Newspaper Comics: Trog’s Rufus and Flook

Trog's Rufus and Flook

Trog's Rufus and FlookTrog's Rufus and FlookToday, I’m posting a complete story by a comic strip artist whose name won’t be familiar to you unless you grew up in England in the 50s and 60s… he went by the name of "Trog". The nickname, short for "Troglodyte", came from his days hunkered down in air raid shelters during WW2. His real name is Wally Fawkes, and he’s one of those artists who has had two equally noteworthy careers- one as a cartoonist and the other as a Jazz musician.

Trog's Rufus and FlookTrog's Rufus and FlookFawkes played clarinet in Humphrey Lyttleton’s jazz band in the 40s and 50s, and was one of the finest Jazz musicians in Britain. But in 1956, he launched a simultaneous career as a cartoonist, which brought him even more fame. “To cartoonists, I was always the one who played jazz. To musicians, I was always the one who drew cartoons.” he once said. But his talent for capturing personality through caricature was his strongest suit. Fellow artist, Nicholas Garland wrote of his political cartoons, "Very few artists can see a likeness the way he can, and catch it so completely. He doesn’t develop a hieroglyph for each politician and then simply reach for it each time it is needed. Every Trog caricature is carefully recrafted." You can see this in the story that follows in this post. Trog doesn’t simply copy the caricatured heads from panel to panel. He’s able to convey the essence of the caricature from a different angle in almost every frame.

Trog's Rufus and Flook

At age 21, Fawkes entered an art contest that was being judged by the Daily Mail cartoonist, Leslie Illingworth. Illingworth was impressed with Fawkes’ work and got the young artist a job at the Daily Mail. Using his nickname, Trog, Fawkes created a comic strip about an imaginary furry creature named "Flook". It became an instant hit and Trog became the toast of the town. At a reception soon after its launch the Daily Mail’s owner, Lady Rothermere asked him, "How is your lovely little furry thing?" Trog replied, "Fine thank you. How is yours?" The cartoonist had to beat a quick retreat after that quip, but admitted that he couldn’t help himself when presented with such a perfect setup.

Trog's Rufus and Flook

Trog worked with several writers on the strip over the years- Compton Mackenzie, George Melly and Humphrey Lyttleton among others- and the direction of the strip evolved from a light hearted fantasy for children to pointed political humor similar to Walt Kelly’s Pogo. But the stories aren’t the reason that Rufus and Flook are so interesting today- it’s the unique drawings.

Trog's Rufus and Flook

When I first ran across this strip, I admit that I really didn’t know what to think about it. The drawings of the main character Flook were dumbfoundingly ignorant. But the incidental characters were wonderfully observed, sharp caricatures of British society at the time. And the backgrounds often included perfectly thought out compositions with impeccable architectural perspective and beautiful stylization of folliage. At first, this sharp contrast between ignorance and genius can be jarring. But after reading a while, the direct, simplistic looseness of the main characters and the planned and observed structure of the rest of the drawings don’t clash because Trog’s stylish sense of fun makes it all work.

Trog's Rufus and FlookTrog's Rufus and FlookRufus and Flook continued in the Daily Mail for 40 years, until Trog’s jabs at Margaret Thatcher earned him the scorn of the paper’s conservative editorial staff. He never took censorship personally though. In 1977, when one of Trog’s political cartoons of Cyril Smith was rejected, and he simply shrugged his shoulders and said, “It’s their paper." After leaving the Daily Mail,Trog moved on to the Mirror and the Sunday Telegraph until his failing eyesight forced him to retire from his art career in 2005 and pick up the clarinet again.

Personally, I think it’s a shame Fawkes isn’t better known in the US. Perhaps the softspoken, rambling British tone of the stories and the topical nature of the satire doesn’t come across at all any more, but those drawings- wow!

