Pete Dredge offers a British perspective in reaction to an American cartoonist’s views on the cartooning game
“Single-panel” or “gag” cartoonist? The former is the default description from over the pond and is infinitely preferable to the UK’s more downmarket “gag” label for those of us who create the stand-alone joke.
Apart from that, there appears to be little difference in attitudes to gag cartoonists on either side of the Atlantic, if the video talks by the New Yorker cartoonist Matthew Diffee – as recently featured on this blog – are anything to go by. (Well, apart from the fact that most US cartoonists seem to be equally as eloquent with a microphone as they are with a pen, something that the reserved UK cartoonist can find difficult to master.)
It was comforting to know that our US counterparts are bombarded with the same probing questioning from inquisitive admirers. “Where do you get your ideas?” appears to top both the UK and US list. Diffee perceptively regards this as “a good question, it is the only question because without an idea there is no cartoon”. He then offers up the disarmingly honest answer “We think of ‘em!”
Why haven’t we ever thought of that? UK gagsmiths start to ramble on about lateral thinking, brainstorming and word association whilst our inquisitor’s eyes start to glaze over.
“I wish I could do that” and “I could never do that” are supplementary statements thrown up by the misguided onlooker. Diffee believes that these admissions underline the misconception that cartoonists draw “for fun”, something that can be churned out at the drop of a hat. “How long have you tried?” he asks. He points out that it takes several hours and a pot of coffee to come up with ideas.
Then there’s the ability to handle rejection. Diffee likens the inevitable low hit rate – at The New Yorker one in ten is “top of the game”, more often it’s something like one in 30 – to the a mother sea turtle laying thousands of eggs. After being subjected to the ravages of crabs, birds and fish, if one baby makes it through then it’s job done.
Another characteristic shared by both US and UK cartoonists is the requirement to develop stoicism when confronted by other media types. One video featured Diffee being interviewed after his talk by a hack from Forbes magazine.
Trying hard to describe the idea-creating process, he says: “It’s about concepts, like comedy writing, it’s about language, not drawing, at this stage.” The journalist seemed to struggle with this abstract notion.
But Diffee soon has the measure of his inquisitor and describes how he is trying to keep up with the latest hi-tech devices. “Have you seen them? They’re amazing. You click on the end and it comes out here,” he says, describing a propelling pencil to his bemused interrogator.
Many thanks, Pete. Do you have any views on cartooning US and UK style? Let us know in the comments below.