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Cartoonist Mark Knight draws British PM Boris Johnson as a punk rocker to help explain Brexit

Mark Knight, September 5, 2019 6:50PM Herald Sun

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Mark Knight cartoon on the Brexit situation media_cameraMark Knight cartoon on the Brexit situation


Reading level: orange

“Should I stay or should I go?” You’ve probably heard the opening line of that rock song on the radio. Performed by British punk* rockers The Clash, it was a hit all around the world in the 1980s.

Nowadays the song could also be the national anthem for modern Britain as that country wrestles with the issue of whether the United Kingdom should separate itself from the European Union* (EU). The issue has become well known around the world as Brexit (a mix of Britain and exit).

I heard the song the other day and I thought the first lines of the tune summed up beautifully the problem facing the UK after 52 per cent of Britain’s 30 million people voted to leave the EU in a public referendum*.

Mark Knight’s Brexit cartoon. Right click and open image in new tab to see image full screen.

Mark Knight cartoon on the Brexit situation media_cameraMark Knight cartoon on the Brexit situation

The European Union is a club of 28 European countries, which pay to be members and in return are granted special ways of working together. This includes being part of a “single market”, which means that countries can trade with one another and people can move across borders freely — as if they were all living together in one big country

The EU has its own parliament, laws and currency (the euro — although the UK doesn’t use the euro as it kept its own currency of pounds and pence).

The EU was set up after World War II with the idea that if countries work together, they are unlikely to go to war again.

The British people who voted to stay in the EU felt that being a member of this club was better than going it alone. They felt it would be easier to sell things to other EU countries, meaning it was good for businesses and trade.

But back to the song … I immediately had visions of new British PM Boris Johnson singing it in the shower. Not wanting to scare my readers with an image of the British PM naked, wet and standing in a bath, I decided to search for another way to draw him singing the song.

Boris is a lot of fun to draw. He is sometimes likened to US President Donald Trump. Visually*, we first notice that he has a wild mop of blonde hair, a bit like Mr Trump’s unique hairstyle, which has become a signature* feature for both leaders.

His behaviour in politics is unusual, which is another similarity with the US President. So the cartoon had to be unusual as well.

Cover of DVD "The Essential Clash" music video album media_cameraMember of The Clash punk band.

When I started to sketch Boris, I realised you can’t get anything more unusual than if I drew him as the lead singer of the punk rock band The Clash. So Boris was given a guitar, a leather jacket, ripped jeans, studded belt and wristband and Doc Martin boots. His T-shirt with the Union Jack (on it was a reminder of when many English punk bands back in the 1970s and ‘80s used the British flag on their album covers in a rebellious* and mocking* attitude towards their government and the royal family.

The words Brexit Calling on the shirt was a take on The Clash’s famous album from 1979 called London Calling.

I wanted to give the impression that Boris was a bit of political punk on Brexit.

2004. CD cover London Calling by The Clash. music album media_cameraThe cover shot of The Clash’s London Calling album.

The drawing started to take shape when I put him on stage. The pose had to be right. Lead singers dominate the stage and set the tone and image of the band they front so Boris is seen shouting into the microphone, legs spread wide, strumming his electric guitar.

The words to the song are largely unchanged, with just the word “parliament” added instead of “darling” because the song was originally a love song. He sings “parliament you’ve got to let me know, should we stay or should we go …?” referring to whether the British House of Commons (the members of parliament) will agree to a vote to leave the European Union.

You can sing along to the cartoon if you like!

Behind Boris is Her Majesty the Queen on the drums. I thought this would add a lovely bit of visual humour to the cartoon! The Queen’s role in British politics is normally to agree with the wishes of the British PM. She will never rock the boat, as she says in the cartoon, “I just keep the beat”. Queen Elizabeth II is well respected for her sense of duty* and is a rock-solid figure in British life. Therefore I reckon she’d be a good drummer, the foundation* of any great rock band!

media_cameraBritish PM Boris Johnson chats with Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace. Picture: AFP

One of the things that I remember about punk rock concerts decades ago was how the audience, usually teenage punk rockers, would behave at the gig*. Audience participation was a big thing and often they would throw things at the stage and yell abuse … and that’s if they liked them!

The political environment surrounding Boris is much the same and so the punks in the audience, who are labelled as “Remainers” (those wanting to stay in the EU), are members of the British Labour Party. They are opposed to Boris’s plan to Brexit and are showing their disapproval by throwing various items at him as he performs.

The cartoon hopes to illustrate the anarchy* in the UK (see what I did there with illustrate?) over Brexit and its unusual PM who is finding that not everyone is singing from the same songbook.


  • punk: a loud, fast-moving, and aggressive form of rock music
  • European Union: a club of 28 European countries that work together as one
  • referendum: a general vote of the people on a single political question
  • visually: to see
  • signature: something distinctive which identifies a person
  • rebellious: resisting authority or control
  • mocking: making fun of someone in a cruel way
  • duty: a responsibility
  • foundation: strength
  • anarchy: chaos


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  1. What is the European Union?
  2. What does Brexit stand for?
  3. When was the EU established? Why?
  4. What is the name of the British flag?
  5. Which word from the original song did Mark Knight change?

to come

1. Same, same but different
Mark Knight has drawn on many similarities to illustrate British Prime Minister Boris Johnson as a punk rocker.

List all the similarities he has identified and explain if and how Mark has then illustrated them in his cartoon.

Time: allow 20 minutes for this activity
Curriculum links: English, Critical and Creative Thinking

2. Extension
Look through the most recent stories on Kids News and choose one to draw a cartoon about. Use Mark’s three-step process to get started:

  1. What is my subject?
  2. What do I want to say about this issue?
  3. How do I say it? Do I use visual metaphors (an image that the viewer is meant to understand as a symbol for something else), multiple panels or symbolism (when one idea, feeling or emotion is represented by something else such as a: picture, character, colour or object)?

Time: allow at least 40 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum links: English, Humanities, Visual Arts, Critical and Creative Thinking

After reading the article, with a partner, highlight all the openers you can find in blue. Discuss if they are powerful and varied openers or not. Why do you think the journalists have used a mix of simple and power openers? Would you change any, and why?

HAVE YOUR SAY: Do you agree it’s a good idea for European countries to join together to help prevent another World War?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will show until approved by editors.

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