Thursday, 29 December 2011

An Englishman's Home is His Ashtray

The seven days between Christmas and New Year is always tricky for a weekly newspaper. Reporters are on holiday, everyone’s had too much sherry and no one is out there creating news.
This also presents a problem for the front page cartoon. There’s usually a broad sweep of smaller stories, with nothing specific to focus on.
It started out like that this week. A story about Britain’s Got Talent star Steve Hall giving up the day job, another about a hospital radio station trying to beat Chris Moyle’s 52 hour continuos broadcast … And then, just as I was losing the will to draw, gold dust.
This is not your usual tobacconists (do those still exist?) but one selling pro-smoking t-shirts. Sales of these will, apparently, raise funds so that he can lobby parliament to overthrow the ban on smoking in public places. According to the campaigner, “Smoking is one of the last remaining pleasures for the working man … “ 
Possibly the working man should get out more.
As smoking is one of the topics which brings out the Jeremy Clarkson in me, I enjoyed working on this one. In fact, only the looming presence of my deadline prevented me from pitching more ideas than the seven shown below.
To see which the editor voted for, rush out and buy The Westmorland Gazette, or blow across to my website.

"Must be the comedian I get whenever I ring up to complain about my broadband."

"That must be for the number of sexist remarks made in a 2-hour broadcast."

"That must be the new pro-smoking shop."

"It's from the pro-smoking shop - now I can smoke in public places."

"I work in the new pro-smoking shop. Ironically I have to come outside to smoke."

"That should make the auld grey town a little greyer."


Christmas comes but once a year and so does the seasonal opportunity for a colour cartoon on the front page of The Westmorland Gazette.
It’s become a tradition and it’s always easier to achieve when there are some seasonal stories to match. This year we managed ghosts and parking.
Levens Hall has a ghost, along with many other historic houses. This one is the spirit of a spurned traveller who issued a curse, claiming a male heir would only be born when the River Leven freezes over. (Hence the third cartoon - yes, technically inaccurate but you get the idea).
The festive parking story was South Lakeland’s bright idea to make residents pay for residential parking permits. You’d think they could generate enough income from their enterprising new drugs farm in the public loos. 
Here are the sketches I pitched to the editor. A scruffy bunch but drawn in 2B pencil with little eye for style; some of us have a dealine, you know. The final artwork was a composite in order to arrange all the elements into the 2cms square space I get these days. Just for a change, I’ve shown a couple of the sketches for the final artwork, along with the finished cartoon, as it appears in the Gazette. It also features over on my website.

“Ignore him, it’s just another tax reminder from the Inland Revenue.”

“Oh no, it’s the ghost of Christmas Future!”

“It’s freezing out. Do you fancy an early night?”

“Have you got a £25 resident’s permit for that?”

A couple of early sketches for the final artwork:

Friday, 16 December 2011

Going to Pot

Drug farm in car park toilets!
Not a headline one usually encounters in The Westmorland Gazette but this week we went all urban and edgy.
New Road in Kendal is an area of some controversy, having been used as a parking place alongside the river for many years. Apparently this isn’t strictly legal and the council would like to landscape it and make it nice. (I’m not sure where all the cars would go, somewhere not nice I assume.) It also has a quiet, unassuming toilet block which, in line with general South Lakeland District Council policy, is permanently closed.
But some enterprising scamps have been putting it to use by wiring up heaters to the light fittings and planting £500 worth of cannabis in the ladies’ loo. If harvested, the cannabis would have had a street value of £10,000. Perhaps not quite what our beloved PM has in mind in calling for a more entrepreneurial Britain.
I only get three hours to do the cartoon, otherwise this story could have generated dozens of ideas. Here is the half-dozen I fired at the editor. You can see which landed on the front page by visiting my website.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Bothered and beleaguered

Last week, the Westmorland Gazette's front page lead was an exciting story about a Morecambe Bay NHS Trust whistleblower who was calling for the head of the Trust to resign.
It is not the sort of story to go away and in the intervening week the colostomy bags have really hit the fan.
The NHS Trust executive in question has refused to resign. A local GP claims that staff are too frightened to speak out. And local MP, Tim Farron, has been swamped with similar complaints about the Trust.
As Private Eye has extensively reported, whistleblowers are not exactly flavour of the month at the NHS. There has even a website set up especially to preserve their anonymity when disclosing information to the press. And given that the local whistleblower in question has identified a specific individual, it’s a fun-packed legal minefield for a newspaper cartoonist.
However, not one to be daunted, here are the sketches I pitched for this week’s front page cartoon. 
Number 4, you’ll notice, isn’t about the NHS; a twinning scheme has been set up to highlight the lack of public toilets in third world areas like Grasmere and Bowness. This was offered as a backup in case the other three attracted too many legal problems.
You can see which cartoon made the front page by buying the Gazette or visiting my website after 3pm today.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

A Matter of Trust

Last week I remarked that my newspaper sometimes presents me with a range of stories competing for the front page cartoon. At other times, it’s got to be the front page lead. 
This week’s Westmorland Gazette has a splendid lead story: A consultant who works for the Morecambe Bay Hospitals Trust has condemned the Trust’s governing body, saying that none of the staff have any confidence in them. The Trust is more interested in ticking boxes and hitting government-set targets than actually looking after patients.
Damning stuff, made all the more exciting by the fact that the consultant wants to remain anonymous - NHS Trusts don’t have a good record for their treatment of whistle-blowers.
Usually I get three hours to work on the cartoon, from initially reading the stories to finished artwork, scanned and emailed to the sub-editors in Blackburn. Yesterday that was down to two hours - the story was still being written and - I imagine - was being slowed down by having to be run past the Newsquest lawyers.
Below you can see the four ideas I pitched to the editor. The chosen cartoon is, even now, on the front of The Westmorland Gazette … or pop over to my website on Friday, where you will be able to see it in colour.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Overground, underground …

Ideally a blog about a newspaper cartoon would focus on the headline story from the front page. It would explain carefully the essence of the story and then offer a dazzling array of sketches, all taking a different line of attack to arrive at the final, finished cartoon.

