I’ve been asked a few times, “What’s with the sad looking fellow as your icon? Where does it come from? Why do you use it?”

Well, if you must know, I consider the “sad looking fellow” my logo – of sorts. It’s what he represents, and this in and of itself, is a decent story – so here goes.

Charles Jameson Grant, "John Bull or an Englishman's Fireside" (1833). Image source from the British Museum. Click for a larger image.

Charles Jameson Grant created this hand-colored lithograph back in 1833 and gave it the title, “John Bull or an Englishman’s Fireside.” Known mostly for the work he devoted to Britain’s Chartist Movement, Grant lent his skills by developing social satire in the cause of reform: which in the UK meant – at the least – granting the franchise for working class men (sorry ladies, not yet). This lithograph pre-dated Grant’s more famous drawings. I am drawn to this work for several reasons: first, the look on the Englishman’s face – there’s something wrong in the world and he’s not too happy about it.

Secondly, the drawing is actually based on a “true story.” Following the British government’s brutal crackdown in Manchester (1819) known as the Peterloo Massacre (two regiments of British Calvary charged a crowd of 60- to 100-thousand with sabers drawn and swinging – dozens were killed including women and children), Parliament continued repressing striking workers and laborers with the passage of The Six Acts (eventually repealed in 1824). But Manchester became the center of labor opposition against the government. In response to this, special localized laws kept Manchester under a firm grip. This 1833 print by Grant shows the results of this treatment.

The third reason I use this image comes from the title: “John Bull.” Consider John Bull the British version of our “Uncle Sam,” a character meant to fit and represent the common man, a sort of heroic archetype of the freeborn, countryside Englishman. It’s not entirely too clear whether Grant meant to attach the moniker of John Bull to this “Englishman” character sitting, cold and hungry, and under surveillance (note the “bobby” just outside the Englishman’s window) upon the chair. But in doing so, Grant challenges the state (England) to recognize that laborers – especially those in Manchester – are citizens, not mere subjects.

Fourth, I love the symbolism: an empty, broken plate is on the table; there is a broken tobacco pipe on the floor; there is no coal for a fire; a beer stein in turned upside down on the mantle; a window with cracks emanates from what appears to be a bullet hole; all these depictions cause this “John Bull” to be in a great frown. The literature at the top of the print describes why John Bull cannot leave his flat – curfew is in effect. So there this supposedly “free” Englishman must sit, deprived of liberty, only allowed to leave the flat to go to work, to church, and to attend to his one day a week Friday shopping. Something is not right in the world, that’s the look on his face.

Thus my fifth reason for using this “sad looking fellow,” for although we exist in the now, many years removed from the pre-Chartist days of England, all is still not right in the world. Alas, all is not.