Donald Rooum is an anarchist cartoonist and political writer, well-known for his Wildcat cartoons.
He was born in Bradford in 1928 and studied commercial design (1949-1953) at Bradford Art School; one of his tutors was the artist, Frank Lisle, who painted a portrait of Donald (see image below), now in the permanent collection of The Hepworth, Wakefield.
After leaving Bradford Art School, Donald was employed between 1954-1966 as a layout artist and typographer in a number of London advertising agencies. From 1966 onward he worked as a typographic design lecturer at the London College of Printing, retiring in 1983 to concentrate on his freelance political cartoon work, which had started many years earlier.
Donald had shown a keen interest in politics from his early teens, following the lead from his father, who was active in the Labour Party. Donald had been conscripted into the military service toward the end of World War Two, but appealed against this on the grounds of Conscientious Objection. He was subsequently given a political rating as a ‘subversive’, spared from service overseas, and spent most of his military life working in the kitchen of an Army camp. Despite his reluctant military service, he did receive financial help from the Army on his discharge toward the cost of his studies at Bradford School of Art (see above).
From 1949 onward, Donald began to become more publicly prominent in the anarchist movement, participating in summer schools and speaking in public in Bradford and at Speaker’s Corner, London. He was also a founding member of the Malatesta anarchist social club in London and began what was to be a long association with Freedom Press Publications, becoming a writer, and later editor, for Freedom, the anarchist newspaper.
In 1952, Philip Sansom, a fellow commercial artist and political activist, invited Harold to draw a regular cartoon strip for The Syndicalist, an anarchist magazine. The cartoons proved popular and from the late 1950s Donald’s work began to appear in a wide range of other left of centre publications, including The Daily Mirror, Private Eye, and The Spectator. He also had a long association, from 1962 onward, as a cartoonist for Peace News, and was the originator of the ‘Sprite’ cartoon strip for The Skeptic magazine.
Donald was also an active public demonstrator for many political causes. In 1963 he exposed police corruption during a demonstration against the visit of King Paul of Greece to London. Donald had been arrested after demanding a banner back that the police had confiscated from him. At the police station, a police Detective Sergeant and his junior colleagues produced a brick they allegedly had confiscated from him , but Donald was able to prove forensically in court that he had been framed. This caused a furore and the junior police officers involved were jailed and the lead officer, Detective Sergeant Harold Challenor, deemed mentally ill and committed to an institution.
In 1974, Philip Sansom asked Donald to contribute cartoons for Wildcat, a monthly anarchist magazine he had launched. The magazine was short-lived – it folded in 1975 – but in 1980, Sansom, who was now working with the Freedom newspaper, asked Donald to revive the Wildcat comic strip. It subsequently featured in every edition of Freedom until 2014, when it ceased publication.
In 2016, the PM Press published a collection of Donald’s cartoons in their book, Wildcat Anarchist Comics, and Donald also contributed illustrations and articles to the PM Press book, What is Anarchism?, an expanded 2nd edition of the Freedom Press What is Anarchism?, originally published in 1992. Donald has also illustrated other books, including Don’t You Believe It! by John Radford.
A solo exhibition of his political cartoons were shown at the London Conway Hall in 2008, and the Peace Museum in Bradford included cartoons by Donald in their ‘Cartoons for Peace’ exhibition in 2017. The British Cartoon Archive at the University of Kent also has a collection of Donald Rooum’s work in their collection.
See also Bradford Artists – and War.