Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Jingle Sales

Welcome to Twixtmas, which is apparently the new name for that bit between Christmas and New Year. That time when some of us are back at work, and some are still enjoying time off. That time when some are still too stuffed to move and some are stocking up for New Year.
And most of all, that time when the New Year Sales have burst forth, seven days early.
According to retailers interviewed by The Westmorland Gazette, the sales have not been all they expected this year. The bargain hunters stayed home in droves, through a mixture of apathy, recession and ice. Not even the chance to beat the VAT increase brought them out.
So that was the subject for this week’s cartoon.
Not particularly easy and, as you can see from the first two sketches submitted, not all that inspiring. I did better with the second two. In fact, I thought the 4th was an idea of unsurpassed brilliance. This is, of course, always a sign that no one else will like it, find it funny or even get it. And I’ve been doing this job long enough to know that they may well be right.
See what you think. Feel free to add comments below, then rush out to buy a paper to see which one made the front page. And if you’re put off by the ice, you can see the cartoon on my website, in full and glorious colour.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

The Kendal Mint Quake

Dawn over Lakeland, the winter solstice and a full moon. But wait, what’s this? There’s a bit missing …
Ah, it’s a lunar eclipse. Always fascinating to watch and this one didn’t disappoint, with the moon turning a dark orange before fading into the early morning light and dropping behind the Langdale Pikes.
Lunar eclipses are not uncommon, although it’s been 362 years since one fell on a winter solstice. Astronomical coincidence, but the astrologers made much of it. As I’d cheated and watched the eclipse from the studio window, I had the computer to hand, so in addition to chatting on Twitter with a correspondent in Australia (“The eclipse is heading your way - it'll be with you in 20 minutes.”) I also took time to issue a few tweets mocking the astrologers.
Fast forward to 11pm. All is quiet. Outside the snow lies deep and even (obviously, we’d hardly be likely to bring it inside). Suddenly there is a massive roar. A jet overhead? An early fly past from Santa?
Check Twitter (much faster to report news than the lamestream media), no - it’s an earthquake! I knew I shouldn’t have mocked the astologers.
The US Geological Survey had details online within minutes - 3.5 Richter and centred on Coniston.
A few minutes later, the BBC announced it was breaking news, although in fact we hadn’t even broken a cup.
And lo, it came to pass that today’s Westmorland Gazette cartoon was about …
Well, you can see below. A nice Christmas gift for a cartoonist. These are the four sketches submitted to the editor and you can see which was picked by skating out on Thursday to purchase The Westmorland Gazette - or by scootling over to my website.
P.S. it may have been me who sent out a Tweet for food parcels for the Cumbria earthquake victims. Specifically for mince pies and sprouts.
P.P.S. To the wag who dubbed it the Kendal Mint Quake on Facebook … well done. I was planning to use that for the cartoon but you beat me to it.
P.P.P.S. Merry Christmas!

Thursday, 16 December 2010

A clean getaway

There are several things I like about being a professional cartoonist. One of them is being paid to draw. The other is the unexpected. 
When the phone rings, you never know what might turn up.
Earlier in the week was a good example. I had a call from the Lancashire Evening Telegraph, part of the Newsquest group which includes the much-esteemed and world-famous Westmorland Gazette. I don’t usually draw for the Telegraph but they knew my stuff and had a story which needed a cartoon. Could I do it? Oh and the deadline was three hours away.
The story was one of those where the subject threatens to be funnier than the cartoon. Thieves had broken into a house in Oswaldtwistle at 1.30 a.m. and stole £3,500 worth of goods. But first, they broke into the outside hot tub and had a nice, warm soak.
Incredible, isn’t it? An outside hot tub in Lancashire. But true and here are the three ideas I pitched to the editor. You can see the one chosen at the end.


The Westmorland Gazette hits the news stands on Thursday morning. And as I haven’t been out to buy my copy yet, that means some of you may have a better idea of what is on the front page than I do. Which may sound unusual, given that I draw the front page cartoon.
Truth is, when I go into the newsroom on Wednesday at 2pm, the main stories are still slugging it out to see which of them is going to be the lead story. It’s not a pretty sight. There are vowels and apostrophes everywhere.
I take a peek, then sometimes duck behind the news desk and see what’s occurring in the calmer, more rarified environs of pages 3 and 5.
So this week, I had a choice of three stories to consider. The wackiest was a move by the Get A Life, sorry, County Watch, which has gone around putting up Welcome to Lancashire and Welcome to Westmorland signs. In Cumbria. Which took over from those counties (in South Lakes) in 1974. (We have no hope of ever going metric.)
In other news, Cumbria County Council has had its budget cut by more than was feared, thanks to the LibCon settlement. And a group of nine illegal immigrants were caught, heading for Cumbria. (I should point out that these were illegal immigrants from outside the UK, not from Yorkshire or somewhere.)
The four cartoon sketches are below. One of them manages to combine two of the stories (smug mode). If you’ve already bought the Gazette, you’ll know which one the editor chose. The rest of you, mosey on over to my website.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Gritty Stuff

