William Papas (1927-2000) ‘Bill Papas [is] a man of many talents, a superb draughtsman and one of the world’s most distinguished editorial cartoonists’ (Harold Haydon, editor of The Chicago Sun) William Papas was born in Transvaal, South Africa, on 15 July 1927, the son of a Greek baker and restaurant owner. Attending the Pretoria Boys High School until 1943, he ran away from home in that year and lied about his age in order to join the South African Air Force as a rear gunner, flying coastal missions. At the end of the war, Papas began studies at the Johannesburg Art School, but left after one year and moved to London. Papas studied part time at Beckenham Art School (1946) and later at St Martin’s School (1947-49). He then spent several years travelling around Europe, earning a living as a freelance illustrator, and also taking odd jobs. Returning to South Africa in 1951, Papas worked as a staff cartoonist on the Cape Times, this being one of the principal publications to oppose the rigorous racist legislation that the National Party government was steadily introducing at the time. In 1954 he left the Cape Times and began freelancing as an artist/reporter for, amongst others, the Johannesburg Star and Drum Magazine. His coverage of the 1958 Nelson Mandela trials was syndicated to the London Observer and other European newspapers.
However, suffering repeated censorship, Papas abandoned cartoon journalism and spent time farming and trucking timber with his brother. He was eventually banned from South Africa in 1965 for producing anti-apartheid cartoons. In 1959, Papas returned to England and joined the London office of the Manchester Guardian, working as deputy political cartoonist to David Low. By 1961 he was contributing political cartoons to The Sunday Times, for which he also drew a strip called ‘Bella and Lujah’ and a pocket cartoon called the ‘Little Cartoon by Papas’. On Low’s retirement in 1963, Papas succeeded him as political cartoonist of the Guardian. In addition to his daily cartoon, Papas contributed ‘Theodore’, a strip cartoon about a mouse. This mouse had evolved as a feature of Papas’ large political cartoons, often appearing at the bottom of the image and providing a wry comment on the main drawing. One such aside led to a brief ban on his work in India in 1966 when the mouse’s remark, ‘Artificial insemination is as old as the Virgin Mary’, caused riots outside the offices of The Times of India to which the drawing had been syndicated. (Theodore was given his name in 1968 when the paper held a competition to name him and received over 2000 entries.) Along with such cartoonists as Bill Hewison and Emmwood, Papas was one of the founder members of the British Cartoonists’ Association in 1966. During the mid 1960s, Papas also established himself as a book illustrator with the Oxford University Press. Projects included Mr Nero, a children’s story by his brother, Parliament, with text by the Guardian journalist Norman Shrapnel (both 1966), and Theodore, or the Mouse Who Wanted to Fly (1969). He was runner-up in the Kate Greenaway Medal Awards for children’s book illustration in both 1967 and 1968. By 1970, Papas was working at the Guardian only intermittently. He had moved to Greece for a year long sabbatical and had subsequently found it hard to return to cartooning. He was increasingly disillusioned by the Wilson government and realised, when asked to return, that he ‘found the same stories and the same things were happening; all [he] had to do was change some names’. Deciding to leave the Guardian for good, he was succeeded by Les Gibbard. A selection of his cartoons were included in the National Portrait Gallery’s exhibition ‘Drawn and Quartered: the World of the British Newspaper cartoons 1720-1970’. In 1971, Papas sold up and moved – with his second wife Tessa – to his father’s home village in Argolis, Greece. They spent the next twelve years exhibiting and selling his pictures – and also sailing in the Mediterranean – before moving to the Middle East. Once there, Papas produced a book on Jerusalem and exhibited at the Old City Museum in 1981. After a short stay in Geneva in 1983, Papas and his wife accepted an invitation to Chicago, which turned into a two-year tour of the United States. They finally settled in Portland, Oregon, in 1984, where Papas ran his own art gallery, drew illustrations and produced books. In 1992 he began a self- syndication service, and periodically supplied political cartoons to the Los Angeles Times, Newsday, Kansas City Star and other US and Canadian papers. Papas died while on a fishing trip at Hotnarko Lake, British Columbia, on 19 June 2000, following a flying accident. Influences on Papas included Daumier and Toulouse-Lautrec. He said ‘The drawing and the actual line are important for me. I obtain immense satisfaction in realising a situation or movement with a simple pen stroke. I hope to be remembered as a chronicler, that viewers will look at a painting or sketch or cartoon of mine and will say, “Yes, that is right. That is how it was/is!”’. Although his political cartoons occasionally caused offence, he was never personally cruel, saying in a 1966 interview: ‘I don’t see the point of dwelling on deformities to bring over the point...I don’t like it. It’s their policies, not the politicians that count’.