Trog's Rufus and Flook

This story from early in the strip’s run comes from an extremely rare paperback compilation, titled simply Flook…

RUFUS & FLOOK in
ROMAN’ IN THE GLOAMIN’

Trog's Rufus and Flook
Trog's Rufus and Flook
Trog's Rufus and Flook
Trog's Rufus and Flook
Trog's Rufus and Flook
Trog's Rufus and Flook
Trog's Rufus and Flook
Trog's Rufus and Flook
Trog's Rufus and Flook
Trog's Rufus and Flook
Trog's Rufus and Flook
Trog's Rufus and Flook
Trog's Rufus and Flook
Trog's Rufus and Flook
Trog's Rufus and Flook
Trog's Rufus and Flook
Trog's Rufus and Flook
Trog's Rufus and Flook
Trog's Rufus and Flook
Trog's Rufus and Flook
Trog's Rufus and Flook
Trog's Rufus and Flook
Trog's Rufus and Flook
Trog's Rufus and Flook
Trog's Rufus and Flook
Trog's Rufus and Flook

Richard Warren has written an interesting article on Flook on his blog. Check it out. Let me know if you would like to see more by Trog in the comments.

Stephen Worth
Director
Animation Resources

Newspaper ComicsNewspaper Comics
This posting is part of the online Encyclopedia of Cartooning under the subject heading, Newspaper Comics.

10 Responses to “Newspaper Comics: Trog’s Rufus and Flook”

  1. Weirdo says:

    These are really cool. I like British cartoonists. I hope somebody sends you books of David Low, Philip Zec, and Carl Giles cartoons. That would be cool.

  2. Rhos says:

    Excellent post – great to see some appreciation for Trog. Please post more, there is remarkably little available to see elsewhere so the more the better. Would recommend anyone picking up the Flook collections if you can find them – some of them are very rare and they can command high prices.

    One thing though, last I heard Wally Fawkes is still alive! There's a picture of him playing live from last year at http://www.thecnj.co.uk/camden/2008/071708/gulliver071708.html if you're interested. If I'm wrong about this, apologies.

  3. sunny kharbanda says:

    Thanks! The drawings are delightful. The shapes on those secondary characters are wildly original – Every page has something fresh to offer.

    Would love to see more.

  4. Hurk says:

    Thanks very much for this! I love Trog but i can't understand why there are no re-prints of this stuff, as he is one of the all-time greats. He should be better known here in the UK than he is.

  5. Peter Bangs says:

    Boy did this bring back memories. I had to visit my grandparents on a daily basis to read Flook because my old man wouldn't have the paper it was in in the house. It was one of the best and most inventive UK strips around in the 1970's.

  6. Karl says:

    Trog was a great cartoonist; one who took the psychedelia of the sixties and just let it flow through to the eighties. What a brilliant cartoon. There have been a few Flook books out there but I know not where. Time to reprint the lot on the net Daily Mail.

    On another point, he, Giles, Urderzo and Schulz were the ones who inspired me to want to become a cartoonist

  7. Joan Gibson says:

    I remember Flook as a child. I had a Flook toy which got lost over the years. I would love to know if anyone has one of these toys that I can buy.

  8. Elle says:

    I have a squeaky toy Flook. I cannot find anything about this anywhere on the internet – it is so cute and I wonder if anyone has any information about it.

  9. Nicholas Morrison says:

    The Rubber Flooks cost 5/- about 1950,5/6 in 1951 and 5/9 in 1952.I had two but the rubber perished and must have been thrown out when I was not looking.Around 1960 hard cardboard versions were sold with Bluebird toffees inside.I have all strips from about 6855 and believe they may now be easy to copy at The British Library but I have not been able to visit again recently to complete the set.If only the strip had been around when Blair and Brown were Prime Ministers.I am always happy to talk to anyone about Flook.

    • Johnny Finn says:

      Flook was my favorite, and I learned from him about the Jabberwocky: “Twas brillig, and the slythy toves…”. Now my son is composing music and he has put Louis Carrol’s poem to music. That reminded me of the Flook scene, when he and Rufus visit a nightclub where a pop group is playing the Jabberwocky song. Do you by any chance have that comic strip, or can remember if it appears in one of the printed collections? I’d love to show it to my son.

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