During the 1980s there was fear of a nuclear attack. Mass protests were held in order to prevent nuclear armament. Many politicians gave formal sermons to the public, warning them of the threat of nuclear war and the effects of the bombs. However, Raymond Briggs uses cartoon books and film to illustrate the serious message, making it more interesting, so more people take notice of it. ‘When the Wind Blows’ follows the lives of a conventional, elderly couple in the countryside. Their names are Jim and Hilda Bloggs. The name Bloggs shows that they are very ordinary and could represent anybody.
The first section of the cartoon strip shows the idyllic countryside in which the couple live. There are fluffy clouds in the sky, but at the same time these clouds are very ominous, as we later find out. These clouds soon become mushroom clouds after the bomb hits. There are bright colours filling the pages making their lives seem cheerful. The windmills in the background generate wind using the latest technology, however, this technology is what creates the bomb. Jim reads the newspaper when he arrives home and we realise that the lives shown in the newspaper are so very different compared to his and his wife’s simple lives. ‘My life isn’t very fast-moving or dynamic.’
Jim always tries to sound intelligent but gets things wrong constantly. This makes us feel terrible pity for Jim because he is so hopeless. On the video, Jim squints quite often and Hilda always hobbles. This shows their vulnerability. The simplicity of the illustrations of Jim and Hilda is a reflection of their characters. The couple seem very warm and kind because of their round bodies. They both have rosy cheeks giving them a plump and healthy appearance as well. The endearing name, ‘Ducks’, that Jim has for Hilda adds to their innocence.
Jim and Hilda trust the government completely and think that without the official leaflets they’d ‘have been totally non-prepared’. However, we know that the leaflets are just there to comfort the people, because no one can escape the radiation sickness after a nuclear bomb explosion. Their naivety shows when they seem to think that there is going to be a war and not a nuclear bomb. ‘I can soon touch it in after The Bomb’s gone off’. There is some irony in their comments because, after the supposed war, they will be wiped out.
During the build-up to the bomb, the lullaby ‘Rock a Bye Baby’ plays in the background. This gives the story it’s title. The irony here is that, when the bomb hits, hot winds will sweep over the countryside causing mass destruction. Lullabies are usually sung to children so it makes the couple again seem innocent and naï¿½ve. We feel even more sympathy for Jim and Hilda when they look back at the community spirit of World War Two with nostalgia. They never seem to see the grim reality of what is happening to them.
As the bomb hits, all the audience and reader can see is a bright white light. This represents the total obliteration that the bomb causes. The colours outside change from cheerful colours to ones of luridness. While Jim is reading out names of political organisations, there are strong drumbeats playing in the background, giving a threatening sense.
The drums beats get louder, drowning out Jim’s voice, showing the nuclear war as being more important. Flashes of real-life footage also add to the threatening atmosphere and show the reality of what is happening. The names of organisations flash onto the screen then they fall apart and become distorted. This reflects Jim’s thoughts of the names. They mean nothing to him and, as far as he is concerned, they are just letters. The fact that they all fall apart shows that there is no safety, even from organisations set up to protect people.
After the explosion, we see the inevitable 0death of Jim and Hilda. Bags start to appear round their eyes, Hilda’s ankles start to sag and her hair falls out. This is a very moving build-up to their death, as it shows the awful reality of the bomb. The couple have hardly any food to eat, but manage to find one fruit pastille. Their true love for each other is shown here as they cut the pastille in half, making it fair. During the aftermath of the bomb, both Hilda and Jim have fantasies. We feel sympathy for them here because their childish fantasies make them seem innocent. As the glass shatters, Hilda sees her past in the pieces of glass, which is shattered before her very eyes. This gives her character a past so we feel great pity on her, because we know she is going to die. It also seems like her life flashing before her eyes, something which people associate with the arrival of death.
In both the film and book, the death of Jim and Hilda is not shown. In the book the last pages are brown, showing no hope for the couple, whereas in the film version, there is a close-up of the bunker and it rises into the sky, appearing as the sun. This gives a sense of hope, because it shows that Jim and Hilda have gone to heaven. I think that the way Raymond Briggs has used the cartoon book genre to convey a serious message works really well. It is very moving and rouses the sympathy of both reader and audience.