HERE’S a quick question. Off the top of your head, who is your favourite female cartoonist? Some of you might have an answer readily to hand. Posy Simmonds perhaps. Or Simone Lia. Maybe one of the graphic novelists we have been covering in recent years here in Graphic Content; Karrie Fransman, for example, or Hannah Berry or Jade Sarson.

But, the fact is, when it comes to newspapers and magazines women are rarely offered the same platform as the Steve Bells and Matts of this world.

But that doesn’t mean they aren’t out there. The evidence can be found in The Inking Woman, an illustrated survey of 250 years of Women cartoon and comic artists in Britain. Edited by Nicola Streeten and Cath Tate, it’s a potent corrective to the invisibility of women cartoonists. Inspired by a 2017 exhibition at the Cartoon Museum, it traces the story of women in cartooning from Mary Darly in the 18th century to Isabel Greenberg and Glasgow’s Jessica Milton

(NB: Scotland is rather well represented here with entries for Gill Hatcher, Lucy Sweet and Riana Duncan who began cartooning in the 1970s and has contributed to The Spectator and The Guardian in her time.)

It’s also a reminder of the way women can be written out of the story. Mary Tourtel is the cartoonist who created Rupert the Bear. But its likely that more people will know the name Alfred Bestall, who took over from her on the strip.

“The Inking Woman is a groundbreaking book showing the work of British women cartoonists over the past 250 years,” the book’s editors Cath Tate and Nicola Streeten point out. “If you pick up any collection of cartoonists covering the same period you might be forgiven for thinking that there were none or almost no women cartoonists in the past or present. The Inking Woman gives the lie to this myth and brings together for the first time the wealth of talent that has been sitting there hidden in plain sight.”

Graphic Content asked Tate and Streeten to each choose five female cartoonists who they think represent the range and creativity of women cartoonists.

Here’s Cath Tate to set the scene:

The Herald:

“The first women cartoonists I met, in a Pizza Express in Upper Street, in 1988, were Kate Charlesworth, Cath Jackson and Viv Quillin. I was introduced to them by the card buyer from Silver Moon, the women’s bookshop then in the Charing Cross Road, to whom I had been selling my own anti-Thatcher postcards.

“From that meeting I gradually came into contact with a wealth of cartoons that were being produced by women for small publications that were going largely under the radar of the mainstream world and I started Cath Tate Cards, to publish some of it on postcards to get the work out to a wider audience.

“Around 1990 I had the idea of putting together an exhibition and a book of the work of women cartoonists to promote them and get them better known. Some 27 years later, in 2017, the exhibition happened at the Cartoon Museum in London and this year, 28 years later, the book has appeared.

“When I look over the cartoons that we have collected here it is extremely difficult to pick out only five favourite cartoonists. The more we looked for material, the more work came to light. Here is a brief sample of the work in the book.

Marie Duval (1847 – 1890)

Marie Duval was a London-born actress, cartoonist and illustrator whose prolific work appeared in the cheap penny papers and comics of the 1860s, 1870s and 1880s. Her lively style was popular at the time and she helped to develop the cartoon character of the ne’er do well Ally Sloper. She is the subject of a companion volume recently published by Myriad.

Anton (Antonia Yeoman (1907-1970)

Well known in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s - when her work appeared in publications such as Punch, Tatler, the Evening Standard and Private Eye - few knew that Anton was in fact a woman since it was common then for cartoonists, male and female, to only sign themselves with their surname. Her drawings of spivs, forgers, dukes and duchesses were very popular and were published in a couple of collections of her work, Anton’s Amusement Arcade in 1947, and High Life and Low Life in 1952.

Posy Simmonds

Arguably the best-known living British woman cartoonist, Posy Simmonds has been cartooning since the early 1970s. Her strip, Mrs Weber’s Diary which ran from 1977 to 1987 in the Guardian newspaper, wittily lampooned the liberal mores and lives of the Guardian readership. She then went on to produce a couple of graphic novels Tamara Drewe and Gemma Bovery, the first graphic novels to be produced in the UK.

Kate Charlesworth

Edinburgh-based Kate Charlesworth has an extremely strong sense of line and design combined with a sharp wit. She has had regular strips in publications such as New Scientist, The Pink Paper, the Guardian, the Independent and DIVA, but has always been an unrecognised talent. She is now working on a major work, A Girl’s Guide to Sensible Footwear, her memoir, which might redress this.

Angela Martin

Angela Martin’s work became well known and was widely distributed in the 1980s and 1990s when her work appeared on postcards and greetings cards published by Leeds Postcards and Cath Tate Cards. Her work has featured also in the Guardian, the Independent, the Mirror, Nursing Times and many other publications particularly around health, feminism and disability activism. She also had a couple of books of her cartoons published in the 1980s.

Nicola Streeten’s choices are all cartoonists still at work today:

Janette Parris

Janette Parris is a London-based fine artist whose practice includes comics. Her Arch comics are collections of stories set in Deptford, London. They humorously reflect on the everyday, quietly satirising our assumptions about community.

Devi Menon

Devi Menon’s first graphic novel Alma Mater (Yali Publishing LLC, 2018) engages with her memories of growing up in South India, as she moves through her current daily life in the UK. She interrogates ideas around home, family and identity.

Gill Hatcher

Gillian Hatcher is a Scottish illustrator and comics artist who applies her drawing style to a range of subjects, often environmental. She set up Team Girl Comic in 2009 as a collective and published 13 all-female comics anthologies between 2010 and 2017.

Sarah Lightman

The Herald:

Fine artist Sarah Lightman visually diarises her journey through religion, relationships, marriage and motherhood with intensively worked pencil drawings that portray the pain and pleasure of life.

Kate Evans

The Herald:

Kate Evans began drawing comics to document her political activism, including the UK anti-road protests in the 1990s. Threads from The Refugee Crisis (Verso, 2017) is her recent graphic novel of her personal report from the “Calais Jungle”.

The Inking Woman: 250 Years of Women Cartoon and Comic Artists in Britain, edited by Nicola Streeten and Cath Tate, is published by Myriad, priced £19.99.

Marie Duval by Simon Greenan, Roger Sabin and Julian Waite, is also published by Myriad, priced £19.99.