The Great Inventions of TBO’ Exhibition

‘William Heath Robinson Vs. Ramón Sabatés: The Great Inventions of TBO’ Exhibition claims the relevance of two great cartoonists, and the influence of the English draughtsman in the Spanish TBO Magazine 

We love William Heath Robinson’s art. He is a wonderful author, and it is evident that he influenced notably in the creation of the section ‘The great inventions of TBO’ in the popular Spanish comic TBO, now disappeared. The magazine was so successful and well-known that for many years, comic strips were not called ‘comics’ in Spain, but ‘tebeos’ (TBOs). Many Spanish cartoonists worked in the ‘The great inventions’. Among them, the most important was undoubtedly Ramón Sabatés, an industrial technical engineer by profession.

Heath Robinson (1872-1944) may also have influenced the work of other artists, such as the American William Rube Goldberg (1883-1970), author of the series ‘Inventions of Professor Lucifer Gorgonzola Butts’ (1914). Some people also mention the French series ‘Les inventions du Pêle-Mêle’.

And we are of course fascinated by the artistic work of the Spanish draftsman Ramón Sabatés. His original work was acquired in 2001 by the ‘Colegio Oficial de Ingenieros Técnicos Industriales de Barcelona’ (mail:, twitter: @enginyersbcn).

Sabatés’ originals are occasionally on display at The Museum of Ideas and Inventions (web: in Barcelona, Spain. The MIBA is a travelling museum. It has no physical location. It travels around the world in the form of a Pop Up museum. It is available for schools and companies. Its director is Mr Pep Torres, easy to contact at

It would be wonderful to have the chance to admire the originals of both artists in a common exhibition, here in London or in Spain.

The artwork by Sabatés is absolutely amazing. The series ‘The Great Inventions of TBO’ was born in 1920. It was a piece created by cartoonist Urda and was entitled ‘Inventions of TBO’. In 1925 it changed its title to ‘The Great Inventions of TBO’. For several years the section received contributions from different cartoonists: Tínez, Benejam, Joaquim Buïgas, Nit, Francesc Tur, Albert Mestre, Ricard, Opisso and Serra Massana among others. Ramón Sabatés (1915-2003) became in charge of the series in 1942 and developed it until 1998, the year of the permanent closure of TBO. Most of Sabatés’ inventions were presented in the comic strip by a character called Professor Franz of Copenhagen, who had been conceived years earlier by cartoonist Serra Massana.

Despite the fact that, in a sense, the great inventions of TBO are a parody of the great scientific and technological advances of the twentieth century, Sabatés was a mechanical engineer and he brought much of his professional knowledge to this series. That is why many of his inventions, while apparently nonsense and excessively complex to satisfy daily needs, are perfectly executable: square coins to prevent them from rolling and getting lost, a tunnel to wash children, an umbrella with an extra unit to simultaneously cover a tall and a short person, a vertical car park, several mechanical devices to carry out domestic tasks while enjoying leisure or sport… The draftsman himself went so far as to build some. The section became so well known that it ended up being used in popular Spanish imagery and also in the language: “It seems to be an invention of TBO” became a popular idiom to refer to a gadget that was too complex or bulky.

At the end of his life, Sabatés made an urgent plea from a homeless elderly shelter, where he was admitted with his wife when they were in severe financial difficulties. At the age of 86 and after working for the publishing industry for decades, Sabatés was broke. TBO’s new owner, Ediciones B, had been re-publishing the classic graphic artwork for years without paying any compensation to the authors. His house in Barcelona with all his belongings was going to be seized. Desperate, Sabatés decided to sell his original cartoons.

The ‘Colegio de Ingenieros Técnicos Industriales de Barcelona’ acquired the originals in 2001. Since then, several exhibitions of his work have been held. The original prints are sometimes on display at MIBA, Barcelona’s Museum of Ideas and Inventions. Ramón Sabatés died in 2003 at the age of 87.

We feel that there is a great connection between the Spanish cartoonist and the English satirical cartoonist Heath Robinson, author of complex and extravagant mechanical gadgets, often consisting of a combination of wheels, driven pulleys and knotted ropes, many of which recall Sabatés’ machines and inventions. But in contrast to the Spaniard, Heath Robinson used his inventions as a satire of pomposity and the self-importance given by experts, and also as a metaphor for bureaucracy and the complex processes they devise. The English cartoonist satirizes the human condition, the weakness and self-importance of the human being, more than the gadgets themselves. Like Sabatés, Heath Robinson was a great person, there was no cruelty in his humor nor was there any politics.

Heath Robinson was born in Finsbury Park, North London. He studied at the Islington School of Art, and then entered the Royal Academy. He was just interested in landscape painting, but ended up turning his graphic work towards a more commercial type of art. You can admire his original artwork at the Heath Robinson Museum (– in Pinner Memorial Park, northwest London, and meet a little closer to this interesting British artist.

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