You are browsing the archive for Comment.

Gentle giant of cartoons to carry on

February 20, 2014 in Comment, General

Andy Davey talks to the editorial cartoonist Martyn Turner who has been drawing for The Irish Times for more than 40 years

Francois Hollande cartoon by Martyn Turner

© Martyn Turner. The cartoonist admits his drawings are very wordy.
Click to enlarge and read

Martyn Turner has just become eligible for his free bus pass. It doesn’t look as though he’ll be taking up the offer though. He asked his editor whether he wanted him to shuffle off to his beloved golf course and the answer came back “Not while I’m editor”.

Buoyed by this enthusiastic endorsement, he is going to stay put. Still, it’s surely time to take stock, as he has been doing this job for more than 40 years.

The ­Irish Times ran an article commemorating this anniversary a while back. Looking for comments to support the piece, they asked around and a deluge of testimonials arrived from all sources – politicians, former editors, fellow cartoonists from around the world, even hotel managers – and that’s before you get to the readers.

Everyone seems to have nice words to say about Turner. This may not be unrelated to the fact that he stands at 6ft 7ins and weighs in at 20 stone. But he’s also a Very Nice Chap.

If you look, you can see this in his cartoons. The caricatures are not like the graphic distortions of a Sebastian Kruger or a Gerald Scarfe. They are more like theatrical masks, giving just enough information to identify the character and make the point. He says they’re “not strictly caricatures, they’re a person representing that particular character. It’s not a personal attack”.

Winter Olympics cartoon by Martyn Turner

© Martyn Turner on the Sochi Winter Olympics. Click to enlarge

The artwork – though highly accomplished ­ – doesn’t dominate the idea. The words are the thing. Maybe this befits a literary culture like Ireland’s. Tellingly, Turner says he thinks in words, “which is why my average cartoon has about 200 words in it”.

Turner’s longevity in the post is all the more surprising since he is English. Born and bred in urban Essex and East London (born in Wanstead, raised in Hackney and Chingford, to be precise). The son of East Enders, he won a scholarship to a private school, which he hated. That and his parents’ divorce turned him inwards and he says he sought refuge in outsider status, both socially and geographically.

He fled to first to Belfast to university and then south to become immersed in the venal horse­-trading of Irish politics, which remains a mystery to most outsiders.

How does he do it, drawing four to five topical cartoons a week for 40-­odd years? His wife of 46 years, Jean, claims that it’s because “he’s remained a child”. It’s not just Jean who says so – a guest psychiatrist on the Pat Kenny Show on Irish radio cast him as a “perpetual child who sees that none of the emperors have any clothes”.

He has a crack at politicians of all stripes. He has political conviction, but not one that fits into party politics. “I’m just an ageing hippy who thinks everyone should love each other and get on with it and be nice.”

He lives in semi­-rural Kildare, although spends increasing amounts of time in France. His daily working practice is pretty idyllic. When in Ireland, he rises early, takes a dip at the local pool, returns to review the papers and listen to the news. Around lunchtime he distils an idea out of the noise.

Martyn Turner

When Martyn Turner started out he used to put his daily Irish Times cartoon
on the bus to Dublin, to be collected by a sub-editor at a bus stop

Like many a creative soul, he advocates letting the subconscious do the work. “The harder you think about something, the less likely you are to come up with something that isn’t what everyone else is thinking.”

He draws the cartoon in the afternoon and sends it over to the paper. The routine in the early days reinforces the image of delightful prelapsarian innocence and oddness we are encouraged to believe rural Ireland runs on. He used to put his cartoon on the afternoon bus into Dublin, handing it over to the driver who delivered it to a sub-­editor waiting at the bus stop outside the Irish Times office. Nowadays it’s done by email, of course.

There’s no reason for him to stop now. Everyone seems to think his cartoons are an essential part of the paper, and of Irish politics. What’s more, he says he’s absurdly happy – “a round peg in a round hole” – and there is surely no better way to be.

You can see some of Turner’s recent cartoons here. He would also like us to know that his 19th “collection of cartoons and written bits” will be available in October.

Education chief is taking the Michael

February 4, 2014 in Comment

© Bill Stott @ Procartoonists.org

© Bill Stott @ Procartoonists.org

Opinion: As regular readers will know, Michael Gove gets up Bill Stott’s nose

Hmm, he’s at it again, that Gove fellow. Wants to bring back writing lines, detention and – who knows? – six of the best, in the search for his notion of discipline in the classroom. He really hasn’t got a clue, has he?

