Cartoonists are visual poets. They speak volumes with an economy of expression. It hasn't always been like this. Nineteenth-century cartoons, à la Punch, tended to be illustrations to lengthy jokes, captioned beneath.
Henry Mayo Bateman (1887-1970) helped change all that and the exhibition that's just opened at The Cartoon Museum goes a fair way to proving their claim that he was "the first modern master of twentieth-century cartooning".
I've been familiar with Bateman for many years - especially his painfully observed strip "It's All in the Game", of a cricketer self-importantly arranging his wicket only to be bowled out (and over) on his very first ball.
Husband knew nothing about Bateman, and was bowled over himself, when we visited the museum last week. Bateman has an acute feel for society's mores and characters.
This is hardly surprising. As the exhibition notes, gardening took off in the 1930s. C H Middleton began his gardening talks on the BBC in 1931 and, in 1934, went on to broadcast every Sunday afternoon in In Your Garden. New homes were being built across the country, and their new gardens were, as one garden writer is reported as saying, making "gardening Man's chief hobby".
Bateman looks at gardeners with a keen eye. Most prefer his later, satirical work, but John Jensen, who is presenting one of the museum's talks on Bateman, loves the beauty and subtlety (and, I would say, affection, looking at his Croydon - The Garden, from his series Life in Our Suburbs, 1912 pictured) of his early drawings.
There's only a handful of pictures that concentrate on gardening or, I should say, gardeners - as Bateman's cartoons are all about character. He drew people as they felt, rather than as they appeared, and I think we can all sympathise with the weary guest in Round (and Round!) the Garden (pictured).
For the most part, Bateman depicted subjects from suburbia, work, the theatre, politics, society and Tom Krippen, at The Comics Journal, suggests that he might just have created the world's greatest cartoon in The One-Note Man, which even inspired a scene in Hitchcock's 1934 version of The Man Who Knew Too Much.
With around 120 pictures on view, the gardening cartoons form only a tiny part, but are the icing on the cake in what is a superbly enjoyable exhibition.
All images: © H M Bateman Designs. With thanks to the Cartoon Museum.