As Cumbria continues to shiver in the icy grip of the coldest winter since the last one. And as the snow lies all about, deep and crisp and lumpy and bumpy and not particularly even … a cartoonist’s thoughts turn to this week’s Westmorland Gazette front page stories.
And the lead is … taraa, the snow. This is fine. I like drawing snow. Or rather, I like not drawing it. The master of snow cartoons is Carl Giles and I learnt from him that the best way to draw it is to leave it out. Swathes of blank. Works every time.
So what seasonal cheer did this week’s lead story have to offer?
Grit. Fearless grit and pluck. (James Naughtie take note.) Lake District residents have been out in force, battling the elements, clearing paths and looking after their neighbours. Meanwhile, a few are taking David Cameron’s Big Society idea the wrong way and deciding that Society is there to provide purely for them. And they’re nicking the grit. Reports are coming in of furtive 4x4 grit nickers roaming the district. The police have been alerted and will be in hot pursuit, just as soon as they’ve taken delivery of the huskies.
So, an ideal story for a snow-loving cartoonist and, as usual, I fired four ideas down the interweb to the esteemed Editor. You can see them below and the Ed’s Fave will be appearing tomorrow on the front of the Westmorland Gazette. And in full, 3D technocolour on my website.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Snow Joke

A couple of stories in tomorrow’s Westmorland Gazette caught my beady, cartoonist’s eye. The first is the front page lead (you read it here first) and t’other is buried inside somewhere.
The problem with stories that appear inside the paper is I feel impelled to explain them in the caption. And I only have a tiddly space on the front of the new, compact (not tabloid) Gazette. The way to get over this is to encourage the clever, hard-working subs (hello Phil) to put a one-line link above the cartoon - see story page 47 or whatever. But it’s hardly ideal as the reader still sees the joke before having any idea what it is about. (With a few of my cartoons, it doesn’t help.)
However … given that there is another, country-wide story featured in the paper, I thought it a risk worth taking.
The main story is about South Lakeland District Council and it’s development plan for the area. It includes affordable housing for locals, not before time. The second story is about some rather special chilli, made locally. This is so hot that it is set to get into the Guiness Book of Records.
And the other story? It’s been snowing …
As ever, the final cartoon will be in Thursday’s Gazette and on my website tomorrow morning. 
And if you want to read more about drawing cartoons for newspapers, well, there is only one thing I can possibly recommend.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

The Unkindest Cut

The ramifications of the LibCon government’s brave new world are beginning to seep north.
Cumbria County Council have announced that they expect their finances to be in an even bigger mess than usual (I’m paraphrasing here) and they are going to have to make cuts of … lots. The cuts will apply across all services although they will try and protect the most vulnerable, in particular making sure that the elderly can remain independent.
So this is the front page of today’s Westmorland Gazette. In fact, it is a mega story researched and written by some of the finest journalists in the land and runs onto several inside pages. Although a serious story, it has lots of potential for cartoons, especially if the cartoonist fancies airing some opinions on the matter.
Here are the sketches I pitched at the editor yesterday. The first four were my initial pitch. Everyone liked number three the best but my esteemed editor’s face went a bit white in case the leader of the council (a) objected or (b) looked like that (he doesn’t). “It’s my job to think through the implications,” said Editor, as I hopped about and said, “Oh just go for it.”
Fair enough. With a bit of tweaking, we got rid of Editor’s misgivings and kept the impact of the joke. See what you think and comment below.
The finished artwork appears in glorious black and white on the front of today’s Gazette or you can see it in colour on my site.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

A Royal Do

This week's Westmorland Gazette stories included the announcement of the Royal Wedding of Prince William and Kate Thingy. Obviously everyone else had covered it but the Gazette has hit on a rather good local angle.

The other two stories which caught my cartoonist's eye (as opposed to the other one which roams uselessly and stares out of the window) were: A traditional Christmas walk along Arnside railway viaduct has been declared illegal because of the danger of trains and Kendal's festive Xmas tree is looking a bit moth-eaten despite only having been erected this week.