What on earth have the wrong-headed, ignorant aspirations of this Mr Bean look-alike got to do with cartooning? Well, as I noted some time ago, one of the first things he did as Secretary of State for Education was to demote art and design and take it OUT of the core curriculum and put it IN to the hobby fringe.

And despite what Brian Sewell thinks, there IS a link between art education and cartooning.

Of course, a lot depends on the quality of the art education on offer. Given that Mr Beangove has already meddled with curriculum content and syllabuses – e.g. lots more Monarchs’ dates and burnt cakes in history – it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he didn’t make the teaching of perspective and Ostwald Colour Theory compulsory in any art and design still remaining in any school’s curriculum.

Shading would become compulsory, as would dividing up the human body into seven segments. And back would sweep still lifes: brown bananas, leathery oranges and putrefying apples. When colouring-in, pupils would have to keep to the lines.

If Michael Gove ever had an opinion about cartoons, they’d have to be clean, crisp and completely devoid of personality – rather like the anodyne niceness presently available as apps.

Thanks to Bill. To see work from people who paid attention in art class, and strictly no anodyne niceness, visit the Procartoonist.org portfolios

The commercial art

January 31, 2014 in Comment, Events, News

Cartoon_Museum_Exhibition_bring_me_laughter © Jonathan Cusick @ procartoonists.org

© Jonathan Cusick @ Procartoonists.org

A collector of cartoons spoke some home truths at the recent private view of Bring Me Laughter. Kasia Kowalska writes.

In his speech opening the show, George Walker implored all those present to remember that he’s “not a Rothschild”. He was, undoubtedly, being modest as, together with his wife, Pat, he has dedicated more than 60 years to a collection that boasts drawings and cartoons by the great cartoonists of our age: Max Beerbohm, Phil May, H.M. Bateman, Heath Robinson, Ronald Searle and Trog, to name but a few.

The Queen © Jonathan Cusick @ procartoonists

© Jonathan Cusick @ Procartoonists.org

In this fine company one can also find several examples of George Walker’s own drawings and cartoons, which received a lot of attention on the night. Son of a miner, he recalls his father saying that ‘‘He thinks about nowt but actin’ and paintin’”. Although he left school at a young age to work in a local factory in Cumbria, George never let go of his passion for drawing and studied at Carlisle College of Art in his spare time.

The Walker collection includes several caricatures by PCO member Jonathan Cusick who attended the opening of the exhibition. Although Pat and George had commissioned him several times, this was the first time Jonathan had met them in person. ‘‘It’s a thrill to find my work amongst so many great names,’’ he said, selecting drawings by Heath Robinson, George Belcher and Pont as his personal highlights of the collection.

Jonathan Cusick withe George Walker and the piece that gave the exhibition its title @ Procartoonists.org

Jonathan Cusick. left. with George Walker and the piece that gave the exhibition its title. Photo ©Kasia Kowalska @ Procartoonists.org

Anita O’Brien, curator of the Cartoon Museum, said that George Walker ‘feels vindicated in the increasing attention which cartoon art has attracted in recent years: “There is some satisfaction in always having admired so-called ‘commercial’ art, for so long considered greatly inferior to ‘fine art’ and now commanding the respect that the best of it deserves.’’

Long may it continue.

Bring Me Laughter an exhibition from the private collection of George and Pat Walker is at the Cartoon Museum until 23 February.

How ya doin’?

January 25, 2014 in Comment, General, News

Jesus and Mo - How ya doin'?

© http://www.jesusandmo.net/

Hey. How ya doin’? can be offensive. Find out how and why might this might be so.

Readers will be unsurprised that we have been around such subjects before and won’t be surprised that the matter is also conflated with the local politics of the UK.

If you wish to offer a view please do, in the comments below.

Updated 29th Jan 2014: An interview on the issue conducted by Channel 4 News.

Everyone’s a cartoonist nowadays

January 6, 2014 in Comment, General, News

Google_Comic_Strip_Automation_©_Matthew_Buck_Hack_Cartoons_@procartoonists.org

© Matthew Buck Hack Cartoons @ Procartoonists.org

Regular readers of this blog will be unsurprised to learn that automation has struck once more with Google receiving a patent for the ‘‘self-creation of comic strips in social networks and other communications’’.

The advertising giant is following in the footsteps of other digital toolmakers such as Bitstrips.

Digital automation of cartoon formats for display is inevitable in a time of growing digital processing power, and it means that now everyone can be a cartoonist.

Procartoonists.org believes that quality will out, however.

