Cartoon history

Red Pepper cartoonist Tim Sanders reviews Speechless: World History Without Words by Polyp (New Internationalist and Friends of the Earth International, 2009)

January 31, 2010 · 2 min read

I should declare an interest. As a cartoonist, I think the world would be a much better place with a lot more cartoons in it: in magazines, books, papers, on internet sites. I am also a fan of Polyp, whose work appears regularly in publications that champion the cause of the have-nots against the powerful. His latest offering, Speechless, is a hugely ambitious project, namely to present an entire history of the world, in cartoons, without (as the name implies) words. I think he pulls it off.

It’s a tremendous piece of work simply in terms of the amount of drawing required. It’s clever and well-researched, and is a truly original way of showing us our history and our possible future. The humour is biting. Though it can be a bit bleak at times, I suppose human history is not necessarily a laugh a minute.

Polyp covers a lot of ground, but, as is inevitable in a 99-page history of the world, without words, he misses some things out. There is no mention, for instance, of Cheryl Cole’s sublime new single, or Simon Cowell’s trousers. Apart from that it’s pretty comprehensive. Religion, the industrial revolution, the spread of capitalism, war, famine, plague, environmental catastrophe and lots of other trivia gets a mention.

My only reservation about this is with the way Polyp gets around not using words, which, while mostly clever and inventive, occasionally falls into the trap of using symbols to replace words. If symbols are used as a way of expressing complex ideas in a non-visual language they run the risk of being almost the same as words but a little less decipherable, which defeats the object. So occasionally it takes a bit more effort to read certain passages than it should.

But it’s a great little book and a really fresh look at an old problem. It would make a very good Christmas present for the lefties in your life.

Buy ‘Speechlesshere.


The Socialist Olympics of 1936

Radical workers’ sporting organisations and the 1936 People’s Olympiad illustrate the role of sport in fighting oppression, writes Uma Arruga i López.

Review – You’re History: The Twelve Strangest Women in Music

Lesley Chow argues for a new kind of music criticism that re-evaluates women musicians and "meaningless" music, writes Rhian E Jones

Lying through their legacy-speak

Olympic ‘legacy’ has greased the path for enormous, upward transfer of wealth to the global propertied classes, writes Jules Boykoff


SWexit: What are exit schemes for sex workers missing?

If earning money is a fundamental reason for entering the sex industry, it is also essential to leaving it, writes Marin Scarlett.

Failure to deliver

Major financial institutions have cited Deliveroo’s employment practices for its disastrous public share launch. Alice Martin and Tom Powdrill look at what went wrong and what it might mean for workers’ rights

Power on the picket line: remembering the Burnsall Strike

Almost 30 years on, Sarbjit Johal recalls supporting the strike, which consisted of mostly Punjabi women workers

Want to try Red Pepper before you take out a subscription? Sign up to our newsletter and read Issue 231 for free.