From fresh-faced smiling youth to careworn leader with a sinister grimace, representations of Prime Minister Tony Blair have changed dramatically in political cartoons over 10 years.
A new exhibit at the Mall Galleries shows how British newspaper and magazine illustrators have grown increasingly harsh toward Blair -- as have the many Britons who are angered by his involvement in the Iraq war.
"He was considered the knight in shining armor," Peter Brookes, a cartoonist for the Times of London, says of the early exhibits. "There was a lot of goodwill riding on him."
Blair was elected leader of the then-opposition Labor Party in July 1994. One cartoon on display from that era shows him as a handsome suitor trying to lure voters away from the Conservative Party, in power since 1979. Another, from the Independent, famously depicts him as a wide-eyed Bambi, skipping merrily through the forest.
"An easy ride just came with the condition of the times," Brookes said of Blair's early treatment. "He didn't have to do anything. The Conservatives were imploding. There wasn't a huge amount that you could criticize."
A decade ago, cartoonists emphasized Blair's broad smile, intense gaze and large ears. But over the years they have become crueler -- and funnier -- as Blair himself has changed. His hairline has receded, his face is more lined and he lacks the aura of energy he had when he took office in 1997 at the age of 43.
"Blair's good because he's got lots of prominent features to get a handle on, his big ears and teeth and his mad left eyeball," says Steve Bell of the Guardian, who regularly draws Blair with an oversize, demonic eye staring out of a darkened socket.
"The mad eye is actually coming to the fore. In the early days, I knew it was there but didn't see it in photos. Now I can see it. His forehead is also doing interesting things, getting strange dents and folds."
About half the exhibition -- titled "Grin and Blair It!" -- focuses on the prime minister's role in the Iraq war, from the long run-up to the invasion to recent revelations about faulty intelligence on Iraqi weapons.
Several cartoons depict Blair as President Bush's pet poodle -- an accusation critics of the war have often leveled at the strongly pro-American prime minister, who is also shown as President Bill Clinton's bride in a 1996 illustration.
Another drawing linked to Iraq shows Blair as a battered knight in armor, his lance broken and his shield, labeled "Spin," dented and peeling. He stands by his fallen horse, "Trust." The picture dates from the summer of 2003, when the government was embroiled in a huge row with the British Broadcasting Corp. over allegations it used spin to hype the threat from Iraqi weapons and boost support for war.
Annette Carlsen, 49, an illustrator from Copenhagen, said she was surprised at how harshly Blair was treated in the British cartoons. "It seems very negative, all the cartoons here are very negative," she said. "In Denmark the cartoons are more friendly toward the politicians. Here they go a bit further."
But Dominic Register, a 27-year-old civil servant from London, said he was surprised by the earlier pictures.
"The depictions of him as Bambi I couldn't remember at all. I was only 16 or 17 when they appeared in the papers," he said. "Contrasted with how he appears now in the newspapers, it's very surprising."
Brookes, the cartoonist from the Times of London, agreed that the recent pictures were cruel, but not unfairly so, given widespread public opposition to the war in Iraq.
"I don't think they're an exaggeration of public opinion," he said. "We feel in a sense no more vicious than an awful lot of people."
"Grin and Blair It!" is on view at the Mall Galleries through Sunday. It runs at the Cartoon Art Trust Museum beginning Tuesday through Dec. 18.