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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.

Opinion: People love cartoons,
so why let them go?

October 13, 2013 in Comment, General

Cartoon by Tony Reeve

Private Eye cartoon © by the late Tony Reeve

Nick Newman, cartoonist, PCO member and editor of Private Eye: A Cartoon History, writes for the Procartoonists.org blog:

The sound of 1,000 people laughing out loud at cartoons from Private Eye: A Cartoon History left me feeling elated as I departed from the Cheltenham Literature Festival.

The town hall, the largest venue in town, was packed to the rafters by a sell-out crowd of unlikely Eye fans on a Monday afternoon.

The demographic was definitely more staid than I’d expected, and I wondered how some of the Eye’s more risqué gags would fare on the big screen. I needn’t have worried. Alexander Matthews’ bishop saying of his choristers “God, it’s like everyone I’ve ever slept with is here!” raised the roof, as did Tony Reeve’s little girl saying to woman washing up “Mummy, why are your hands so soft?”, ” I’m twelve”.

Afterwards, the audience was fulsome in their praise and voted with their wallets by buying stacks of books. The story was the same at the Henley Literary Festival, the Soho Literary Festival and the National Theatre. People love cartoons – and not in a wry, chucklesome sort of way; in a roaring boom of belly laughter.

My euphoria was short-lived – returning to London to hear that four of my cartoonist newspaper colleagues had been axed for budgetary reasons. Two of these were the same cartoonists whose work was met with such a rapturous reception on the literary circuit.

Times are, of course, very hard for print journalism – hacks too are being laid off in their droves – but at the same time that newspapers are shedding freelancers, the online departments are desperately looking for ways to enliven the dull, digital, monotonous “swipe-me” editions.

There, the backlit cartoons look bright, cheerful and vibrant. But cartoonists have to be employed in order to do the job and getting rid of exclusive visual content surely can’t be the answer to attracting digital readers.

A week of contrasts left me feeling that the game is up for print journalism, if the demands of the digital age have left papers so strapped for cash that they can’t afford humour and creativity – assets desperately in short supply on Fleet Street.

And if newspapers let them go, it will not be because readers don’t appreciate them.

They do. I’ve heard them. In their thousands.

Editor adds: Many thanks to Nick. He and Ian Hislop, the Private Eye editor, will be doing another talk at the V&A on 19 November. He suggests that anyone wanting to hear how much people like cartoons should go along.

Opinion: Cheerleading for art, part 2

September 25, 2013 in Comment, General

Bill Stott at the Shrewsbury Cartoon festival

Bill Stott at the Shrewsbury Cartoon festival @ Procartoonists.org

Bill Stott continues to put the case for better art education in schools.

You can read part one here.

Of course, Michael Gove could be a keen and knowledgeable student of the arts – first in line when there’s something new at Tate Modern, burning his thumbs on disposable cigarette lighters at Glastonbury, and clamouring for Bob Fosse retrospective tickets at the Albert Hall. Could be. He could be utterly distraught at the arts’ demotion.

Maybe he removed the arts from the core curriculum because he simply had to make cuts. Something had to give. And he couldn’t possibly cut maths or English or the Blessed Sciences could he? Couldn’t he? Why not? Well because there’d be a national outcry wouldn’t there?

And he couldn’t dare cut P.E., not after the glorious Olympic Games and their glittering, noble legacy. And we simply must have more physicists. We’re way behind Norway here, and standards in English literature in the UK are bettered by kids in Japan.

How about standards in arts education in the last 20 years? Anybody bothered looking at those in comparison with other countries? The UK would probably do well enough. But doing well in arts education overall, certainly in the secondary sphere, has never counted for much in the UK, mainly because those who judge it had a meagre arts education themselves.

So in demoting arts education to the fringes of the National Curriculum, Mr Gove is on safe ground. The majority of the enfranchised population will not rise up in horror. They are drip-fed the notion, mainly through the popular media, that dance is only for the naturally violently talented Billy Elliots of this world and that their dogs could do what Tracey Emin did to become a millionaire.

And yet, while we all know that nobody can expect to live a fulfilled and rounded life without having studied compulsory geography, the arts will out. Arts workshops, nearly always run on a shoestring, abound. Successful arts professionals give their time for not much money, and often for nothing at arts festivals, like – dare I say it ? – the Shrewsbury International Cartoon Festival.

Their workshops are always full, not with the naturally capable but with all ages who want to know how. Is that how geography workshops operate? At geography festivals? Is there a “Big Geog” jostling for a place in the nation’s affections with the evangelic barnstorm that is the Big Draw? Of course not.

Who’d go to a geography workshop? Don’t need to. That’s all looked after in school after cheerleading on Tuesday afternoons. The Big Draw probably doesn’t ask for tick-box answers about Jasper Johns, but it IS hands on.

Making communicative marks is probably the one thing the human animal can do which other animals can’t. Yes, some humans can draw well naturally. But by the same token, other humans like Sebastian Vettel can drive cars naturally well. Their prowess doesn’t put the majority of us off learning to drive. But we do that for socio-economic reasons. We don’t learn to draw for the same reasons.

© Bill Stott @ Procartoonists.org

© Bill Stott @ Procartoonists.org

So why do we/should we do it? Why should Mr Gove do it? Its because its EDUCATIONAL, that’s why. To “educate” means to “bring out”, and I’d bet a pound to a penny that an arts workshop or a practical, hands-on Big Draw session will bring out more hitherto unseen natural ability than would a geography festival.

I suppose I’d better apologise now for having a pop at geography. Its probably down to Mrs Leeming fifty-odd years ago. She was very keen on my class knowing all the facts and figures surrounding worldwide ground-nut production in countries that are no longer part of the British Empah and have names of their own now. It was hugely boring.

Mrs Lemming (her nickname) was a bit limited. There’s nothing limited about the arts education potential in this country. Sadly, should the essentially inexperienced, non-drawing, non-painting, non-sculpting Mr Gove get his way, that will all get booted into the long grass (quite close to where they’re practicing core curriculum cheerleading).

And who’s fault is it? Let’s start alphabetically: The Arts Council?

Editor says: Thanks,  Bill. Feel free to join the debate by commenting below.