One of those serendipitous finds I had in a charity book sale, this is the catalogue for an exhibition at the Cartoon Museum a few years ago. ‘Scientists are human too and enjoy a laugh as much as anybody, even if it is at their own expense,’ says Colin Pillinger in his introductory note, and I suppose he needed a sense of humour more than most.
I was surprised and impressed by the range of different kinds of Mars-themed cartoons on display here: there are political cartoons, cartoons about the search for alien life, cartoons about scientists, about missions to Mars (including, naturally, plenty concerning the ill-fated Beagle 2).Some of my favourites include Martians hurriedly scrawling ‘H.G. Wells Was Here’ on a rock before a satellite looks their way; a scientist taking great pains to stress the tentative nature of the evidence they’ve foudn that suggests there might have been life on Mars in the astronmically distant past — which has journalists screaming, ‘We’re not alone!’; and the Martian cup final being interrupted by the crash-landing space-probe that those hooligans from Earth sent up.
The cartoons are organised into chapters (some themed more loosely than others), each of which begins with a selection of facts about Mars and our exploration of the planet. Each cartoon also has its own piece of commentary by Pillinger; some of these are linked more tenuously than others, and the ‘flow’ between commentaries can feel disjointed at times.
But the cartoons make me wish I’d seen the exhibition; and Pillinger is a passionate and persuasive advocate of space exploration. His closing words ring true: ‘we should not discourage our children from asking difficult questions.’ And the cartoon accompanying this? Father-and-son aliens stand alone on a barren rocky world, looking up at the stars. The son asks, ‘Dad, do you think there’s life on other planets?’ ‘I dunno,’ comes the reply.