Thursday, 5 November 2009

1300 Cartoons (and counting)

1984 was an interesting year. Spandau Ballet was the biggest band in the UK. Big Brother was still 16 years away. I had been freelance for six months and was surprised to find I could still afford to eat. And a small, single column cartoon appeared on the front page of The Westmorland Gazette, the UK's top regional weekly newspaper.

Okay, I exaggerate. Madonna was much bigger than the Kemp brothers. But the cartoon was a new departure and I'm mildly astonished to find it continuing to sit on the front page, twenty five years later.

It's sobering to reflect that the cartoon is now older than some of the Gazette's reporters. It’s attempts to appear hip and trendy manifest as an online colour version. There it can even be viewed on an iPhone. It has yet to Twitter, Digg or Spotify but it's been on TV and even inspired a theatre set.

Looking back, I can see that the drawing style has changed dramatically over the years. This is partly due to deadline. In the old days, I took a day to do the cartoon. Now I get three hours from seeing the story to finished artwork. This includes at least four preliminary sketches for the editor to choose - or, if he hates all of them, up to ten. Then the finished cartoon is scanned into my Powerbook, a grey wash added in Photoshop and the electronic file is sent to the sub-editors in Blackburn. All of which takes only twice as long than the old fashioned method.

The subject matter of some of the jokes haven’t changed much. For example, I've been 'doing' Sellafield for almost the entire career of the cartoon. Other recurring topics include Windermere power boats, low flying aircraft, Kendal's bewildering traffic system, second homes and the local hospital. When I began, the Gazette's editor had me campaigning to have the hospital built. Fast forward 25 years and the cartoon is campaigning to prevent it being closed.

I still have most of the 1300 original cartoons and 5200 preliminary sketches. Occasionally originals get sold or are given away to much-loved and highly valued friends - who promptly hang them in the loo. The rest are carefully filed away against the day when Tate Modern gives up on Brit Art installations and decides to have an exhibition of something more amusing (and, let's be frank, more baffling to anyone outside Cumbria).

[This originally appeared on but a recent redesign has lost track of my posts. I'll reprinting the less libellous ones here. In BBC terms, think of it as "a second chance to see ..."]

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