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Extracts from Brace Yourself Bridge It! A Guide to Irish Political Relationships, 1996-1998 by Martyn Turner

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Text and Cartoons: Martyn Turner... Page Compiled: Fionnuala McKenna

The following extracts have been contributed by the author Martyn Turner with the permission of The Blackstaff Press Limited. The views expressed in this section do not necessarily reflect the views of the members of the CAIN Project. The CAIN Project would welcome other material which meets our guidelines for contributions.

These extracts are taken from the book:

A Guide to Irish Political Relationships, 1996-1998

by Martyn Turner (1998)
ISBN 0 85640 639 2 Paperback 122pp

Published by The Blackstaff Press Limited
in association with The Irish Times Books. {external_link}

Orders to:

Local Bookshops or:
Blackstaff Press
Blackstaff House
Wildflower Way
Apollo Road
BT12 6TA

T: 028 9066 8074
F: 028 9066 8207

These extracts are copyright Martyn Turner 1998 and are included on the CAIN site by permission of the author and the publishers. You may not edit, adapt, or redistribute changed versions of this for other than your personal use without the express written permission of the author or the publisher, The Blackstaff Press Limited. Redistribution for commercial purposes is not permitted.


1996 Cartoons:
Page 20
Page 21
Page 23
1997 Cartoons:
Page 38
Page 56
1998 Cartoons:
Page 100
Page 112
Page 113


A friend in New England who followed agriculture rather than the arts once explained to me that sculpture was fairly easy. If, for example, you were doing a statue like Michelangelo's David, all you had to do was to get a big block of stone and then chip away everything that didn't look like Dave. There was no arguing the point, especially since he was right, but I allowed that you had to know in advance which were the right chips of stone and which weren't. It was a matter of vision. Not unlike cartooning.

You start with a piece of intimidatingly blank paper. You want to produce something evocative, instructive, infuriating or funny. It's there somewhere. Pencils are helpful because they are so soft and forgiving. They smudge easily and are erasable. You dither around trying to find the thing you think you see in the blinding whiteness of the paper. But the pencil sketch does not tell everything. Its co-operative nature is unreliable and fuzzy. You may think the drawing has said something when it has only hinted at it. The ink is the test, applied with a steel nib, sharp and uncompromising like a scalpel. Or with a brush, capable of either a supremely clever line or an embarrassing blob. There are clever blobs but they are rare.

I like the comparison to sculpture, since the absolutism of black ink and white paper is like that between stone and air. The task in cartooning is to fool the eye, to make it see mottled flesh and slicked down hair and other real things like surging water and searing fire. All with the most reductive graphic elements. Masterful sculpture stands up to

centuries of weather and abuse, rape and pillage. Masterful cartoon artwork stands up to the brutalities of newspaper printing, endless xeroxing and the blocky reformulations of the Internet. How do you arrange the squiggles and lines so people think they've seen a real thing, and then make them laugh at it or shudder in anticipation? It's a heartbreak when it fails, but a delight when it works.

All of this is in Martyn Turner's work. But the delight in Martyn's ideas is his willingness to arrange his artwork around a subtle point. This takes some bravery and most people in this field don't try it, since the low belly laugh is more reliable. Trying to talk an editor into playing to nuance rather than bombast is a hard sell. What I most like is the way all Martyn's politicians, Irish and otherwise, look out of the page with the same expression they must have when they wake up in the morning and first behold their faces in the mirror. This is mild hell for all mankind, but worse for politicians and partisans trying to square the evasions of yesterday and the tergiversations yet to come. Martyn is best at catching the uncomfortable moment when the guy is caught, when today's pronouncement begins 'um. . . er. . . you see...' . Which is what I mean about the vision behind the little ink lines. You can read in those faces the unsureness, the anticipation for whether or not the lie will fly. Of course it's just a few lines scratched on paper, but it must be more. After all, it does make some of them very angry. And the rest of us pleased.


Jeff Danziger's political cartoons are distributed by the Los Angeles Times syndicate.


I was going to call this book 'The Bridges of Thirty-Two Counties' starring Meryl Streep as Mary McAleese and Clint Eastwood as, well, I couldn't think of anyone for Clint to play, so that was the end of that. Then there was 'Bridge Work', which involved drawing a lot of people with gleaming teeth and there aren't too many gleaming smiles in the Irish political establishment. No go there, then. So it became 'Brace Yourself, Bridge It'. Heaven knows what that means. If you're not sure, ask your mother.

For thirty years I've been hanging round this gaff, drawing these pictures, waiting for a chance to do something different. I'd like to do a political cartoon on Northern Ireland. Not a sectarian cartoon, not a tribal cartoon, not a violence cartoon, not a historical cartoon, nor a 'cultural' cartoon. I'd like to do a political cartoon. Something about politics:

the redistribution of wealth, the health service, dustbin collections, left wing/right wing sort of things. The stuff political life is supposed to be about. But you won't find any like that on Northern Ireland in this collection of cartoons, I'm afraid. But maybe, just maybe, in the next collection, if there is one, a few years down the line when the Assembly is assembled, the First Minister is ministering and the Cross Border bodies are very cross indeed.

With luck and universal good will . . . no, sorry, this is Northern Ireland I'm writing about. . . with luck, Nor'n Ir'n will develop a political life just like we have down here in the Republic where I happily live. (I happily lived in the North too, in case you were wondering.) This involves setting up numerous tribunals to look into beef fiddles, alleged planning irregularities, payments to politicians, offshore accounts, financial scams, tax scams, and any other scams you can think of. And these tribunals have proved to be an efficient way to redistribute wealth -taking it from the benighted taxpayer and putting it straight into the wallets of barristers and solicitors. It may not be moral, it may not be seemly, but few people get killed, hardly anyone gets burnt out of their home. In fact it remains infinitely entertaining, which, as everyone knows, is the main function of politics these days.

Furthermore, down here our political parties are bent on merging -Labour with Democratic Left, the PDs with Fianna Fáil. Strangely the two conservative populist parties, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, have no plans to unite despite their adherence to pretty much the same policies

whenever they are in government. It is too soon after the Civil War of almost 80 years ago for such things to be considered. The different sides still remember. The warring sides still stay apart. So take heart Northern Ireland - based on the statistic that one year of civil warfare equals 80 years of political antagonism, the reconciliation of the two sides after

25 years of Troubles cannot be expected to happen for at least 80 times 25 years which is, er, 2,000 years. And a lot can happen in 2,000 years. Look at the last 2,000 years, for example.

It's 2,000 years since the birthday of You Know Who - our excuse for having the millennium - and his laudable, but second-hand, ideas of peace, love, charity, forgiveness, turn-the-other-cheekness, internationalism, intertribalism, brotherhood, sisterhood, and reconciliation. Well, they seemed like good ideas at the time.

Instead of all those virtues we got religion. 'Imagine: as someone once wrote, 'there's no heaven, and no religion too.' Imagine. No religion. What sort of world would we have had in this neck of the woods? No Crusades. Imagine. No Inquisition, no Henry viii, no Reformation, no Cromwell, no Sixteen Ninety, no Ascendancy, no Penal Laws, no pogroms, no anti-semitism, no Nineteen Sixteen, no Protestant priests rabble-rousing their supporters and then disowning the violence they roused, no Catholic priests blessing the Lads before they went out on missions, no Bloody Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday, no Drumcree, no bans on divorce and contraception in the Republic of Ireland, no segregated education, no farcical, absurd, artificially created cultural differences between people, no need to build bridges, no need for political cartoonists. No cartoons to put in this book. No book. No present to give someone for Christmas. Well, actually, no Christmas. Happy Christmas.


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