As usual, four ideas were submitted to the editor. Which one did he choose? The tension can be broken by visiting my website or buying the newspaper on Thursday morning.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

White riot

Ah, the good old days. I remember them well. The heady excitement of the coach trip to London, milling about with masses of other students, the carefully prepared placards with dodgy spelling, the sense of unity and purpose as you were surrounded by police … you can’t beat a good student protest.
And they’re at it again. They’ve been protesting today against the rises in tuition fees, bless them. Bringing central London to a standstill, smashing up Tory HQ, bringing civilisation to its knees (if you watch Sky News) or a small minority causing a bit of a fuss (BBC News).
What we didn’t have in the 1970s, of course, was the benefit of Twitter. With this, you can see live comments streaming across your computer screen - some from people at the protest itself - and get the thrill of being part of a live event, albeit vicariously.
This is quite handy if you’re in Cumbria and working on the day’s newspaper cartoon for The Westmorland Gazette. Of the stories on offer this week (the model Jordan doing a book signing, South Lakeland Council putting up parking charges), the presence of local students at the riot protest was by far the most interesting.
As ever, I submitted four sketches to the Gazette’s esteemed editor. After much reasoned debate, I persuaded him to go for the one I liked. You can see which one that was by purchasing a copy of the Gazette on Thursday morning, or popping along to my website.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Flushed away

I don’t know what it is about cartoons and toilets. There’s a preconception that the two should always go together. Whenever I give someone a cartoon original, the next time I visit I find it hanging in the loo.
It’s the same with topics in the Westmorland Gazette newsroom. Toilet story? Save that one for Colin. And the weird thing is, they’re usually good stories to do - and not for reasons of scatological humour. One of the best in recent years has been the local council’s decision to close public toilets. A stroke of genius for a tourist area, where coach loads of straining bladders arrive on an hourly basis.
Yesterday’s hot toilet topic was a little different, however. United Utilities has announced that Cumbria is one of the worst places in the country for inappropriate items flushed down the toilet. These include such delights as mobile phones, traffic cones, television sets, false teeth, cuddly toys, artificial limbs and goldfish. * 
I did once drop a USB pen down the toilet but it was just a flash in the pan.
Ahem. The water company has started a What Not To Flush campaign. I look forward to the TV adverts and hope they come up with a catchy jingle. A Miller & Armstrong style musical number would be good.
Whilst we’re all sitting around waiting for that, here are my cartoon sketches on the story. As ever, the editor’s choice appears on the front page of today’s Westmorland Gazette and on my website.

* I may have added a couple.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

A Tot of Rum

Today’s Westmorland Gazette stories had a number of splendid, potential cartoons hidden amongst them but the lead leapt out as having the most mileage.
Cumbria County Council and the NHS have conducted a Health Related Behaviour Questionnaire. It has revealed that nearly half of teenagers in the county have had alcohol bought for them by their parents. This is Not a Good Thing for teenagers but, clearly, Quite a Good Thing for cartoonists.
When tackling sensitive material like this, I have to be careful. A cartoon on a similar story about Alcopops, some years ago, so incensed the local skateboard community that I had to go into hiding. The newspaper had more letters about it than any other cartoon I’ve drawn. (I reproduce it below in the hope of generating a few more.)
A truly wise cartoonist would tiptoe carefully around this topic. However, good jokes are rarely the product of tact and tiptoeing, so ... 
The sketches I submitted are below and you can see the final artwork on my website from Thursday.
If, incidentally, this blog doesn’t appear next week, it will be because Akela has issued a fatwah.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Feeling Spent

Today’s visit to The Westmorland Gazette editorial office was more than usually exciting.
It’s usually pretty interesting for a humble Lake District cartoonist such as myself. 
The relentlessly high-tech office always has a hushed air of concentration, underpinned by a vibrant undercurrent of tension as some of the nation’s finest journalists relentlessly pursue the slenderest of news leads and turn them into finely crafted prose, honed to perfection for the great British public to enjoy over their cereals the following morning.
I usually shimmy into the office about 2.00 p.m. to be presented with the latest hot story as it is about to be splashed across the front page. I then take this over to the Cartoon Desk, summon a trainee journalist to sharpen all my pencils and then begin the arduous process of devising jokes to match the Olympian text.
Today was slightly different - no front page story. Well, there were a few contenders but the debate was still raging about which to use.
Fortunately, the rest of the nation was involved in following the government’s Spending Review announcement from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Donny Osmond. 
Now, it doesn’t take a huge amount of genius to figure that some aspect or other of Osmond’s review is going to feature in tomorrow’s front page lead story. However, even allowing for that, I felt a bit smug when I’d done four ideas for the paper without seeing any stories. You can see the sketches below.
Which was chosen will be revealed in tomorrow’s paper, along with a front page which will be a surprise to us all, not least me. Of course, I left the cartoon with them at 5.00 p.m. so it is entirely possible they wrote a story to fit the cartoon