Booting up a PC © Colin Thompson @ procartoonists.org

Booting up a PC © Colin Thompson @ Procartoonists.org

Opinion: Cartoonists and a new world

November 19, 2013 in Comment, General, News

You are here © Roger_Penwill_@_procartoonists.org

© Roger Penwill @ Procartoonists.org

The internet is a perfect medium for cartoons. Images can look much more striking on a backlit screen than they ever did in muddy print.

So the news that The Sun was dropping Andy Davey’s weekday editorial cartoon slot just as it finally attempted a serious transition to digital first publication is ironic.

I am a member of an endangered species … the cartoonists. In fact, my small colony is a sub-sub-species – the few who actually (well, as I write) make a living from the practice. The fact is that habitat change is threatening us.”
Andy Davey in an article for E!Sharp magazine

(In a fitting footnote, E!Sharp magazine moved from print to digital with the loss of Davey’s regular cover illustration).

Newspapers have been shedding journalists, photographers and cartoonists by the hundredweight over the past few years, as their print revenues have shrivelled. Few papers have managed the transition to digital presence while finding an alternative online revenue stream.

Obfuscation about their digital revenue clouds the facts but the basic problem of converting casual digital readers into paying subscribers remains.

© Ger Whyman at Procartoonists.org

© Ger Whyman @ Procartoonists.org

Publishing companies have tried two basic strategies. News UK papers The Times and The Sun are now both largely behind subscriber paywalls, amid huge tidal waves of PR and free giveaways. This was a a principled decision (nobody should work for nothing) but a rather brave one in a world where news and information is now free, instant and ubiquitous. The results are presently understood to be mixed.

The other model is the new-media idea that you give away your content and hope that spin-off merchandising and advertising revenue will flood in on the back of your increased global readership. Online services can be developed for a motivated and loyal crowd of customers.

© Dave Chisholm @procartoonists.org

© Dave Chisholm @ Procartoonists.org

The Guardian has attempted to make itself into the best upmarket liberal global news brand in this fashion. The Daily Mail has morphed silently into a sort of daily global Hello! magazine, titillating the masses with its “Sidebar of Shame”, in the process becoming the most widely read digital newspaper worldwide.

Significantly, neither of these organisations have been over keen to reveal how much revenue this accrues  and how it stacks up against their legacy costs of business.

But publishing companies and newspapers as product form only a small patch of land in the shrinking traditional habitat of the cartoonist. Magazines used to be a source of welcome revenue for scribblers. However, the rates of pay have been slashed over the years to levels of vanity publication. Regular readers and subscribers to this blog will also know about the direct-to-audience efforts that many cartoonists have made in recent years.

© Matt Percival at procartoonists.org

© Matt Percival @ Procartoonists.org

The traditional confidence in the utility of our skills leads the Guardian cartoonist and PCO member Martin Rowson to characterise our trade as parasites. Once the carrier dies, “like any hideous sensible parasite, we’ll just jump off on to the next host”.

And there is some truth in this.

In Georgian times, cartoonists plied their trade by selling prints of their work in coffee shops. The radical coffee shop died a death as the prim Victorians arrived. Consequently, cartoonists jumped on to new hosts ushered in by advances in print – Punch and similar magazines.

Newspaper circulation wars in the 1900s then saw a race to hire cartoonists, providing a very welcome long-lived carrier for us parasites. The chronic morbidity of printed newspapers means we have to find a new habitat.

Ed adds: And, of course, many of us are adapting successfully. If you have comments about any of themes in this piece please do add them in comments.

Opinion: The cartoonist and the editor

November 12, 2013 in Comment, General, News

Editor_and_editorial_cartoonist_a_metaphoe_@_procartoonists.org

© Andy Davey @ Procartoonists.org

Following the news that one of the UK’s mass market national newspapers had removed its weekday editorial cartoonist we asked Andy Davey to write about the strange relationship that lies at the heart of such jobs.

For the UK cartoonist, working outside of the beneficence of a major newspaper brings benefits and troubles; editorial freedom and financial uncertainty. Creative freedom and money are rarely thrown together at the same artist.

In general, print editors and proprietors control content with an iron hand, especially when they are paying for it. Tabloid editors for example, are a clever bunch. They know how to run tight, focused media organisations. There is little or no room for a dissenting voice. The paper has to speak with one voice on a narrow range of issues.

Cartoonists are not hired to express their idiosyncratic views of the world, they are there to draw an on-message gag about something that is being highlighted in the day’s paper (preferably on the same page). Topics that are fair game are often defined and limited by who the paper “likes” (politicians or celebs they seek to cultivate) at any one time.