And then there’s the real world …

This week’s Westmorland Gazette front page features two stories which aren’t suitable for a cartoon. Within the paper there are several stories which offer potential. Here’s a swift rundown, so you have some idea of what I’m burbling about this week:

1. A new indoor climbing wall opens, the tallest in Britain.

2. A cave system has been opened up which links Cumbria, Lancashire and Yorkshire (potholers and troglodytes rejoice).

3. Cumbria Crystal has some of its products featured on hit ITV drama series Downton Abbey.

4. The rout is announced for the 2012 Olympic Torch. It involves a lake cruise on Windermere.

Suitably armed with this information, I now invite you to peruse the five sketches. Feel free to declare which one you think should have been on the front page. You can see if you’re correct by buying the paper or visiting my website from Friday morning.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Round the Houses

Several houses and two stories vied to be the subject of this week’s Westmorland Gazette front page cartoon.
The first involved a tree house. A resident of Hincaster has built a splendid tree house, much enjoyed by local children. It’s in his own garden, no trees were harmed and no one objected. Until, that is, the South Lakeland District Council spotted it. 
They despatched their Arboreal Recreation Surveillance Executive (ARSE) to sneak into the garden, take pictures and issue the owners with a Take It Down At Once notice. Good heavens, we can’t have children playing safely in their garden; they should be out in the street where they belong, indulging in wholesome activities like rioting and looting.
The second house story is just as depressing. Fifty years ago Kendal had 347 public houses, along with 72 inns, 49 houses of ill-repute and 19 mint cake factories (editor’s note: figures obtained from the internet so they’re bound to be right). Today the number of pubs has dwindled dramatically and more pubs look set to close. Publicans blame high rents, competition and having to buy beer from their brewery at inflated prices.
Below you can see the four ideas I pitched to the editor. As usual, these are delivered in scruffy sketch form. The chosen cartoon is a thing of artistic beauty and you can see it on the front page of today’s Gazette. Alternatively, sashay over to my website on Friday morning and it will dazzle you in colour.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Grit, Crabs & Blobs

This week’s newspaper stories consisted of grit, crabs and blobs - with an added dash of Vikings.
Grit first. Having been marooned in the frozen wastes two winters ago, Troutbeck residents have got together and bought their own gritting machine. It seems everyone is anticipating a harsh winter. Good topic, but I pitched a grit cartoon last week and didn’t have anything new to say. Moving on …
Another Viking horde of gold and precious stones has been found locally by a metal detector enthusiast. (Aside: There must be a better word for them than metal detectorists, which is becoming prevalent. Detectoraks?). Again, I’ve tackled a similar story not so long ago, so only had one idea to pitch for this.
An alien crab has been found in the Duddon Estuary. The Chinese Mitten Crab is apparently a menace and highly invasive. Keep a look out in case you see one scuttling down a river near you.
And finally … the blobs. Walkers in Patterdale spotted these glutinous invaders, took some pics, wrote a blob blog and the story went global. The UK tabloids speculated that it might be an alien life form, brought here by meteorites (this is because UK tabloids assume their readers have the intellectual capacity of a fern). After testing, the blobs turned out to contain stag semen. So either the aliens are humping the local wildlife or the explanation is more prosiac.
Below you can see the ideas I pitched to my esteemed editor. Only one made it to the front page. I think you can all guess which one didn’t. To see which did, rush out and buy a copy of The Westmorland Gazette or visit my website from Friday morning.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Socks & the Countryside

The Lake District is an upmarket, aspirational landscape.
We know this because the advertising tells us so. The first time I encountered the phrase, it was used in Creative Review magazine about a Land Rover advert, being shot at Tarn Hows. Prior to that, I hadn’t considered Tarn Hows to be upmarket or aspirational. Or Land Rovers, come to that. Clearly, I was deluded.
The latest advertising campaign to be shot in the Lakes is for Sock Shop, purveyors of woollen footwear at railway stations. Again, I didn’t know socks were upmarket and aspirational but I suppose it depends who is wearing them. And where.
This was one of the stories to greet the cartoonist’s eye at The Westmorland Gazette this week. The other which leapt out was a tale of grit. Specifically, the lack of it last winter and the Council’s attempts to stockpile it for this. Apparently, it’s going to be a harsh, upmarket, aspirational winter in the Lakes this year.
The sketches for these two stories are below. I presented them to my upmarket, aspirational editor and you can see which one he chose on the front of this week’s newspaper. Or you you can view it in colour to my upmarket, inspirational website.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Lines from the Liars' League

The Society of Authors held its Authors North autumn meeting in Manchester over the weekend and it proved to be one of the most exhilarating and inspiration events we’ve run. 
Authors North head honcho, Clare Dudman, has given a splendid write up on her blog. As she explained, Saturday was rounded off with something rather unusual; an evening with the Liars’ League. This group of professional actors perform short stories by writers from around the world. It’s a unique opportunity to hear how your work will play in front of a live audience. As they say on their website: Writers write, actors read, audience listens, everybody wins.
Imagine the scene: A crowded upstairs room in a characterful Manchester pub, an actor takes the stage. The audience is held spellbound …
And for a cartoonist, a spellbound audience means one thing - an ideal opportunity for some unobtrusive sketching …

To see what the Liars' League are up to next, click here.
To see what everyone said about the weekend on Twitter, search for #authorsnorth or follow: