

First published in the Christchurch Spectator at the age of 11, by 20 he was working in Australia for The Bulletin (1911). The magazine was radical, republican and mostly anti-British. Low was later to say, “I thank God I served my apprenticeship in such a school.” He decided to walk from Melbourne to Sydney to meet Australians along the way. This experience ended up in his first book.

With the outbreak of World War I, Low soon locked horns with Prime Minister Billy Hughes who tried unsuccessfully to get his work censored and Low conscripted into the army. Low went after Hughes relentlessly. In March 1916 he did a cartoon called “The Imperial Conference” which made Low famous. This led to Low’s second book The Billy Book which showed Hughes’ adventures in Europe. It sold 60,000 copies. Extremely ambitious, Low sent 50 copies to papers in England and one published a cartoon which prompted Arnold Bennett to write, “If the Press Lords of this country had any genuine imagination they would immediately begin to compete for the service of the cartoonist and get him to London on the next steamer.”

In 1919 Low emigrated to England and took a job with the evening paper The Star, where he would remain until 1927. Landing on his feet, Low soon turned Lloyd Georges’ Coalition Party into a two headed donkey - a perfect symbol to lampoon the Government. Some of his cartoons were used as posters for the Liberal Party in the 1922 election. In 1927 Lord Beaverbrook, who had been a target of much at Low’s work, incredibly gave him a job with complete freedom to draw and say what he wanted. Low knew that Beaverbrook’s Evening Standard had a smaller circulation than The Star but he also knew it was syndicated to more than 170 overseas papers. This gave him unprecedented reach and influence into world politics.

Low waged an almost personal vendetta against fascists such as Franco, Mussolini and Hitler. His first anti-Hitler cartoon appeared as early as September 1930. His cartoons were banned in Germany and Italy after 1933. Low’s cartoons so upset Hitler during the appeasement period that British Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax was asked by Germany to try to get Low to tone them down.

At home, Low was condemned by some as a war monger because of his attacks on British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s policies. Low’s sense of where history was going proved accurate and his predictions about Hitler came true. Anthony Blunt summed up the cartoonist’s talent when he said Low could “see beyond the end of his political nose”.

In December 1942 Low published a cartoon about Jewish extermination camps. At the end of the war Low went to the Nuremberg war crimes trials as an official artist. His most famous cartoon was “Rendezvous” where Hitler and Stalin meet over the dead body of Poland.

Russian cartoonists regarded him as the best cartoonist in the world and, according to Churchill, Stalin had a Low on the wall in his office. Freud also was a fan, saying in a letter to Low. “A Jewish refugee from Vienna, a very old man, personally unknown to you, cannot resist the impulse to tell you how much he admires your glorious art and your inexorable, unfailing criticism.”

Low wrote extensively on all aspects of cartooning and its history. He wrote about his own work, “Every cartoon is like a puzzle, a kind of plot to ensure that the eye of the viewer is drawn first to one point, then to another in a regular sequence up to a climax when the full idea is brought out. The success of the cartoon depends upon the viewer unconsciously picking up those points in the right sequence.” He also said, “It takes three days to do a cartoon, two days to draw it and one to cut it down to its essentials.”

Thirty collections of Low’s work were published between 1908 and 1960. In 1953 he moved to the Manchester Guardian. He was knighted in 1962 and died a year later. His autobiography is still a great foundation for anyone thinking of being a political cartoonist in spite of all the changes brought by technology.

He gave birth to such cartoon icons as Colonel Blimp, the Trade Union Council Draughthorse (see George Orwell’s Animal Farm) the World Citizen, John Bull, The Two-Headed Coalition Donkey, The Common Man and Himself.

Low’s legacy was 14,000 drawings during a 50-year career, syndicated world-wide to more than 200 newspapers and magazines – a body of work that influenced the course of history. He was a colossus of world cartooning.

Jim Bridges is the President and Founder of the Australian Cartoon Museum, Inc. It started when he got a job as a cleaner taking newspapers off planes at Ansett Airlines. The museum now has an archive of more than three million cartoons.

Further reading


Low’s Autobiography, David Low, Michael Joseph, 1956.


Years of Wrath: A Cartoon History 1931-45, David Low, Simon and Schuster, 1946.


David Low, Colin Seymour-Ure and Kim Schoff, Secker and Warburg, 1985.


Low and the Dictators, Timothy S. Benson, The Political Cartoon Society, 2008.