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It’s only a cartoon: part one

February 21, 2017 in General

@ Rupert Besley

Rupert Besley writes:

Nobody likes to be kicked about. Or just hurled in the bin. But that’s what cartoonists have to get used to much of the time. Rejection is a major part of the business and always has been. Even the top professionals in established posts have long been required to come up with multiple offerings before one is accepted (by then under pressure and with little time to complete).

What is new is the kicking about. Much of this is in the scramble for life-rafts as the print publication industry drops below the waves. Together, the digital revolution along with the internet should mean a bright new future for cartooning. Cartoons look great onscreen and their quick gags and nutshell analyses are ready-made for social media. But nobody has worked out yet how to make them pay.

In the slow death of newsprint, cartoons are among the first things to go. First marginalised and then kicked out, all too often in ways that offend. The PCO has a growing list of top cartoonists who, having given sterling service in providing ace cartoons without fail over lengthy time-spans (15, 30, even 50 years), have then been shown the door. Not on grounds of quality, simply budget. And the irony is that use of cartoons in publications has been shown to boost sales.

What we’ve seen happen next, more than once, is indefensible. The long-running cartoon disappears from the paper, readers ask why and the editor gives out that the cartoonist has retired. A lie. These are highly skilled pros now seeking new avenues for work.

Cartooning suffers maybe from never quite being accepted on equal terms by Art or Journalism. These are the Ugly Sisters, grabbing all attention at the expense of Cartoons, the scrubber down below. There has always been rivalry for space. Now it’s getting nastier, as the space reduces. Magazines are closing down. Others, that once took many cartoons, now take none. Among those few left in the market are ones that struggle to keep up with the pressure of supply. Submissions pile up for months unanswered, long beyond the shelf-life of the gag. The PCO continues to push (without great success) for dialogue with – and answers from – editors.

Editors tend to keep cartoonists at arms length. That makes it easier to dismiss them, having first characterised them as anti-social oddities who rarely emerge from their holes. The cartoon festivals that flourish (with PCO backing & involvement) at Shrewsbury and Herne Bay (along with Hastings last year) give the lie to this suggestion. Those who come (never editors, not counting PCO patrons) will find cartoonists to be a mixed bunch of ordinary people. Extremely normal (if that’s possible) but with added gifts for crap-detection and humour, observation and graphic ability.

Part two of this article will follow soon. In the meantime you can take a look at Rupert’s PCO portfolio here.

5 responses to It’s only a cartoon: part one

  1. Oh so true. On the one hand you could say that if cartoons are so important, why is “the public” not rising up in protest at their disappearance ? Well, that might fit neatly into the “you’ll miss it when its gone” box, just as many of those who voted to leave Europe are beginning to realise.  The UK is a great joke-making nation. Its cartooning is second to none. Presently it is fashionable amongst publishers to drop cartoons from magazines and newspapers. Why ? Well its difficult to know because publishers won’t tell us and I for one do not believe the oft-trotted out excuse of “finance”. Ian Hislop’s convinced that there’s a solid link between increased sales and increased cartoon content. Do other publishers take note of this ? No, they obviously do not.  Then there’s the old conker about journos not liking cartoonists much because the latter doesn’t take several columns of grey type to hit the nail on the head. That might be true, but I think there’s another element at work here – that being a lack of a sense of humour amongst the present generation of publishers – a potentially disastrous humour disconnect.

  2. Excellent article, Rupert. And Bill’s comments are apposite too. The Mystery of the Missing Cartoonists” is unsolvable due to the fact that editors cocoon themselves in protective shields – unapproachable for fear of having to answer questions. Bill’s interesting idea that current editors have no sense of humour may be true. But that prompts the next question – why? Surely if this is the case, then they must somehow represent their public – because editors, more than almost all professions, must understand and be in tune with their public. This is an even more depressing proposition than the lack of cartoonists. But it does bear thinking about. Have we become so humourless in our atomised digital age? I’ll have to have a cup of tea and think about it.

  3. I think you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who would describe themselves as ‘having no sense of humour’ – along with anyone considering themselves being ‘passionless’ and ‘only able to unitask’. And yet a deconstruction of what we or others mean by ‘having a sense of humour’ might prove extremely boring (and rather unhelpful) to those in most obvious need.Of the (supposedly) 5 senses, we can add a few more (neurologists count 9, and some count up to 21 – I’ll let you have fun Googling that or working them out yourself). It would seem, in the current climate, that many publishers neither value cartoons as income generators nor in their own right, and so the inevitable solution is to ‘de-employ the loss content provider’.As to a simple solution to the growing trend: there isn’t really one. I blame confirmation bias over actual statistical analysis and rational enquiry. And having no sense of humour.Satire is dead – long live satire!

  4. This complaint has to be categorised into 1) Political Cartoons 2) Gag cartoons and 3) Cartoon Illustrations.1) Comments on topical affairs, politicians and the establishment comes under the heading ‘satire’ for some reason, and is more than adequately catered for in a plethora of TV ‘comedy’ programmes (Last Leg etc . . ) as well as the multitudinous offerings on social media, Youtube etc. In the old days, the political cartoon was often the only place to see a satirical comment. Not so any more.2) A similar fate has diluted the appeal for gag cartoons with current audiences sated on a ‘comedy’ diet of panel shows and formulaic sketch shows. Again this output is shared by both TV and the internet monster.3) Cartoon illustrations have a more promising future if you find the right markets, such as self-published books, websites etc. They are more a ‘direct client’ thing rather than the usual soul-destroying subjugation to ‘editors’. The onus of ‘selling’ publications is rather a larger equation than the simple of inclusion of cartoons to increase sales. Of course, Private Eye, with its lifelong traditional connection to cartoons may well have found that the recent expansion of cartoon content improved sales. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that the same policy in Accountancy Age will boost their subscribers.A personal experience of mine recently bears this out. I was delighted to be able to elbow my way onto the London-based website, Londonist with what was promising to be a weekly cartoon illustrating main news stories. Okay, it was only £50.00 a time, but I was still thrilled to be able exercise some of those dormant muscles I have been born with. After only the second week, I received the news that ‘Page Impressions’ on the cartoon weren’t enough to warrant keeping me on. In other words, visitors to the site simply weren’t enthused enough to click the link ‘Cartoon’.I wonder if it’s all become rather quaint and old-fashioned in the face of the aforementioned modern entertainments and perhaps this image is compounded by the otherwise valiant and wonderful appearances in seaside festivals.Besides, we all know that many of us draw and paint ‘serious art’ as well. perhaps the time has come for a vanguard of ‘cartoonist painters’ to knock on the doors of Tate Britain. (Except, leave out the horrifying word ‘cartoonist’)

  5. Cartoon markets began shrinking as far back as Queen Elizabeth’s coronation. People bought TVs and stopped buying magazines which then folded. ITV came along and more magazines and newspapers closed. The Internet arrived – and so on. And yes, ours has become a humourless age:’I find that offensive’ is a sure-fire shackle on a cartoonist’s mind and wrist, particularly when gunmen are around. Satire is not dead but it does have hamstring trouble yet the corn is still high. ‘Mrs Brown’ has eleven million viewers: how can we beat that? We can swap gags around among ourselves (‘The Jester’) but that’s no way to run a career. I’m working on gallery stuff. Finding a gallery is about as easy as finding a cartoon editor, so maybe back to the website aand fingers crossed.The problems of political cartoonists are different. Our politicians don’t take them or their work as seriously anymore. Politicians overseas are a different, thin-skinned matter but I wouldn’t advocate moving. Problems not solved! Cartooning is no joke. Good luck everybody.  

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