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The British cartoonist who laughed up a storm between the wars

The Best of H.M. Bateman: The Tatler Cartoons 1922-1926, Foreword by Mark Boxer. London: The Bodley Head. Distributed by Merrimack Circle. Illustrated; full color. $16. H.M. Bateman was an enormously popular cartoonist in England between the wars. The Bodley Head deserves applause for celebrating the centenary of his birth with this beautiful full-color collection of drawings from The Tatler magazine.

A typical Bateman renders the interior of London's Albert Hall - the majestic organ pipes are trembling, the accompanist at the piano is trembling, the seats tremble, too, while the last of the heretofore packed house flees to the exits in anguish and horror. The title of this dramatic scene is ``The Voice That Filled The Albert Hall.'' The proud owner of this megavoice, you've guessed it, is an abundant Wagnerian soprano of unlimited volume, but limited quality, generously occupying that huge old hall without there being, alas, room left for both her voice and her audience. It is Mr. Bateman in fine, full form.

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In an informative foreword, Mark Boxer reminds us of the importance of this innovative, well-trained academic artist who let himself go on paper, laughing up a storm. From his suburban, everyday world, with his careful recording of backgrounds and fashions, Bateman created a universal humor that showed people not as they looked, but as they felt about things, with excellently drawn body language comparable to the shenanigans of Chaplin and other silent clowns of the time.

At the turn of the century, magazine cartoons were fairly stodgy. They consisted of straightforward drawing, heavy with technique, the caption given over as much to a description of the emotions and attitude of the participants as to whatever snappy jokes they might deliver.

But Bateman's formative years had been influenced by the illustrations of Arthur Rackham and the caricatures of Max Beerbohm. The great French cartoonist Caran D'Ache was a particularly liberating force, and it was goodbye to the old days. Bateman's comic genius won out over his careful drawing, his ``people'' were funny and fun, and his backgrounds tended to become surreal.

This was what made his fame and fortune, and while his best ideas may have been simple, it was the simplicity and truth of a great talent.

Gene Langley is a former Monitor cartoonist.

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