This can become wearing for the cartoonist who likes to come up with his/her own ideas – and that is pretty well all cartoonists (It is one of the key identifiers between cartoonists and illustrators – Ed).

The constraint of the ‘‘family paper’’, hard as it has sometimes been to believe in the era of phone hacking, also prevents anything too graphic from being published. Consequently, editorial cartoons in the tabloids can often look like sad toothless pastiches of the deferential 1950s.

Tabloid readers are conditioned to expect short, snappy articles and plenty of photos. The editorial pages, unlike the rather type-heavy pages in the broadsheets, are awash with images and banner headlines. Cartoons must fight to make themselves seen amid all this; even more so amid the flashing ads and animated pop-ups on the web versions.

A looser hand on the editorial tiller would allow stronger satirical graphic cartoons to attract the eye in traditional print and also in the relatively new digital environments.

Editor adds: Thanks to Andy to writing this. What do you think about editorial cartoons in the newspapers? Please free to dive into the comments below.

Opinion: The Sun drops editorial cartoons from weekday editions

November 7, 2013 in Comment, General, News

Rome Burns © Andy Davey for The Sun @ procartoonists.org

© Andy Davey for The Sun @ procartoonists.org

Andy Davey writes:

After more than 40 years, The Sun has cut editorial cartoons from the weekday editions of the paper.

The paper has boasted a roster of excellent cartoonists to poke fun at the political shenanigans of the day. Names such as Stanley Franklin, Dave Gaskill, Keith Waite, Paul Rigby, Posy Simmonds, Tom Johnston, Bill Caldwell, Bernard Cookson and Charles Griffin have all served on the super soaraway paper. But recently, circulation of printed publications has sunk, taking with it into the deep briny blue a huge wad of advertising revenue.

I write as the most recent regular incumbent and my cartoons have now been dropped. No reason was given to me, but it seems likely it was a financial decision. Cartoonists, together with many journalists and photographers, are apparently too expensive for these times. It’s much more cost effective to fill the editorial page with a splash headline and a crowdsourced free or cheap image.

The paper will still run editorial cartoons by another PCO member, Brighty (Steve Bright), in the Sun on Sunday and in Trevor Kavanagh’s Monday editorial column.

Traditionally, papers have run editorial, gag and strip cartoons but this has begun to change over the past few years.

The loss of daily editorial cartoons from The Sun is significant but it is not alone in ditching its cartoonists. Last month, The Sunday Times cast off several long term freelance cartoonists. The Mirror dropped daily editorial cartoons years ago and The Observer had a clear-out recently.

Alongside this, rates of pay have been cut. In 2011, The i newspaper, sister to The Independent, decided it needed strip, gag and editorial cartoonists to make its content shine. Instead of hiring cartoonists at a standard industry rate, it ran a competition in the oh-so-fashionable form of a “Cartoon Idol” to find new talent. The pay was so derisory that only one cartoonist could afford to take up the offer.

We at Procartoonists.org may be biased, but we think cartoons are still loved and appreciated by readers. It is a shame to see them disappearing at a time when humour and satire is desperately needed.

Ed adds: Procartoonists.org thanks Andy for sharing his thoughts here.

Sun shine wears off for Davey

November 7, 2013 in Comment, General, News

The_sun_logo_@_procartoonists.orgThe Sun, the largest circulation print newspaper in the UK is now without a weekday editorial cartoonist after Andy Davey, one of our members, left the paper.

With Andy’s help we shall be writing about this story and what it represents during the next week but you will get advance warning if you read one of our recent posts from Nick Newman of Private Eye (also a member) and a large piece produced by the New Statesman magazine during last summer.

Opinion: Tearing a strip off automated online cartoons

October 30, 2013 in Comment, General

Bitstrips @ Procartoonists.org

Bitstrips @ Procartoonists.org

The Procartoonists.org blog notes with interest the rise of Bitstrips, an app that allows anyone to make clip-art style cartoons featuring themselves.

Billed as “instant comics and cards starring you and your friends”, they are popular for Facebook e-cards and status updates.

We have seen this kind of automation of cartooning skills before. And now, as then, we believe it is a poor substitute for bespoke cartoons created by a professional cartoonist. The software may be clever but it does not produce hand-drawn, unique cartoons.

On the plus side, perhaps it is of little threat to professional cartooning, because as with previous fads the novelty appears to be wearing off quickly.

If you are interested in commissioning real cartoons by real cartoonists, take a look at the Procartoonists.org portfolios.