Thursday, 27 August 2009

Singular regularity

I like to keep regular.

Like most people, I suppose, I prefer a daily rhythm which is predictable and ordered. Especially important when one works freelance as a jet-setting, international cartoonist, freed from the shackles of the weekday nine to five. So it came as a shock when my usual Thursday job switched to Wednesday.

This is no trivial matter. The Westmorland Gazette has been appearing on the same day of the week for hundreds of years. Thursday has been my newspaper cartoon day for a quarter of a century. True, the time of day has varied as different printing presses and production deadlines have come into play but Thursday itself has remained an immovable object. Holidays have been built around it. Appointments in far flung corners of the globe have been organised to allow me to fax or email cartoons back to the high-tech, super-streamlined newspaper office in a remote corner of England.

Furthermore those around me have undergone 25 years of training to make sure they know that Thursdays, for two or three hours, I cannot be reached by phone, person, email or carrier pigeon for any reason except in the direst of emergencies. (My publishing business partner has now just about got it … I am not sure I will live long enough for him to become programmed to the change of routine.)

The new day has been running two weeks so will take a while to bed in. It does have benefits. Wednesday is market day in Kendal and the town is therefore very exciting, being positively a-throb with life and activity. (I don’t get out much when I am not internationally jet-setting.)

On the subject of which, when I am jet-setting - or at least, train-setting - I can do it on a Thursday, avoiding the transport companies’ predilection to screw their customers at Friday ticket rates. (Note to overseas readers - highway robbery did not die out in the UK, it became a subsidiary of the national rail network.)

On press day itself the cartoon routine remains the same. Read stories, produce a batch of sketches, sulk when the editor choses the wrong one, draw final artwork and scan into computer in three hours prior to press deadline. This has a rhythm all of its own, finely tuned to the hot-house environment of a regional newspaper office, a vibrant news-gathering organism turning a penetrating, incisive scrutiny on the community around it.

Unless it is someone’s birthday. In which case it’s cakes all round.

Friday, 7 August 2009

Being a Cartoonist

I have just completed one of the most difficult projects I have undertaken. A book on cartooning. Odd that it should have been so hard given that I am a cartoonist and have been drawing professionally for over 25 years. But it became one of those very personal endeavours that you agonise over getting right, fuss with endlessly and generally drive everyone around mad with. (I like ending sentences with prepositions.)

One of the things I have been keen to emphasise in the book is that cartoons are not just for kids. Some of the best cartoons are done for kids (Quentin Blake, for example) but it is not some noddy deviant relative of real art, to be dismissed by grown ups the world over.

Cartoonists have brought down governments, undermined politicians, attacked dictators, annoyed major world religions, taunted tyrants and taken men to the moon. (I may have got carried away with the last one.) The point is, it is a valid art form with a strong tradition. If you don’t believe me, go visit the British Cartoon Museum in London. Cartoonists, children’s illustrators and comic book artists are, in my opinion, hugely undervalued in this country. Some produce work of far greater artistry than any of the contemporary Brit Art clowns.

Someone once asked me what I did for a living and retorted, “Cartoonist? That must be a nice little life.” I decided to ignore the patronising tone and asked what he did instead. It turned out he was a manager in a city company and therefore astonishingly boring. Loads of money, no time, no life. I therefore saw it as my duty to regaled him with some of the jobs I had done, the exciting and exotic clients I had worked for and the endless freedom and creativity my nice little life afforded me. I have no idea if he saw the point but it felt good to me.

Cartooning is a brilliant way to earn a living. You get paid to make people laugh and you’re legitimately allowed to spend all day playing with ideas. Sometimes you get to annoy politicians. (Although if you do, the chances are they will ask for the original artwork, which takes the edge off the sense of satisfaction you may feel.)

I wouldn’t swap jobs for the world. It has brought me untold wealth, fast cars, glamorous women and a jet-setting lifestyle. (Some or all of the last sentence may be untrue.) Laughing keeps you healthy and helps you live longer: I recently interviewed American cartoonist Arnold Roth - 80 years old and determined to keep cartooning until nature intervenes (his words, not mine).

So my message at the end of the book, to any aspiring cartoonists: Go out there, do your best work, draw what makes you laugh and hope it will also amuse your clients. With luck you’ll never have to return to the day job.